In the western lolita fashion world we have two distinct types of communities: Local communities where people get together to make friends and attend events, and the larger online communities where people can discuss latest releases, trends, and shop. It is true that occasionally girls find their local community first, but I think it is much more common for new lolitas to be introduced to the online spaces early on. While some places are constructive, we all know about websites dedicated to nitpicking and hatemongering, and I personally feel that the growth of these drama sites has changed local community dynamics quite a bit.
When I first started participating in my local community, lolita fashion was pretty hard to get. A large collection of lolita items was uncommon since you had to deal with shopping services, and the obsession with new prints didn’t really exist yet. Most of the girls in my community had small wardrobes, and it wasn’t uncommon for us to wear our favorite outfits to multiple meetups in a row. There wasn’t really a social expectation to constantly have new items and new coordinates, and meetups felt a lot more like hanging out than a coordinate competition.
When I talk to new lolitas these days, many of them express anxiety about attending local meetups. They’ve seen the nitpick and ita threads online, and they don’t want to be mocked for their first coordinates. They worry about not being able to make friends, and wearing the same outfit twice in a row seems to have become taboo. I’m not exactly sure where this change came from, or why it happened, but I do think that the ease of accessibility of lolita fashion and our cultural obsession with social media has brought with it an expectation of perfection and an air of competition. While some people just have nervous personalities and just don’t cope well with social situations, others get anxiety when they feel inadequate or pressured.
For me, the lolita fashion community has been a place filled with friendship and good memories. I’ve gained a lot of confidence from hosting meetups, and meeting new people. I think that in the long run, being a part of a local community is more important than being particularly active online, because having close friends who are into the fashion has always inspired and encouraged me. While my first meetup was definitely an awkward experience, it didn’t fill me with the dread that I usually feel when attending loud parties our crowded get togethers. To hear that many girls, both with and without social anxiety, feel this way is a bit depressing. So, below are some tips that I’ve used successfully (generally in non-lolita settings) to help me deal with my own social anxiety. I hope you find them helpful!
Before the Meetup
Make friends online first!
Regardless of if you have social anxiety or not, in person introductions can be really hard. Since most people find out about their local community online first, it is a good idea to start talking with community members before attending a meetup. This way, you are more likely to have acquaintances to talk with at the event, and it will be more exciting than dread-inducing.
If you have social anxiety, I would recommend posting on the event page that you’re shy and you’d like to try to meet people online who will be attending first, so that you’ll feel more comfortable at the event. You don’t have to mention any medical conditions, and I think most people will understand and be happy to chat.
See if someone wants to twin with you.
Going along with the first tip, seeing if someone will twin with you is a good way to bond. Provided the meetup is far enough in advance, this will let you get to know someone while shopping together to get all of the pieces for your coordinate. Then, when you go to the meetup, you’ll have someone to talk with, and the anxiety of putting together your coordinate will be eliminated as well.
Don’t bring non-lolita friends to a meetup.
Most of the time event planners are fine with boyfriends or non-lolita friends attending a meetup, but if you deal with anxiety or don’t like to socialize, this can be a bad idea. To begin with, people are less likely to approach someone who is already paired up with another person. While you might be introduced, people will assume you’d prefer to spend time with the friends/partner you brought, instead of socializing with them. Additionally, you’ll also have the pressure of entertaining your guests, and you won’t be free to socialize yourself. Finally, bringing a friend or s/o who isn’t into the fashion allows you an escape from socializing, because you can avoid other people instead of being forced to interact. While it might be sucky and awkward at first, if you go alone, or with another lolita, you’ll be more likely to make friends than to rely on your partner/non-lolita guest for comfort.
Wear your favorite outfit.
If you don’t have someone to twin with, then I would suggest wearing your favorite outfit. When you are dressed in something that makes you happy, it changes the way you carry yourself and interact with others. This doesn’t mean you have to wear your most OTT, trendy or expensive piece – for some people a simple old-school coordinate might be what makes them happiest. If you know you look good, you’ll be able to put more of your energy into socializing instead of worrying about how others percieve you.
Wear a calming perfume.
While you don’t want people to smell you coming, dabbing a calming perfume on your wrist can help with social anxiety. If you feel like you might start panicking, you can excuse yourself to take a few deep breaths. The familiar scent can be very reassuring, and can help ground yourself instead of giving into panic. My personal favorite perfume is Cockaigne by Black Alchemy Phoenix Labs (smells like sweets!) but lavender, rose, jasmine and chamomile are also popular for this technique!
Prepare the night before, get enough sleep and pack a snack.
Being sleepy or hungry can really negatively effect your mood, so make sure the night before your event you lay out your entire outfit, go to bed early, and pack yourself a snack in case you get hungry. Personally I can be really bad about this – but the days where I have everything set to go in advance definately start me out in a better mood since I’m not in a rush to get out the door.
