Friday, August 21, 2015

The Art of Casual Cute

Getting dressed up in lolita is a lot of fun - but it's a lot of work and not the most comfortable, and it's really not appropriate for every situation.
Many lolitas then turn to other more casual cute Japanese fashions. There are a number of labels out there for styles under this very wide umbrella (for example, himekaji, otome-kei, Larme-kei), but they're all about being cute in a very wearable sense.

Ank Rouge
The transition between dressing in lolita and dressing casual cute can be tough for those who entered the general world of fashion through lolita. Lolita is a very structured, rule-centric fashion, while other fashions tend to be much more open-ended. For this reason, a lot of lolitas feel lost when trying to create outfits outside of the rules and confines of lolita fashion.

An Introduction to Casual Cute

"Casual cute" is simply a way to describe a number of Japanese fashions that are wearable in everyday life, but also maintain a cute aesthetic. In general, clothing in Japan (and much of East Asia) tends to lean more towards "cute" than Western clothing does, even for women who are well into adulthood.
While I'm not a huge fan of the incessant labeling that tends to take place in the Western J-fashion communities, for ease, I'll introduce a handful of labels that can fall under the "casual cute" umbrella.


Leur Getter
Otome-kei often gets mistaken for lolita, but the way I would describe this fashion is as "lolita's quirky older sister". Colors and patterns might be a bit more mismatched (but still thought-out), petticoats are not necessary, and the overall feel tends to learn more towards vintage-inspired, rather than Victorian-inspired.

Otome versus Lolita - courtesy of fuckyeahotome on Tumblr
Otome is more about the feel of an outfit, what kind of impression it gives (you'll find this to be a common theme in this blog post), rather than a specific sillhouette, as in lolita. "Otome" itself means "young maiden" in Japanese, which is the sort of aesthetic the fashion tries for. Prints and motifs often lean toward kitschy, with contrasting patterns and colors often present.
Jane Marple
Some popular otome brands include: Emily Temple cute, Leur Getter, Jane Marple, Milk, and axes femme. Brands like Amavel, F.i.n.t and olive des olive can also easily be incorporated into the otome-kei look.


Liz Lisa
Considered to be under the gyaru umbrella, himekaji is short for "hime casual", or "princess casual". Himekaji is a very girly, feminine strain of gyaru, although it keeps the basics of gyaru intact - heavily done hair (usually light brown or blonde) and make-up (with circle lenses and false eyelashes), along with a pinch of sexy (in the case of himekaji, usually in the form of showing a lot of leg). Himekaji tends to utilize a lot of florals, ruffles, and lace.

Ank Rouge
Liz Lisa is considered to be the quintessential himekaji brand. DreamV (specifically the Dear My Love sub-brand) on Rakuten is a cheaper alternative, and Ank Rouge, Amavel, and Miauler Mew are brands that can also be used for himekaji.

Larme models Risa Nakamura and Yui Kanno
Larme-kei is a relatively new term in the J-fashion world. It comes from the Japanese fashion magazine Larme, which was first published in September 2012. The concept of Larme, created by a former Ageha editor, is that of a cultured 20-something year old who likes girly and cute.
Larme-kei is therefore the answer for girls who looked to magazines such as Popteen, Cutie, and Ageha for inspiration when they were younger, but want something a little more catered toward their age.
In fact, the magazine is host to a lot of former models from these magazines, like Yui Kanno, Maria Kurotaki, and Emma Jasmine.

mon Lily - DreamV's collaboration with Larme magazine
The makeup in Larme-kei tends to be more understated, with lots of pinks and reds, with only minimal usage of false eyelashes. The fashion itself has no specific rules - like otome-kei, it's more about the feel, only with Larme-kei, the aesthetic is, again, that of a cultured 20-something year old who still likes girly and cute styles.

Larme models
Some brands often featured in Larme include Swankiss, mon Lily (DreamV's collab line with Larme), Honey Salon, WEGO, Liz Lisa, and so much more! To get a better sense of Larme-kei, the best thing to do is purchase the magazine yourself (highly, highly recommend this magazine, by the way). It can be bought on Amazon JP - they ship internationally!

