6 Mar 2018

Bodyline vs Taobao Which is Better for Beginners?


If you’re just starting your journey with Lolita fashion, you are actually pretty spoiled for choice. Not only there are more affordable options for you to buy from, they are also more easily accessible. For years now Lolitas were recommending newbies to start off with Bodyline, to minimise financial loss if they decided the style wasn’t for them without compromising that much on quality, but with the rise of Taobao brands, has Bodyline been knocked off that position? Let’s analyse which one is better for a newbie Lolita looking to buy her first couple of pieces.



I will look at both sides and give them a mark out of ten in six categories: accessibility, price, range, quality, ease of coording and resale value. Now, I know that some of these will be unfairly biased towards Taobao since it’s a selling platform with a plethora of shops compared to one shop that is Bodyline, but I will make fair adjustments to account for that when awarding points.

Bodyline

Accessibility: 9/10
As the original ‘best for beginners’ brand, Bodyline is incredibly easy to access. They have a website available in English, where you can purchase items from directly, but you can also use their Rakuten site if you’re already making an order from Japan via a shopping service (may be slightly cheaper, depending on the exchange rate of JPY to your currency). On top of this, since it’s been in the scene for so many years now, Bodyline items are very easy to hunt down second hand, be it on Lacemarket, Facebook or even eBay sometimes. Finally, if you make a trip to Japan, you’d be able to buy from a Bodyline shop in three major cities: Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. So you can’t really get more accessible than Bodyline – wherever you go, you will eventually stumble upon it.

We all know this logo so well by now.
Photo from LolitaFashion.wikia.com

Price: 7/10
For what it offers, Bodyline is reasonably priced. With the growing saturation of the second hand market, where second hand brand goes down in price, it’s hard to still consider Bodyline cheap given that you can get something much better quality for the same price tag, but it is still reasonable enough to not scare a newbie away. They have upped their prices without a corresponding increase in quality, but at the same time Bodyline has plenty of very good sales and special offers throughout the year, which will save you even more. You could do far worse than spend your money on a new Bodyline dress, so while it may not be the best value for money, it won’t hurt your wallet and you shouldn’t be constantly scratching yourself because of the lace.

Range: 4/10
Bodyline was never the best when it came to the range of products it offers and sadly, this seems to be getting worse. Although they seemingly have every kind of items on offer – dresses, blouses, shoes, bags, accessories etc. – there are very few options to choose from in terms of the smaller bits and some options look a bit dated and not keeping up with the current trends. Furthermore, while there are lots of options available to Sweet Lolitas, the range of Gothic and Ouji is a lot smaller and Classic Lolita is literally only a handful of pieces – and let’s not forget that some of the prints and all of the shoes are either replicas or very ‘brand inspired’ designs, which may put some people off. With Bodyline also spreading themselves thin by having a cosplay section as large as the Lolita one, their range certainly suffers and the fact that their international website seems to not restock items recently only makes their already limited range even smaller (though I always recommend checking the Rakuten shop – they seem to focus a lot more on that these days, so you may find things there that are out of stock on the international website). In other words, there isn’t much to choose from and what is there is mostly catering to Sweet Lolitas.

Not what I'd call a big or trendy range. And that's just one category.
Quality: 6/10
Bodyline’s quality has always been a mixed bag, which reviews will reflect. Their main pieces are better than they look on stock photos and some are genuinely great for the price that they are. Same goes for shoes, which are arguably Bodyline’s best product; I have also heard compliments about their wigs and coats. Everything else is a mix of stuff ranging from ‘alright’ to ‘you get better in Claire’s’. Blouses are the best example of that: some are nice, most are a bit stiff and scratchy (which you can remedy somewhat with fabric softener), but if you can get your hands on something else, you’re probably better off going with that. What goes against Bodyline is that their sizing is notoriously inconsistent. A size M for one dress will be size S for another and size L for a third – only shoes are consistent in size once you realise that Japanese shoe sizes are foot length measurements in centimetres and use that when purchasing. All in all, for the price that Bodyline will set you back by, it’s decent enough and you can wear it without much pain or shame, but it’s nothing to write home about and with some of their pieces (like petticoats or socks) you get what you would in a costume shop, so not much point in buying those.