During & After
Think of your experience as the side or supporting story.
Some people will tell you to think of yourself as the main character in your life story, but I think that this can be dangerous to both your attitude and your self esteem. In general people like to interact with confident individuals, but not arrogant ones. If you’re always thinking of yourself and your enjoyment first, you won’t be listening to what other people have to say, and you won’t be concerned with making sure that other people are enjoying interacting with you. Instead, you’ll be focused just on what could be better for you, and why things aren’t good enough.
Additionally, while thinking of yourself as the main character might give you a temporary self-esteem boost, it can also backfire. Being the main character puts a lot of pressure on you to look and act perfectly. You have to have the best coordinate, the most popular new release, or the most expensive wardrobe. You might be tempted to do or say things that fit into a protagonists archetype, instead of being content to be yourself. Additionally, the things that happen to a main character tend to feel more personal, don’t they? As though they were intentional slights, instead of a simple mistake.
If you think of yourself (and those around you) as supporting stories in a larger narrative, things can be a lot more relaxed, and a lot more fun. Instead of facing pressure to be perfect, or being focused on why you weren’t greeted first, you’ll be able to sit back and notice all of the different narratives coming together to make the event happen. It is easier to be yourself when you know that your presence is welcome regardless of your percieved flaws, and it will be easier to forgive the awkwardness or mistakes made during a meetup as silly moments, instead of personal attacks against you.
Focus on making friends, not on comparing coordinates.
Lolita fashion is a materialistic subculture, but meetups don’t have to be about competition. While I don’t think that your average coordinate contest is a real issue, attending a normal meetup and comparing yourself to everyone else isn’t a good idea. There will always be those who have been around longer, have a larger wardrobe, or have a trendier coordinate participating in the community. Regardless of how long you’ve been in the fashion, if you become resentful of another person because of what they have, or what makes them happy, they won’t want to be around you. So instead of focusing on material things so much, try to focus on enjoying another person’s opinions and personality. Friendships can’t be bought or impressed upon someone, they are made of something more meaningful.
Don’t be afraid to take a break from group activities.
Sometimes socializing can just be overwhelming, and you might need to take a break. If that is the case you can either let someone know you need to step outside, or make an excuse to run to the bathroom or make a phonecall. Sometime just being able to step away for a few minutes can really recharge you, and it is a good time to remind yourself of all the positive things that have happened that day. If you have friends you met online before attending, letting them know before you step away will allow you as much time as you need before the organizer sends a search party.
Remember other people have anxiety too!
One of my personal pet peeves is that often times established members get labelled as catty or cliquish when they attend meetups in a group, or hang out with other lolitas outside of a meet. Sometimes newer members will claim that the established group is having “private” or “secret” meetups, when really people should be allowed to just hang out with their friends. The fact of the matter is, these folks are probably not trying to snub you, they just view a meetup as an opportunity to get dressed up and hang out with their friends. No one is obligated to make sure you have a great time and leave a meetup with a new friend circle – your community and hostess provided the opportunity, it is your job to take advantage of it.
Often times I hear from newbies that they got the stink eye from so and so, but when I ask if they actually talked, they reply “No, she didn’t introduce herself to me, so I didn’t talk to her.” Honestly, I think it is a bit presumptuous to assume that anyone who glances in your direction is making fun of you. It could be that she had a stomach ache, or is worried about her personal life. Maybe the look you took as judgemental was just a case of resting bitch face. Or, perhaps that girl actually has anxiety – just like you!
Chances are, if you introduce yourself, tell them you’re new, and participate in the conversation, people will want to hang out with you. For the most part, we’re all worried about the same things, so let go of those preconcieved notions about cattiness and give them a chance.
Make time to hang out, and keep in touch!
You don’t have to give away your phone number and address, exchanging facebook information should be enough. But if you want to make friends in your lolita community, you have to make an effort. Sometimes hanging out one on one can be a great bonding experience, since small groups come with less pressure than a big meetup. If you live too far away, you can always set up a Google Hangout, or Skype session. No one likes to always be the first to reach out, so take the time to write to your friends and check up on them. If you don’t, they will probably assume you’re not really interested in talking, and they’ll move on to other relationships.
Sometimes you get lucky, and you meet your new best friend immediately. Other times, it can take awhile. Try not to get discouraged if after your first few meetups you don’t feel like you really connected with someone. When I was starting out, I assumed that most of the other lolitas around me didn’t really like me, and many of them assumed the same thing. In reality, we were letting our insecurities get the better of us, and it wasn’t until we actually started hanging out more that we realized what the problem was. If you don’t meet someone right away, don’t give up! Keep trying, and eventually you’ll make some new friends.
I know this article is a bit long, but I think that it is better to be overprepared to deal with stress than flounder around at the last minute! If you have any suggestions, let me know!
Have fun, and good luck!