Casual Cute Coordination

Now that you've gotten a brief introduction to some of what's out there for casual cute J-fashion, you likely want to jump headfirst into the water, but aren't sure exactly how.

Building a Wardrobe

The first step, of course, is to build yourself a wardrobe. If you're starting from scratch, the process can be lengthy and more than likely a bit pricey.
A good wardrobe is cohesive, so that you can use pieces in multiple outfits. When shopping, it's always good to ask yourself, "what can I pair this with?" and be sure you can come up with at least two answers. I've been dressing this way for several years, and even now I always ask myself that before purchasing anything!

The important thing to note is that, unlike lolita, other J-fashions (and Western fashion, for that matter) are not nearly as obsessed with perfect color matching. It's more about the feel of a piece and the outfit and the overall look. Certainly, some colors go better with each other than others, but overall, a good coordinate is less about being matchy-matchy and more about an overall aesthetic.

DreamV's sub-brand Dear My Love
With that being said, when first creating your wardrobe, it's best to stick with two or three main colors, then accent with unlimited neutral colors (white, cream, brown, black, etc.). An extra pop of color here and there can add some personality, but it's best to wait until you have an established personal look before you begin to experiment.

In addition to color coordinating, there is an art to combining textures, patterns, and motifs. Textures might include knit, chiffon/flowy, faux fur, pintucks, etc. Combining two textures together can create a more interesting, dynamic look. Threading those textures throughout the whole coordinate will help in cohesion. Motifs might include bows, ruffles, or buttons. Repeating these motifs can also provide cohesion throughout the coordinate.
Ank Rouge - repeated bow motifs
The easiest places to buy clothes to suit your wardrobe are, of course, the Japanese brands themselves. It's ok to get some accent pieces at Western stores - a decent amount of my own closet is from Forever21, for example. However, don't expect to build a wardrobe that is easily identifiable as "J-fashion" purely with Western clothing.
A very good option for cheap Japanese clothing is to buy from DreamV's global Rakuten shop. Also remember that at the end of winter and summer, brands will have sales to get rid of that season's stock - this is a great time to purchase! In addition, if you sign up for a webshop's newsletter, they will send you emails whenever they have a sale, which are oftentimes members-only.
If you click HERE, I've typed up a list of brand webshops to take a look at.

I'm going to visualize building a wardrobe twice - first with a more himekaji look, then with a more otome-kei look.

Bottoms & Onepieces - Himekaji

A typical outfit will be centered around a skirt or dress (or possibly pants, shorts, etc.). This is generally going to be your most showy piece. Aim to have at least 4 pieces in this category, with at least one in each of the main colors you've chosen.

Clockwise from upper left: Liz Lisa, Liz Lisa, Liz Lisa, Ank Rouge
In this case, I've chosen pink and navy to be my main colors, which I'll accent with more neutral colors. I also included an ivory skirt with an interesting texture.
Personally, I prefer skirts because they're more versatile and tend to fit a wider range of sizes. You can choose whichever kind of piece you're most comfortable with.

Tops - Blouses & Knits - Himekaji

If you're not wearing a onepiece, you'll need a top for your coordinate. Blouses are the most versatile, but it's nice to also have a knit or two in your collection for colder days and for visual interest. You should aim to have at least 3 items in this category. Be sure each top can go with at least 2 of your main pieces!

Ank Rouge, Ank Rouge, Liz Lisa
It's nice to have a variety of sleeve lengths - I've chosen a sleeveless, a short-sleeve, and a long-sleeve top, all in different colors that will match my main pieces.

Cardigans - Himekaji

Cardigans are great for instantly transforming your coordinate into something new! They are also useful for layering purposes, for those times when it's cold indoors and hot outdoors (or vice versa). I recommend having minimum 2-3 cardigans in your closet.

Liz Lisa, Ank Rouge, Liz Lisa
As you can see, I've added more neutral accent colors - beige and brown. Once again, you should be sure that each piece can be paired with at least two of your main pieces.

