Band group posing in the lobby. This is the start of BFF fashion–dressing to coordinate outfits with your friends to create the overall theme.

Photos by Tom Wallace
Story by Kathleen Gasperini

When the Anime Expo comes to Los Angeles, it’s not unlikely to suddenly see thousands of young people dressed in various costumes or DIY designs unloading from various forms of public transportation, taking over downtown LA as they head towards the Convention Center. Attracting an estimated 40,000 fans, this particular Anime Expo, which took place July 1-4, is the largest in the country, and by all measures, the place to quantify the importance of Japan’s greatest export: manga and anime. Hosted by the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA), the Anime Expo is a consumer and industry-based event whereby manga and anime industry brands host exhibitions and fans get their chance to participate in a range of activities, including the ever-popular Artists Alley to feature personal anime drawings and sell artwork and crafts.

Similar to a Cosplay event, Anime Expo features lobbies full of carefully outfitted manga or anime characters, as well as fresh trends on the latest in fairy kei, visual kei, all forms of kawaii, Goth, Lolitas, Aristocrat Goths, Maid caf%uFFFD styles, Elegant Gothic Lolitas (EGL%uFFFDs), and all of the various subcultures within this genre. Its one place where people WANT you to take their picture, which everyone does, and then shares with others over and over again, creating a hyped-viral frenzy of fashion and characterizations. Top brands found in key locations in Tokyo such as Harajuku and Akihabara showcase here for consumer purchases including Starry Petals, Angelic Pretty, h. Noami, and scores of others, making this also one of the primary locations where young people can actually buy in-person rather than from Japanese online retailers, their favorite styles of Lolita, Goth, and related clothing and accessories. Because of this, the Exhibition Hall where shopping takes place is packed to the gills with people who have come from all of the country in order to see the authentic Lolita dresses, for example, for themselves.

Aristocrat Lolitas–loads of time creating such looks including make-up.

The Exhibition Hall also includes rows of manga and anime brands selling their wares including the latest character dolls, T-shirts with a variety of leading-edge statement graphics and animal motifs, manga comics, anime movies, prop weaponry, and this year, an increased amount of steampunk -from accessories such as brass goggles and leather armor, to oversized tophats and sweeping steampunk overcoats for guys.

When it comes to the fashion presented at Anime Expo, one thing that many designers in so-called normal fashion industries don’t understand is that while anime does exploit the characterization and costumery of this side of the industry, many aspects of the various subcultures within anime design are clearly influencing mainstream youth culture fashion. As a new generation that’s grown up leading a digital lifestyle, and floating easily between linear to web to mobile to virtual, back to real again, it’s not that uncommon that some of the freshest trends, colors, and silhouettes in fashion come from what some consider “fantasy fashion.” However if you’re young, experimental, and/or a designer influenced by such artistry in gaming characters and other narrative stories from the virtual world, including manga and anime, such influence makes total sense.

Visual Kei rockers–copping the J-rock look such as Yoshiki from X Japan, the kingpin of the genre.

For example, bear-ear or kitty-ear hoodies, Lolita and Fairy Kei bows, hair accessories, multi-color beaded bracelets, facemasks, and Bo-Peep Lolita dresses, Gothic corsets, Steampunk waistcoats, Visual Kei accessories, make-up, hair, and a variety of platform shoes. This year included a heavy dose of “Alice in Wonderland” type of tophats and accessories. The costume designer for the movie most likely was influenced by the Lolita subculture found in manga and anime. Similarly, the steampunk aspects of Robert Downey, Jr.’s “Sherlock Holmes” can squarely be scene from parts of this scene. Top Cosplay influences from anime such as Durarara!!, Bleach, and Battle Royale were also dominate.

What also popped this year were the high number of angels and angel-wings on the one hand, and horror-graphics, blood, and gore on the other. These aspects are also influenced by the latest in anime and manga, but also the popularity of horror in general in terms of movies (especially among girls as seen in our North American Youth Culture Studies). Vampires were also a highlight including aspects related to the Twilight movie series, such as T-shirt graphics stating, “Vampires Don’t Sparkle ” or “”Said the Lion Who Fell in Love with the Lamb “

Bloody, horror, graphic–definitely on the rise this year. Goes with the fascination for Battle Royale.

Also, as though a testament to the expanding reach of anime and manga, the ethnic diversity has increased tremendously since we first started covering the scene back in 2000. In addition, with today’s increasingly post-gender generation, there were far more guys dressing Lolita and Goth-girl than ever before. In some ways the cross-dressing elements have opened the door for an entirely new subculture within this subculture: Guy Lolita dresses, Goth-punk school girl skirts for guys, Aristo visual kei which is already a big part of the J-rock scene, but extended with long skirts, gloves, and bustiers, plus fairy kei guy accessories such as slightly larger tiny tophats.

