On a warm day in Southern California, 25-year-old Alyssa Salazar arrives at Starbucks wearing a blue chiffon dress printed with cupcakes, soft pink knee-high boots, and a heart-shaped purse. Neither of us orders anything to drink, because it's the holy Islamic month of Ramadan so we're both fasting. As we talk, she fidgets with the bow affixed to her headscarf, which is cut from the same cupcake-printed material of her dress.
This is an everyday uniform for the Lolita enthusiast. She's part of a well-established subculture of girls who enjoy dressing as Lolitas—a style of dress originating in Japan that borrows inspiration from the aggressively fussy aesthetics of Victorian-era clothes. But Salazar, a convert to Islam, has distinguished herself within the Lolita community with her Tumblr, The Hijabi Lolita, where she posts photos of her daily outfits, paired with her headscarves. The word "hijabi" is used to describe Muslim women who wear the hijab, or headscarf, as a form of daily religious practice.
Over the past two years, Salazar has amassed more than 10,000 followers on her blog. As her fame grows, she's become exposed to the highly critical and discerning tastes of the Lolita community. But as a Muslim, she's used to people scrutinizing and criticizing the clothes she wears. VICE spoke with Salazar about Vladimir Nabokov, Islamaphobia, and how she navigates the margins of both the Muslim and Lolita communities.
VICE: What is Lolita fashion, for people who are unfamiliar with it?
Alyssa Salazar: Lolita fashion started in Harajuku, Tokyo. It's based off Rococo and Victorian fashion, just modernized a bit. It's not cosplay. It's not Living Doll. It's actual fashion with its own rules and its own style. Lolita has over a thousand different dresses and prints. There are different sub-categories of Lolita. There's Sweet Lolita, Classic Lolita, and Gothic Lolita. Then you have your Punk-Goth Lolita. You have Otome, which is extremely casual Lolita. You can even do Pirate Lolita, or Witch Lolita.
The creepiest thing a guy has said to me is, "Little Bo Peep, where's your sheep?"
What are the guidelines to dressing up like this? It strikes me very much as an art.
We don't call our outfits "outfits." We call them "coordinates," or "cords," because you coordinate everything to your outfit. There's a lot that goes into an outfit. There's a petticoat, which you wear to keep the poof. There are socks, boots, blouses, head bows, accessories, bags. If you're not a hijabi, there are wigs and bonnets.
How did you get into it?
My friend was selling one of her skirts so I just decided to buy it. I didn't know if I could get into it, because I wear hijab. My friend told me about SugarNoor, another hijabi Lolita, and I was like, OK, this is possible.
How do you adapt the Lolita style to hijab? What's your process?
There's really no difference, because Lolita is fairly modest to begin with. I could wear this without a scarf.
Do people automatically associate it with Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita?
Sometimes people do associate it with the book, because there are some Lolitas who do age play in Lolita. Age play is a fetish, where you like having sex dressed up as a baby. That's not what Lolita is. Not all Lolitas are into age play. But some of them are, and it makes people who don't know what Lolita fashion is have that type of expectation when they see a Lolita.
Do you ever get creepy comments from men when you're dressed in Lolita?
Actually, no, I haven't yet. I'm waiting for it, though, because I will pepper-spray them. Sometimes people will lift up my friends' skirts to see what's holding it up. My friends told me that this has happened to them. The creepiest thing a guy has said to me is, "Little Bo Peep, where's your sheep?" But it's mostly women, who might say, "That's cute," or try and snap pictures without my permission.
You must get more comments about your scarf then.
I get drive-by haters that say, "Take it off, it's not Iraq." But when I'm in Lolita, it's different. People think it's a costume.
I saw a Facebook page you recently posted called "Ban Lolita Muslims," and they were using your photo as the main profile picture. You didn't seem angry about it!
They were just trolling. I guess they didn't realize that most Muslim Lolitas don't wear hijabs. It should have said "Ban Hijabi Lolitas" instead of "Muslims."
It's funny, because they used my profile picture but [they also use] all of SugarNoor's pictures. There was all this mean stuff written, like, "This is so sad, this girl, in this dress, getting married at eight years old and getting beaten by her husband." Or, "Such a pretty dress to get covered in blood."
I feel more welcomed into the Lolita community than in the Muslim community. They actually wanted to get to know me.
How have other people in the Lolita community responded to your hijabi Lolita coords?
I haven't received any hate from my community. They're very open to it. People come from a lot of different backgrounds into Lolita. And they're very welcoming. They've accepted me, and they don't judge. They think it's pretty cool.
But since I do wear the scarf, I feel like I have to try to coord better than everyone else who doesn't wear a scarf. Since I cover my hair, and cover a little more of myself, I have to try harder. I don't want to be known as an Ita. "Ita" comes from the word "Itai," which means "ouch." It means that your coord is so terrible that it burns me to look at it.
It seems like you have to fulfill two very high standards of dress, and modesty, from two very different communities—both your Muslim community and your Lolita community. But you're pulling it off! At what point did you decide you wanted to blog your outfits?
I was kind of nervous about putting myself out there. There's this website called Behind the Bows, and it's pretty much where Lolitas talk crap about each other. SugarNoor was attacked a lot on that page, when the blog first opened. You'd pretty much see her every week, or every few weeks, being ridiculed for wearing her scarf in Lolita. That's why I was nervous, because I was afraid that would happen to me too.
Was it Islamophobic or was it just people who were upset she wasn't wearing Lolita correctly?
It was Islamophobic. Even though the Lolita community is very open-minded, there are still some close-minded people.
You've said that you're not as active in the Muslim community as you were before. Is there a reason for that?
Honestly, as a convert, I wasn't very welcomed. I felt like I was the token convert. At the [Muslim community functions], I felt more comfortable being in the corner with my phone.
So the Lolita community has been more accepting?
I feel more welcomed into the Lolita community than in the Muslim community. They actually wanted to get to know me. They invite me to stuff, and they interact with me at those functions. I met my best friend through Lolita.
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