Accessories & Shoes - Himekaji

Accessories include hair accessories, jewelry, bags, and legwear. I will also be including shoes in this section.
I suggest having at least two hair accessories, one bag that can match everything, minimum 4-5 pairs of different legwear (ankle socks, overknee socks, tights), and 2 pairs of shoes (one light color, one darker color). I tend to consider jewelry optional, but a simple pearl necklace, a velour choker, or a cute bow ring can add a nice touch. Regardless, accessorizing should be minimal and accentuating, rather than overpowering (which very often goes against a lolita's natural instinct).
L-R from the top: Ank Rouge, Liz Lisa, Liz Lisa
Liz Lisa, Tutuanna, Aliexpress
Aliexpress, Tralala, Tralala
You'll notice that I chose a mix of neutral accent colors and the two main colors of my wardrobe (pink and navy). This allows me to mix-and-match quite a bit, which is a necessary skill when you don't have much at your disposal.
I like to keep my bag and shoes neutral colors - that way, they can continue to match with items as my closet grows.

Bottoms & Onepieces - Otome

Once again, your outfit will likely be centered around a dress, skirt, and occasionally, shorts or pants. You should aim to have minimum 4 pieces in this category, with at least one in each of the main colors you've chosen.
Clockwise from top left: Leur Getter, Jane Marple, Amavel, Jane Marple
With otome, you'll likely have a lot more colors happening than your "main" colors. What you should focus on is dominant colors - in this case, navy and wine.

Tops - Blouses & Cutsews - Otome

If you're wearing a jumperskirt or skirt, you will need a top. Blouses are most common, but cutsews can be a comfortable alternative. You should aim to have at least 3 items in this category, with each top able to match with at least 2 main pieces.
L-R: Emily Temple cute, axes femme, axes femme
You'll notice that the blouses have a lot of little details that add visual interest - these details are useful in otome, where the silhouette tends to be more subdued than in lolita.
You'll also notice that the cutsew on the left is a brand-new color - while not a neutral per se, it will act as a neutral in a coordinate because it is a less flashy piece. That's the thing about otome - a lot of accent colors can be added without being too overwhelming due to the whimsical nature of the style.

Cardigans & Outerwear - Otome

Layering is very common in otome-kei, so cardigans are very useful. I recommend having minimum 2-3 cardigans of varying weights in your closet.

L-R: Amavel, Jane Marple, Leur Getter
Cardigans in otome usually are not of the long variety (they should hit at your low waist, approximately) and should have some sort of detailing that makes them stand out, like embroidery, lace, or ribbons.

Accessories & Shoes - Otome

Accessories include hair accessories, jewelry, bags, and legwear. I will also be including shoes in this section.
I suggest having at least two hair accessories, one bag that can match everything, minimum 4-5 pairs of different legwear (ankle socks, overknee socks, tights), and 2 pairs of shoes in different styles. Remember that accessorizing should be minimal and accentuating, rather than overpowering. Qpot and Jane Marple release very nice accent jewelry - a single necklace or a ring would be enough.
From top left: axes femme, Jane Marple, Jane Marple
Tutuanna, Tutuanna, Jane Marple, Jane Marple
Jane Marple, Emily Temple cute, axes femme
The accessories are primarily wine, navy, and brown, but I also added some green accents for contrast. Socks in otome should preferably not be plain - stripes are very common, or a small bow might suffice. Plain tights might be used in the case of interesting shoes and/or a longer skirt. Legwear can make or break a coordinate!

Putting Together Your Outfits

With the above wardrobes, you should be able to get 2-3 weeks worth of unique coordinates.
Once you have a cohesive wardrobe, it tends to be a lot easier to put things together.

Let's create some coordinates from the above:


This coordinate utilizes both the main colors in the wardrobe (pink and navy) and accents with a cream, which is also found in the skirt. Someone used to coordinating lolita might be tempted to use pink shoes - however, the light color of the cream shoes helps tie in the light pinks on the upper half of the coordinate, without looking too forced. The shoes also help to draw out the cream colors in the skirt. The different texture of the knit and the flowy skirt adds visual interest, while the ruffles on the socks match the ruffles on the knit and skirt hem, adding cohesion to the look. Because the skirt has a more complicated silhouette, the simple top works well to accent it.

