♥What is Lolita?♥
Lolita is a very hard style to define, but in my opinion what really defines it is it's childlike innocence and old-fashioned elegance. It's distinctive style is most obviously from the Victorian and Rococo eras, but you will see a lot of influence from the Edwardian period and even some 40s and 50s American clothing styles - any time period in which fashion was elegant and beautiful. The bell-shaped skirt provides the typical silhouette, but it is neither what makes something lolita nor is it required of all lolitas. There is no one item of clothing or a color or trim that embodies all that is lolita - it is a unique aesthetic that's hard to perfect. To some there's a lifestyle attached - not only wearing the clothes as often as possible but also taking part in lolita activities and following a certain code of etiquette - but to others it is merely a clothing style. Lolita can be an escape from the mundane, or an attempt to return to a more innocent time in life. It's something a little bit different to everyone, but what lolitas have in common is a shared desire to wear really awesome clothes.
But that's just my highly generalized opinion, for better and more in depth explanations, please read these:
Fatalfille's Essay on Lolita
Seeinglife's Lolita Definition
Or for a slightly less whimsical explanation:
Wikipedia Article on lolita
For more articles on Lolita:
Avant Gauche's List of Articles
Sonia_bunny's List of Articles
♥What about Nabokov's "Lolita"? Isn't that where the term "lolita" comes from"?♥
Yes and no. There is no simple answer to this and you can probably argue it for hours all to no avail. Yes Nabokov popularized the term as a name for a young girl, but there is no indication that the Japanese borrowed the sexual connotation of the word as well. Most lolitas will protest a Nabokov reference, but others see a sexual side side to the fashion. Like all other facets of lolita fashion, each person has a unique perspective on the word itself, so rarely is it beneficial to argue it at length. If anyone has some articles on the subject I'd love to add them.
♥How did lolita fashion start?♥
To the best of my knowledge, lolita started in the late 80s as an alternative fashion in Japan, chiefly in cities like Harajuku (this seems to be most commonly cited as it's birthplace). The way fashion trends work in districts like Harajuku is that one or a few people came up with some new style and others followed. The street fashion then inspired designers (as opposed to designers inspiring style). Though it was popularized by Visual Kei artists such as Mana of Malice Mizer, they did not start the fashion itself. It was around this time that the gothier and black and white lolita style became the most prominent. Currently the style has moved towards a much sweeter aesthetic.
Baby, the Stars Shine Bright (1988)
Metamorphose temps de fille (1993/1997)
Moi Meme Moitie (1999)
And thanks to thevisual_beast we now have scans of the lolita brand timeline for the last decade from the Gothic Lolita Bible ♥ Also thank you amanikitty for patiently sending me all of these scans. Click for bigger :P