Ease of cording: 8/10
This may be a bit of a mystery category, so let me explain. When you’re just starting out, having reference points on how other people have coordinated a piece can help you figure out what you like, what you may still need to buy or what works with that garment (e.g. what collar blouse with that neckline etc.). And because it’s been on the market for so long and has been sold many times, googling Bodyline dresses will give you a lot of those reference and inspiration points. While many newbie coordinates will look the same, having a bank of images and sometimes even past concrit to use will make your own first coord better and give you space to focus on improving it rather than spending more time on learning the basics of coording. This is why, while I personally may be sick of seeing the same two Bodyline prints over and over amongst newbies, I appreciate that their popularity makes it easier for future new Lolitas to get their first coord right by looking at what others have done with it. And let’s face it, those photos are needed since Bodyline’s stock images don’t always give you the best idea of how things should be worn or how will they look.

It's not a bad dress, it just seems like everyone and their mom
owns it. To me it lost its charm once seen a million times.
Photo from eBay.
Resale value: 3/10
The good news is that you can still sell used Bodyline pieces. But the bad news is that most of the times you won’t come anywhere near to getting your money back and you may end up waiting a long time before you end up selling something. That’s the downside of Bodyline’s popularity: if everyone’s struggling to sell their Cinderella Bunny print, then your chances of selling your own Cinderella Bunny are slim unless you sell it for next to nothing or are lucky enough to find someone locally who wants to save on postage and other costs. This is great news for those looking to buy, since they can get some amazing bargains on people’s unwanted Bodyline pieces, but bad news for those selling. Which is why it’s even more important to do your research and figure out what you really like and want to wear before you decide on purchasing anything, so that you avoid trying to shove off something that nobody wants because everyone already seems to own it. And remember, all Bodyline sales are final, even if there’s a mistake on their part, and no trying on if you’re in the shop (although I remember them being a bit more lenient about that with shoes, which might’ve changed since I went last), so you won’t be able to return or exchange, you will have to sell elsewhere to get rid of an unwanted item.

Total points: 37/60

Taobao

Accessibility: 8/10
In recent years buying Taobao pieces has become a lot easier, although as it still confuses many a newbie, it’s not as easily accessible as it should be. There are countless shopping services to use when purchasing directly and for those too scared to attempt that – several reputable resellers. Whilst in China there are some physical shops where you could buy items from Taobao brands directly and even abroad there are some shops, physical and online, which stock some Taobao brands for you to browse through (Saisai in Camden, Wunderwelt Fleur, Madame Chocolat in Spain etc.). However, unlike Bodyline, Taobao continues to grow, so I fully expect it to become more accessible as we go on.

Taobao or the Land of Cheap and Plenty.
Price: 7/10
The reason why I gave Taobao the same mark as Bodyline is because of the range of prices you’ll see between various Taobao brands. There is a small minority that are on the extremes, with the rest occupying the spaces in between, although the price is often very much reflective of the item’s quality. There are fewer sales taking place on Taobao compared to Bodyline, but they are easier to remember (Chinese New Year and November 11th is when you get the biggest offers), so you can plan for spending in advance – plus resellers may have loyalty and points schemes, as well as additional discount codes to entice you to spend with them. Finally, even when using a reseller, it is perfectly reasonable to get a dress for under 100 USD, often with matching pieces, so the prices are definitely reasonable for what you get.

Range: 9/10
Taobao is pretty much unbeatable when it comes to range – partly because it’s easier for multiple shops to cover all the bases, but also because of the big domestic demand for Lolita in China. I can’t think of a single item that you’d be unable to find on Taobao or any reseller sites. The huge amount of choice can be overwhelming and scary, particularly for newbies still finding their style and preferences – it’s a lot harder to choose from a hundred options than it is out of twenty. What’s more, because the Chinese Lolitas drive up this incredible demand, the designs are not only up to date with the current Lolita fashion trends – they are setting some of these trends themselves! No need to worry that something will look dated, you can have the next big trend if you only wish to. This also means that while there are some replicas lurking about, you should easily find original designs that are to your taste, size (with many offering custom sizing) and budget – even including shoes and bags, which can sometimes be harder to find original designs for. 

