ASU students use Japanese fashion as an outlet for self-expression

Despite the pricey nature of the hobby, students find value in the communal and expressive style

Students at the nation's largest public university find a multiplicity of ways to stand out among the crowd through their style and self-expression. 

For a particular group of students, this outlet is Japanese fashion, or J-Fashion. 

While the title might be misleading, J-Fashion is a western coined term used to describe the subset of styles originating in the Harajuku neighborhood in Japan.

Zheyuan Huang, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, wears a specific style within J-Fashion known as Soft Lolita. Huang said she has been wearing the style since she was 15 years old. 

Imani Randle
ASU Senior Zheyuan Huang shows off her Japanese Street style near the Student Pavilion on the ASU Tempe campus in Tempe, Arizona on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018.

'Lolita' is a genre of dress popularized in Japan during the 1980s and 90s. The style was a response to the fixed and homogeneous culture of Japanese society and gender expectations. 

Lolita is typically characterized by whimsical frills, dresses supported by petticoats and meticulously coordinated outfits. The pieces that make up these coordinates, or ‘coords’ as they are referred to in the community, typically cost a lot of money.

The Soft Lolita style usually includes pastel one piece dresses, jumper skirts, blouses and jackets, Huang said.

Watching anime during her middle school years eventually blossomed into her interest in Lolita, and over time her curiosity expanded into other aspects of Japanese culture, she said.  

"I got into J-Fashion, and I thought, ‘it’s really interesting,’” Huang said. 

Huang said Soft Lolita is a casual take on Lolita clothing, often blending in with regular clothing.

“I wear (Soft Lolita) basically every single day,” Huang said. “I’m part of the Arizona Lolita community, and also I have friends who wear Lolita.”

Huang said she met her friends who are into Lolita over social media. She said she believes the shared interest of Lolita allows for an instant social connection.

Huang, who is from China, said elitism is more prevalent in the Chinese Lolita community in comparison to the U.S. Lolita community due to the costly nature of the clothing.

“I feel like all the girls are showing off their expensive clothing, and talking about selling and re-selling," Huang said. "Here, I feel like it is better because people are more genuine and down to earth.”  

Imani Randle

ASU Junior Ciro Page-Bottorff struts his Japanese Street style in front of the Old Main fountain on ASU Tempe campus in Tempe, Arizona on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018.

Ciro Page-Bottorff, a junior majoring in English linguistics, said he enjoys dressing in various Lolita styles including Over the Top, or OTT, Sweet Lolita as well as Gothic Lolita.

Page-Bottorff said he also recognizes the costly nature of the style. 

His interest in Lolita started when he was a sophomore in high school, although Page-Bottorff was not able to afford the clothing until later.

Page-Bottorff does not frequently wear the style at ASU but is an active participant in the Lolita community.

He said if he didn't have the extra "cushion money" from living at home, he wouldn't be able to afford the style. 

According to Page-Bottorff, one of his coords, a popular Angelic Pretty print, is typically priced between $900 to $1000, but he was able to purchase the ensemble second-hand for $500.

Page-Bottorff said the style is an important part of his identity.

Imani Randle
ASU Freshmen Gryphon Man (seated) and ASU Freshmen Genevieve Speros flaunts their Japanese Street style by a fountain near the Memorial Union on ASU Tempe campus in Tempe, Arizona on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018.

“I am trans masculine and identify more as a male figure,” Page-Bottorff said. “But I still wear this feminine clothing, which can be kind of contradictory. For me, it helps me feel comfortable in my identity and the things that I like to wear and want to wear."

In addition, he said he does not feel the need to pass when wearing Lolita because there are also several cis men in the Arizona Lolita community who dress in Lolita as well and accepted by community members.

Page-Bottorff said the style doesn't have to bear a gender.

“At the end of the day, they are just clothes,” he said. 

Unlike Page-Bottorff and Huang, Gryphon Man, a freshman majoring in Japanese, is not a part of any formal J-Fashion community, but enjoys sporting the style.

Man gets inspiration for her clothes from an Instagram account known as Tokyo Fashion and her personal experiences in Japan. 

Man said J-Fashion keeps her connected to both her love of Japanese culture and style. 

“It’s one of my favorite ways of self-expression,” Man said. “Because I’m really unique in my small town that I come from, and even in Phoenix, it’s all the more fun.”

Genevieve Speros, a freshman majoring in Japanese and friend of Man, wears a specific style of J-Fashion known as Larme Kei.

Speros said her love for Larme Kei began in high school, but she wasn't always confident enough to wear it.

“I was always really into fashion, but I wasn’t comfortable enough with myself to express it on my body,” she said. 

As she became more confident, she began dressing in the style.

“I thought it would be a very good way to express myself,” she said. 

While she said it is sometimes scary to wear lighter colors, Speros said the style has had a positive effect on her self image. 

“It’s definitely made me more comfortable with myself, even though sometimes I’ll feel that I don’t want to get into (wearing the style) because I’ll look bad,” Speros said. “Once I do wear it though, and once I go out, I start feeling more confident in myself.”


Reach the reporter at kdunnett@asu.edu or follow @DunnettKaylin on Twitter.

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