Hi everyone! Just so you know this is a media-heavy post!
When I think of what makes someone a style icon, I think of their aesthetic and how it’s unique, how they are able to inspire others, what admirable qualities and traits they have, and what they are famous for.
Personally, people I consider influential embody the person I would like to ultimately become – strong, confident, unique, talented, honest, and of course, fashionable. Even though this post focuses on my style icons that don’t wear lolita, these folks inspire me to be myself, live life on my own terms, and tell stories through adornment.
When I was a kid, I couldn’t fall asleep unless I was listening to the oldies’ station on the radio. This is how my love for Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks began, around the age of 7 or 8. I was (and still am) captivated by Stevie’s spellbinding voice, and the musicianship of Fleetwood Mac. I consider their performances, especially those from the 1970s and 1980s, akin to magical ceremonies. It wasn’t until I was a little older I truly took notice of her outfits, flowing shawls, and ethereal spirit. Whenever I have a moment of self-doubt or I’m unwell, I’ll look up live versions of my favorite songs of theirs and instantly feel better. Below is one of my favorite performances of all time – “Rhiannon” from the 1976 Midnight Special:
For someone who has been ridiculed and joked about for how she dresses, Stevie seems to take it in stride and not let it phase her. She was interviewed nearly twenty years ago for USA Today, likening her fashion sense to something “…Dickensian, London street-urchin look in high school. I’ll never be in style, but I’ll always be different.” Steve is true to herself, and has been as long as she has been in the public eye, for over half a century. Her approach to life and herself has definitely influenced how I choose to accept the aging process. Stevie is proof that at any age, you can evolve while staying true to your craft and yourself. She also has a shawl vault that I am incredibly envious of – in both volume and organization.
My mom is the biggest Bowie fan I know. I heard a lot of his music growing up thanks to her. When I was a kid I didn’t realize every iteration of David was him; I thought they were all different people. I thought he was from another planet! He, along with Prince, made it okay for masculine presenting people to accept and celebrate their feminine side. David blurred the lines of gender norms through his fashion choices and his music. In his own words, he had a “repulsive need to be something more than human” and longed to be “superhuman”.
For mom’s 60th birthday, I took her to visit the Brooklyn Museum exhibit that displayed so many of his costumes, music, recordings, and paraphernalia. It was really a special moment for us, and very moving to see his life presented in such a tangible way without him being physically present.
David Bowie is someone I instantly think of when I think of well-dressed – and not the culturally colloquial term. He was always just so; but very in tune with each of his visions for himself. He mastered the idea and execution of the word “aesthetic”, and used the way he dressed himself to express his talents to the world stage.
I didn’t discover Grace Jones until I was a teenager. When I was in high school, I was super into both androgyny and and hyper femininity. While I had David Bowie as an influence, as well as visual kei bands I listened to at the time (X Japan and Dir en Grey for the most part), there was also Grace Jones.
Grace walked for Yves St. Laurent and other fashion houses after signing with Wilhelmina Models at age 18. In her adulthood, she frequented the disco scene at Studio 54. A lot of her iconic looks came out of this era, and well into the 1980s. Her gender blurring look was achieved through silhouette, her incredible bone structure, her divine originality, and lots of black fabric and leather.
Besides modelling, Grace went on to cross into other forms of media by becoming a successful singer and actor. What I really love about her is that she was able to create an influential career by embracing herself with confidence and awareness. The result has been the effortless edge that she is known for.
For over fifty years, Grace Jones has been in the public eye and has continued to model into her seventies. Her commitment to fashion and longevity in the scene is something I can only hope to have for myself. The photo featured here is from this year (!!), where she walked for Tommy Hilfiger along with Zendaya. In Grace’s own words, “those who demand that you conform the most to how they live are the ones who are the most scared and intimidated by life”, which to me, sounds straight out of Kamikaze Girls.
Very famously quoted as saying “it costs a lot of money to look this cheap”, Dolly Parton is one of my style icons because she is colorful, authentic, and her love for big hair and a good rhinestone probably rivals my own. To me, she always comes across as someone you could instantly be friends with. She embodies positivity like a literal ray of sunshine. Dolly is a great storyteller and entertainer, and also gives back to others through her charity work. She’s from a small town like I am, but was able to go on and achieve her dreams. Besides her involvement in the humanities, Dolly’s body of work encompasses her writing (musical and literary), instrumental prowess, singing, and acting.
Dolly is one of my more recent inspirations. I came across this interview between her and Barbara Walters only a few years ago, and since then I’m 1000% on the Dolly train. Please watch it above if you feel inclined (I apologize that I couldn’t find a version with closed captioning).
I admire the elegant way that Dolly, then 31 (just a year older than I am now) expertly handles Barbara’s negative, patronizing slant throughout the interview. I’d like to be as dignified when I’m approached with questions about lolita and of myself. Dolly could have put her in her place several times, (growing up, the “authenticity” of her figure, her image… barf) but she takes the opportunity to educate and connect with Barbara. The way Dolly responds in one particular part of the interview really resonated with me (begins at 10:14):
Barbara: You don’t have to look like this. You’re very beautiful. You don’t have the wear the blonde wigs, you don’t have to wear the extreme clothes. Right?
Dolly: No, it’s certainly a choice. I don’t like to be like everybody else. I’ve often made this statement that I would never stoop so low to be fashionable. That’s the easiest thing in the world to do! So I just decided to do something that would at least get the attention. Once they got past the shock of the ridiculous way I looked and all that, then they would see there was parts of me to be appreciated. I’m very real where it counts, and that’s inside and as far as my outlook on life and the way I care about people and the way I care about myself, and the things that I care about. But I just chose to do this. Show business is a money-making joke, and I just always liked telling jokes!
Barbara: But do you ever feel that you’re a joke? That people make fun of you?
Dolly: Oh I know they make fun of me! But actually all these years the people have thought the joke was on me, when but it’s actually been on the public. I know exactly what I’m doing and I can change it at anytime. I make more jokes about myself than anybody. Like I said, I am sure of myself as a person. I am sure of my talent and I’m sure of my love for life and that sorta thing. I’m very content. I like the kind of person that I am. So, I can afford to piddle around and dodiddle around with makeups and clothes. Because I am secure, with myself.
By the end of the interview, Barbara is “frankly, crazy about Dolly”.
I happened upon Daniel via his Ted Talk when it went viral. You can watch the video below (closed captioning is available). He views his life as his art, and the items he wears as living art. I honestly view lolita in a very similar way. I see lolita clothing as beautiful pieces of craftsmanship woven with art by way of elevated storytelling and design.
Daniel likens his approach to adornment like an architect designs a building. He says that sometimes people think he’s “a performer or a drag queen”, when he is not. I felt a parallel from Daniel’s experience to mine when wearing lolita. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked the tired questions – “Are you in a play?” “Where are your sheep Bo Peep?” “Are you famous?”
The most annoying thing for him is when people want “to touch the art”, meaning him and what he wears. I have been approached and touched while in lolita, as like Daniel says, people are curious of the unknown. For the people around us, most have never seen someone wearing lolita before. It’s very interesting to me that Daniel’s process is so close to how lolitas go about their day and exist in the world.
To close, I’d like to leave you with a question that Daniel asks at the end of his speech. Think of how it may relate to you, and where it can take you forward in life. It certainly made me think!
How does life change when you choose to be unapologetically yourself?
Until next time,