This second coordinate uses only one main color (pink), but accents with both dark brown and cream.
In this coordinate, pink is used sparingly, so it adds an almost unexpected pop of color around the torso. The cardigan will cover much of the blouse, so the pink won't be too overwhelming. The streamlined silhouette of the skirt contrasts nicely with the ruffled blouse - a very ruffly skirt with the same blouse could become too much visually. Once again, we are playing with textures: the knit and socks are similar, while the headbow and skirt are similar. The bows on the cardigan also tie in with the headbow and the bow on the front of the skirt.

This coordinate utilizes pink as the main color, with camel and off-white accents.
The onepiece dress is the obvious centerpiece in this coordinate, so the rest is kept fairly simple so as not to over-power the floral dress. The pearls on the hair accessories tie in nicely with the lace on the socks and the shoes, and the bows on the socks and shoes repeat the bows from the hair pins. The embossed floral pattern on the socks fits with the floral print of the dress, without competing. While the shoes don't necessarily "match" (color-wise) anything else in the coordinate, the darker color creates a nice contrast to the pinks and off-whites, while helping draw the eye throughout the entire line of the body, rather than over-focusing on the onepiece.

The main color here is navy, which is pulled throughout the coordinate for cohesion. The velour texture of the shoes also ties in with the velour ribbon belt on the jumperskirt. In addition to the pattern on the jumperskirt, I've added stripes in both the cutsew and socks, giving it that whimsical feeling key to otome. The repetition of the stripes allows the eye to easily take in the clashing patterns without it getting too overwhelming. While I did not include jewelry, a mid-length pendant necklace would be a good choice in this instance.

This coordinate relies less on patterns and more on small detailing to provide visual interest. The embroidery on the blouse's collar, the embroidery on the cardigan, and the straps on the shoes all present a semi-focal point that draws the eye throughout. The gold/ivory print of the skirt is duplicated in the beret's charms, the embroidery and buttons on the blouse and cardigan, and the subtle screenprinting on the tights.

This final coordinate is more on the simple end as far as otome goes. The stripes in the dress are duplicated in the socks, only the stripes are switched to be horizontal in order to provide more visual interest. The bows across the chest of the cardigan also mimics the horizontal stripes, as do the straps on the shoes. While I did not provide a hair accessory, a simple navy headband with a small bow would likely be a good choice.

Learning what goes well together and being able to discern the feel of a coordinate takes time and practice. Some people more naturally are able to recognize these more subtle factors, while others need to learn it. If your coordinates seem lacking at first, just keep at it - continue to look at magazines, shop staff, and shop blogs for inspiration.
(I'm also always happy to help - feel free to leave a comment on my Facebook page if you would ever like critique or help with building your wardrobe!)

Liz Lisa
Growing Your Wardrobe

You've got a basic wardrobe and can coordinate those few pieces well - it's time now to expand.
When expanding your wardrobe, a good idea is to first add pieces to suit other seasons. The wardrobes above are best suited for early fall (because that's what clothing is being sold right now), so to make them winter friendly, I would add some thicker knit tops and cardigans, more long-sleeve tops, knit tights, a cute beret or scarf, a matching coat, and some boots. Layering is your friend in cold weather!

Ank Rouge winter look
As you build your wardrobe, continue to ask yourself if you can pair each item with at least two already in your closet.
So that you don't end up with too many of one type of clothing and not enough of others, a good ratio to keep in mind is a top for every bottom, and a cardigan or blazer for every 2 main pieces. Legwear is something you should always have plenty handy, as it needs to be washed after every use.

After you have a basic wardrobe, you'll probably want to expand on colors. With the above himekaji wardrobe, I might start to add in bordeaux items for fall and winter, which is often very trendy for the colder seasons. You can also start expanding and playing with motifs and themes - floral is certainly the most common and popular motif, but others include music notes, nautical, and a mermaid theme. Liz Lisa has a ballerina theme with their current fall collection, and Amavel is focusing on fairy tales.
Different color combinations give different theme impressions - for example, pure red, blue, and white are very "marine" and perfect for the summer. Black will give any coordinate a more classic tone overall, while pastels evoke a more youthful feeling.

one spo likes to use a lot of black

Hair, Makeup, & Nails

Finally, styling your personal appearance can make a remarkable difference in your overall look.
Trends come and go, but it's up to you to decide how important you think following what's "in" is. Generally speaking, in fashions like himekaji and Larme-kei, being trendy is rather important and involves keeping up with magazines and blogs. Otome-kei tends to be more timeless in styling, so constant reflection isn't as necessary. The same holds true if you'd rather just do your own thing and not strictly follow a particular style.

