Ask Miss Caro-chan: Why is Lolita so Expensive?

I haven't answered an Ask Miss Caro-chan on my blog in a while! For those of you that are unaware, I do a lot of the answering straight on Formspring, but I do always tell myself "I need to post more of these to the blog!" especially the ones that get asked again and again! Today is a good one though, a question that has often befuddled many a new and even seasoned Lolita, a question EmilyRamones asked with:

Do you have any reason as to why lolita attire is so expensive?


It's a question as old as Lolita itself: "Why can't I afford all of this!?" Because let's face it, Lolita is sometimes prohibitively expensive. Now, for this question, I'm going to assume EmilyRamone is asking why is brand new, brand name Lolita attire so expensive, because, truthfully, not all Lolita is expensive. There are places like Bodyline and Taobao where you can pick up a well made dress for $45 and you can easily pick up second-hand brand dresses from various sales communities and auction sites for under $75. But, again, I'm going to assume that she didn't mean "all Lolita ever, regardless."

Brand new, brand name Lolita is priced the way it is for a variety of different reasons. I know that some people take the price tag on brand pieces as a personal insult to them, but I feel that the price is pretty reasonable when you stop to consider the reasons why.

First up, let's talk a little bit about what "expensive" means to some people. Personally, I feel like it usually means one, or a combination, of three things: It is out of my personal price range, it is priced higher in comparison to other things, or it is unfairly priced and is simply not worth it. When people lament the high cost of Lolita I feel like they are often feeling a mix of these three things: they can't easily afford it, it's much more than they are used to spending on clothes, and there is a good chance they simply don't understand the difference in quality between brand Lolita and "normal" clothes, and thus don't understand why it's so expensive. Lolita is a fashion aimed at younger people, teens and early-twenty-somethings (of course, that doesn't mean Lolita is only for people in that age group!). Take a look at the average fashion aimed at this age group, it's cheap and trendy, and not really meant to be worn, or sometimes even stay together, longer than the few brief months that the trend lasts. Check out this interesting article for a little bit of the history behind cheap clothes. In comparison to what are essentially throwaway clothes, Lolita pieces are meant to be worn for years and are intended to be cleaned and cared for carefully, instead of just tossing it into the washer until it falls apart. If you try to view the value behind clothes as how long it lasts and it's quality, rather than the price on the tag, the price of Lolita becomes much more justifiable.


There are, of course, more easily defined and calculated reasons behind the price tag on Lolita pieces than just perceived value! One of the major reasons why Lolita is so expensive is because of the material cost. Some people who question the price of Lolita, and use the excuse "It's just a gathered rectangle and some lace! I know someone who made a complete Lolita outfit for $5..." probably haven't had many closeup experiences with brand name Lolita. I know that this is going to make me sound like the dreaded brandwhore, as if this whole article isn't already making me sound like that, but unless you live around some really amazing fabric stores, you're not going to be able to walk into a Jo-ann Fabric and walk out with the same quality materials used in brand name Lolita. The cottons are generally much, much thicker and more finely woven, and the lace is just in a completely different world than the lace sold at fabric stores. This doesn't even take any custom fabrics into account, custom woven lace, custom printed fabrics, appliques, embroidery, etc. These are all custom designed by artists exclusively for the brand to use. Along with all of this, Lolita clothes often use a deceptively large amount of materials. Ruffles, rows of lace on every hem, gathers, pintucks, all of these add onto the amount of fabric used a little at a time until you might end up with a single dress with yards upon yards of high quality lace and fabric.

Another factor in the price of Lolita is the fact that Lolita is a relatively small niche fashion. The dresses in Lolita stores are not being mass produced on a large scale, they are being sold on a very small scale, thus the prices tend to be higher. When you buy a dress from a brand, you are often times buying one of only a few dozen of that particular dress. What you are buying is something very exclusive, which is something both intentional and simply a by-product of buying from a brand that caters to a non-mainstream fashion that doesn't mass produce their products.

A third reason why Lolita is priced the way it is is because it comes from Japan, which doubly raises the price. The most noticeable change in price is that we are buying imported products, and have to pay for all that that entails. We are paying for the vast difference between our currency and the price of the Yen, we are adding on shipping costs, shopping service fees, and even when buying second-hand we are factoring in rarity and how difficult that particular piece was to acquire. A final addition to the cost of buying clothing from Japan, that might not be so readily apparent, is that things in Japan are often times simply expensive. Again, this is something that has a whole lot of reasons behind, more so than I feel I am qualified to talk about in-depth, but here is a pretty good article about exactly that (despite the very mid-90's web design, it was actually written only a few years ago! So I swear it's not a decade out of date!).