Another big trend this year at Anime Expo was the presence of people dressed as Hetalia characters -military, patriotic vibes representing different “character” countries. Funimation announced at a panel discussion that it would be releasing the first season of Hetalia: Axis Powers on DVD this September and you’d think that we were in room full of Robert Pattinson fans, it got so loud.

Hetalia started as a cult web comic that grew into mini anime webisodes and has caught on like air on fire. What’s interesting is that it has increased awareness and interest about World War II and American history among young people based on the various characters and their interactions. For example, America and England are “brothers” in the anime series, but not the closest, whereas Canada is always misunderstood and gets frustrated with being confused with America (yes, the USA is America in this series). Tokyopop will be releasing an entire volume of the manga this fall. Meanwhile, if you wonder what all of the military fashion is about, here’s where it started.

There are also plenty of seminars, ranging from the state of the anime and manga entertainment industry with key artists, producers, and screenwriters ranging from Crunchyroll to Bandai Entertainment, plus distinguished “Guests of Honor” of famous anime creators, as well as J-Rock bands including X Japan, and J-pop bands such as the 16-member all-girl AKB48. 

Artists Alley is a favorite location at Anime Expo with artists drawing live and selling their manga comics and doing commissions of various people in character.

Classes and seminars this year included the usual fair of Otaku Parliamentary discussions, drawing, anime voice clinics, gaming, Karaoke, midnight teas, Origami classes, the Masquerade Ball and AX Idol (like American Idol), Battle of the Bands, Para Para Dancing, a variety of new anime and manga previews, and tabletop and console gaming stations.

So many aspects of manga and anime now influence mainstream America that often it’s difficult to see where the trends started. However at events like the Anime Expo, it’s a refreshing reminder that while indeed creativity and imagination can thrive beyond it’s cult following, there is a starting point–of which this is one of them.

TokiDoki fans, but also bordering on young punk and raver with multi-colored bracelets.

Close-up of the bracelets. This is one of the main sources for the trend of multi-colored beads and letters, plus lace arm sleeves.

There are loads of conferences, panels and discussions at Anime Expo. Unlike many shows however, these meetings are extremely interactive with the audience.

Costume princesses in the lobby.

Prop weapons of mass destruction.

Steampunk areas were on the rise, especially those imitating Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, and Pirates.

Lullaby or Bo-Peep Lolita selling her accessory creations.

Beautiful Lolitas–strawberry themes are popular. These dresses are the authentic deal and quite expensive. The guy on the right is actually a guy Lolita.

Bodyline from Japan–the signs indicate that these are NOT knock-off Lolita dresses, which is what core fans hope to avoid.

Angel themes were also popular. She%uFFFDs in front of one of the sponsors, Hi Chew.

Lolita dresses now with trendy floral patterns. The lace bustle underneath is key.

Dressing baby-young Lolita with cards and teapot graphics. She strikes a pose. Notice also the lace and frill on her white combat boots. Timberland should take note.

Merch booth with various T-shirt graphics are a huge part of the Exhibition Hall.

Military styles are in. And there%uFFFDs a princess behind her.

This girl is dressed very much like the visual kei musician sensation, Miyavi.

Pink princess and strawberry Lolita.

Tokyopop was a sponsor, of course.

Martial arts action poses were a big hit, changing it up from mostly prop weaponry poses.

Leather bodyarmor in the Steampunk area. This stuff was for real. May be a key new accessory for mainstream fashionistas in the future.


Cosplay couple.

Generations of art brings back the classic turn of the century designs with hooded overcoat, corset, layered long skirt, and cameo Victorian necklace.

Dude looks like a lady. Not all that unusual now with the new post-gender generation.

More horror looks from the girls.

Yes, this is a guy also. Strikes a pose and performs his character with perfection.

Girls dressed as maid cafe types admiring a Lolita dress by Angelic Pretty.

Manga booths were going off most throughout most days.

Now you know where the animal ears hats and designer masks are coming from.

TokiDoki of course makes a presence here but with even more colorful T-shirt graphics than usual.

The mini-tophat trend now includes slightly larger ones, more steampunk looking and very MadHatter.

Lots of sexy looks are a big part of the fashion here. There are pages of rules in the Anime Expo guide in terms of what%uFFFDs allowed and what isn%uFFFDt, especially regarding sexy outfits and prop weaponry.