LL Gals in himekaji
Himekaji tends toward lighter hair colors (currently a medium to light brown is most popular), usually in a longer length, typically with slightly curled bangs. It is heavily styled, often in curls, and makes use of delicate hair accessories or cute hats.

July 2015 issue of Popteen magazine
In the past, himekaji, and gyaru in general, has been associated with very heavy makeup. In recent years, though, the trend has been to have a more natural (relatively speaking) look. Circle lenses and false eyelashes are still used gratuitously, but eyeliner is often lighter and eyebrows are filled in more naturally. Pink cheeks and lips are also seen.

Okarie's nails from June
Also important in himekaji are nails. Fake nails with elaborate designs are commonly seen, usually with motifs that are popular that particular season (I expect to see a lot of ballet themed nails soon). Nails tend to be of fairly natural length and shape and much more practical, unlike in gyaru of old with exagerated lengths and incredibly elaborate pieces glued on.

Leur Getter shop staff with a cute bob
Hair in otome-kei is extremely varied. In general, it tends to exude a somewhat vintage or retro feel, with a modern twist. Bobs and long, softly curled hair are popular, as are braids and twintails. It tends to favor hair colors on the darker end of the brown-black spectrum, but any natural color is acceptable. Otome-kei hairstyles almost always have bangs, usually straight across rather than side-swept.

Misako Aoki wearing otome-kei
Makeup in otome-kei is kept light and fairly natural. Half falsies would be acceptable, although mascara is enough. Eyeliner is light, preferably in a brown shade. Cute pink blush and a subtle pink lip gloss top the look off.

long Larme-kei hair style
short Larme-kei hair style
Larme-kei is incredibly varied as far as hair goes. Varying shades of brown are most popular, but black and blonde can also be seen, as well as more unnatural shades such as a silvery-lavender. 

Larme issue 15 - scan courtesy emiiichan
Hairstyles also vary dramatically. In fact, one of my favorite things about Larme magazine is its amazing hair tutorials for both long and short hair! Commonly though, curls are more popular than straight, and hair tends to be heavily styled. Braids are also extremely popular, in various iterations. Subtle, girly hair accessories like small hair ribbons or clips are also popular. Most Larme models have bangs, but not all.

Makeup in Larme-kei also tends to vary depending on what's trendy that season. Commonly, the look consists of minimal false eyelash usage (only subtle top lashes), lighter eye makeup in nude and/or pink tones, straight, thick eyebrows, quite a bit of blush (current placement trend is right under the eyes), and pink or red lips (depending on the trends), usually utilizing both a lipstick or stain and gloss layered on top.


Casual cute J-fashion can be intimidating for someone only familiar with wearing lolita. 
Important things to remember include:
  • Perfect color matching is not key
  • Accessorizing tends to be minimal
  • Successful coordinating relies on the feel and aesthetic of the pieces
  • A versatile wardrobe is a good wardrobe
  • Textures, patterns, and motifs can make or break an outfit
And as always, I am very happy to help if you ever want advice or critique! The easiest way to reach me is by commenting on or direct messaging my Facebook page.

Good luck and happy coordinating!


  1. It must have taken you ages to write this post! It was interesting to read your point of view on this :)

    1. lol! I mostly write during downtime at work, so the time goes by pretty fast!
      Glad to hear you thought it was interesting~!

  2. This post is really useful and interesting! Thanks for writing and sharing. ♡

    1. Thank you, I'm glad you found it interesting~!!

  3. Thank you so much for writing this! I'm a Lolita wanting to do otome kei, and had no idea where to start, so now I feel I have some direction!

  4. This is so, so helpful!! Loooooved the coordination examples! I've always loved hime kaji but been to scared to try it out myself. That's gonna change from now on and thanks to you i know how and where to start building my wardrobe!