Lolita sticker shock is something most all of us in the fashion have faced, especially in the beginning, and especially if you have never regularly wear anything more expensive than a $50 pair of shoes and have a fondness for shopping at thrift stores (which was how I was before I found Lolita! Although, I still shop at thrift stores, constantly). After a while, you get used to the price, you come to realize that clothes are only worth as much as you make them worth. If you come into the fashion with the notion that no clothes could possibly be worth more than fifty bucks, and everything above that price is a rip-off, you're probably going to get ripped-off. But, if you do a little bit of research: learn what quality fabric looks and feels like, how to tell the difference between cheap lace and beautiful lace, where to find a second-hand bargains, what to look for in a seamstress, when brands have sales, or even learn to sew, you're going to find that Lolita is not at all an impossibility, but something that just requires a little bit of hard work and commitment, but if you love it and it makes you happy, it's really worth it.

Quality over quantity is something that has always been stressed within Lolita, and it's a notion that many people find laughable when we are being told that we should, instead, be focused on buying what is trendy now and think not about what what we are buying is worth, but how much cheaper it is than everything else. Lolita doesn't have to be $400 dresses, it can easily be a relatively affordable fashion, but what it shouldn't ever be is a cheap throw-away fashion. What Lolita is, at it's very core, is the very opposite of that idea.

10 comments:

  1. I love how you.answered this question. I don't have many brand items but my beef is the limited sizing for plus size and tall lolitas. I can't reason buying at such a price if it doesn't fit me. On my budget I can't do that without feeling guilty. Than you for you post.

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  2. Honestly, compared to to the price of an "adult" designer dress, Lolita isn't all that expensive. My mother easily spends $100 on blouses and 200+ on dresses that she wears for work. These things, like lolita clothing, are meant to be dry cleaned/handwashed and will last for years and years.

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  3. I used to think that Lolita was really expensive as well, but when I started considering that  normal prices for everyday clothes (not some haute couture) aren't much cheaper in my country, I stopped labelling it as expensive. Sure, it costs a lot, but one-pieces and jumperskirts have such a huge amount of fabric which usual clothes don't have. Americans just tend to think that they can get everything for $5 and I get really angry every time they complain, because honestly, sometimes I feel like shouting that they should try living elsewhere.

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    1. That is not exclusive to Americans, actually. It is a rather broad-sweeping and inaccurate assumption.

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  4. I think brand even used is fairly expensive, but part of that feeds into (Depending on the brand) the size-prohibitive question. They make limited prints, they want their clothes to look good, they're aiming at a certain demographic of people who are a certain height and weight, and can afford these clothes. Brands are like that; they like being exclusive. High price helps.

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  5. I have no problem with expensive things in general if I feel they are worth it, and I am willing to pay more for brand names because of proven quality. However, for me, "brand" Lolita, while quality, typically does not match what I'm looking for as far as style. I see/buy indie, handmade, or "off-brand" clothes that make me drool at how beautiful they are, and see brand clothes that make me go "That's it?" Not saying that this is the case for everyone, but I think the appeal for some is the status symbol of having "brand" items. However, I like the status of being a stylish person, period. And I have more admiration for someone who cobbled together an awesome outfit out of things they made and/or found and converted, or who bought "cheaper" Lolita and made it look like a million bucks. To be honest, I have yet to see a brand item that has made me even mildly interested. So, for me, brand is not worth it (so far) because it's not what I like. That's not to say that I would not buy brand, but until I see something that compels me, I feel no draw towards it.

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  6. I think part of it is also because, for many people, lolita isn't an everyday fashion. Sticker shock is even worse when you think you'll only get to wear the dress a few times! If you read articles on fashion in the more upmarket newspapers, you'll see that people often justify expensive purchases with the idea of the "cost per wear", especially when it's an essential item like work clothes or something that'll be get almost daily use like a winter coat. For a lolita whose main opportunity to wear the fashion is at meets, and who doesn't want to wear the same dress to every meet, the "cost per wear" of each dress in a wardrobe of, say, five dresses is going to end up at $60-$100 a time even over a period of a couple of years.

    Even for me (I wear lolita "just because" at least a couple of times a week even though I can't wear it to work), I find that my brand dresses get very little wear because I worry too much about damaging expensive prints if I cook, clean or get public transport in them. When I do wear them around the house, it's spoils the enjoyment somewhat that I can't even drink tea out of fear of spilling it down myself (and yes, that's a real issue, not just me being neurotic...I'm clumsy and tend to spill drinks on myself at least once a week). I think that the pleasure I get on the few occasions I can wear lovely brand outfits justifies the cost, but not everyone thinks that way.

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  7. I just went on a popular brand site and saw loves, little lace white plain gloves, for 120$. This to me is ridiculous. Dresses I can understand, shirts and shoes even, but little plain lace gloves?? O.O

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  8. I have no problem paying tons for a dress, my problem is when Baby expects me to drop 95 dollars plus shipping on a necklace. That isn't fine jewelry like Tiffany's or Jared; it's overglorified costume jewelry.

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  9. Girls fashion and their age are always inversely proportional. You have fantastic stuff on this blog that keep the girls young and beautiful with you fashion tips. Being a fashion artist I really appreciate your efforts and work.
    Love from Royal Lady

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