Gender and Kawaii Culture

Kawaii was king (or queen?) Saturday at 8:30PM in the Hyatt’s Baker room as I had the privilege of sitting in on an intriguing and in-depth panel on an even more intriguing subject, Kawaii culture. More specifically, the topic focused on “Gender Fluidity in Kawaii Culture.”

For you gaijen out there, Kawaii (cute in Japanese) is a thriving sub-culture that involves ornate and often flamboyant and highly individualized fashion. The featured Cairo C, fashion model and founder of Rainbows and Gold, a leading American Kawaii-themed fashion line. In addition to Rainbows and Gold, several other popular clothing lines were mentioned. However, it was stressed that Kawaii and Lolita are very unique and customized from person to person.

The topics included several subsets of Kawaii involving androgyny and gender bending as well as the genre’s growing popularity. One of these subsets, called Lolita, is inspired by Victorian and Edwardian clothing. A growing trend in Lolita involves men dressing up in feminine outfits, or “coordinates.” Often called “Brolitas,” these male-identifying individuals dress up in feminine period-themed costumes, sometimes accompanied by female counterparts. Also called Kodona, the concept represents a large theme within Kawaii called Genderless Danshi and is currently a popular trend in Tokyo fashion.

While I may not have exactly understood much of the subject matter, I was very intrigued when the panel touched on society’s perception of Kawaii culture. Many audience members shared their experiences and concerns regarding exclusion and judgement from society. The panel offered resources in the forms of local and online groups where like-minded individuals can share support and even design tips and ideas. My favorite thing and major takeaway from this panel was the sense of community and welcoming nature of Kawaii culture. I believe Cairo C said it best when asked about her fashion line, “I wanted to everyone to feel included.” Even though I may not dress in Kawaii myself, I definitely felt included here tonight.

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