It's hard to compete with all these infinite brands, even if some
are a bit dodgy or plain shite.
Screenshot of one spreadsheet with Taobao brands, not sure how
up-to-date it is, but you can find it here.
Quality: 7/10
Again, I’m taking the average, since some brands will be exquisite and some will be utter garbage – the majority in the middle are ok to good, certainly good enough to meet Lolita fashion’s requirement for quality. Generally, expect to get what you pay for, so aim either for the slightly more expensive pieces or those with more reviews, because quality will vary from brand to brand. Most brands, especially those stocked by resellers, are quite nice. Resellers try to pick things they think will sell, which involves getting nicer quality things and gives you some degree of reassurance. To keep costs down, Taobao brands have a big preference for using polyester fabrics (Bodyline uses it too, but usually it’s a poly-blend, and they have some cotton pieces too), which means that some pieces feel really plasticky, so ensure you read what the piece is made out of before buying, as well as reviews. Luckily, by now some Taobao brands have been on the market for long enough to have built up some reputation to maintain and start using nicer (more expensive) fabrics, which also works in your favour when looking for quality.

Ease of cording: 6/10
Although there are some prints or designs from Taobao brands that are popular and commonly found amongst Lolitas, there are so many designs that it’s impossible to find a worn picture of every single one of them. If you happen to fall in love with one of those rarely seen pieces, you will have to figure out how to coord it on your own, which may take more time and more trial and error. On the other hand, Taobao brands often add little model photoshoot style photos to their listings or on their Chinese social media – if you can dig that out, it gives you one resource of what looks good with that design. At the same time, these photoshoots can aim to be more artistic than a representation of how to wear something, which could end up misleading a fresh face. So in comparison to Bodyline’s vast bank of resources and past coords, you will struggle to find as many for Taobao brands unless they’re some of those few designs that do appear frequently – and those will not necessarily be the newest releases.

#taobaololita might help you find some inspiration, but you're
not guaranteed to find the exact dress you just got.

Resale value: 5/10
Again, the second hand market is absolutely full with people trying to get rid of things. And if people struggle to sell brand, then Taobao won’t do that much better. The advantage that Taobao has is that many designs, once they sell out, are incredibly hard to track down, so if you’re lucky enough to find someone who wants that design that you’re selling, then you should be able to get a good price for it. This will require enormous patience and some luck, but it’s not impossible. Furthermore, because Taobao designs tend to be better quality in comparison to Bodyline, even in the saturated market you won’t be unreasonable if you try to sell your pieces closer to what you paid for them, as long as you kept them in good condition. Nicer quality is especially helpful if you’re trying to offload builder pieces like blouses. But generally, whilst reselling Taobao is slightly easier than reselling Bodyline, you’ll still be operating at a loss and the market is still more favourable to buyers who can get some great bargains on people’s used stuff instead of purchasing new for themselves.

Total points: 42/60

Final comments

By my marking, Taobao came out on top of Bodyline by 6 points. While all of the above is my personal opinion, I feel like this represents what we’re seeing at the moment relatively accurately. Recently I’ve seen more beginner Lolitas ask whether such-and-such Taobao reseller is reputable and more ‘my first coord’ posts using main pieces from Taobao than Bodyline. Resellers have had a big part in this, in my opinion: a teenage Lolita relying on parents for income will have an easier time convincing her parents to buy something from websites in English, with feedback they can read and understand, than when using a shopping service. While Bodyline also had that advantage, their English website has been known to act up more as of late and to not be restocked, and the reviews were few on Bodylines website itself, leading newbies to try their luck on Taobao instead.

Having said this, thanks to the favourable market for buyers, I have seen equally as many new Lolitas start out and get their first coord with items from Japanese brands gotten cheaply second hand, which is also why in my scoring Taobao still has only just over 2/3 of all available points. Taobao has made inexpensive, quality items for Lolita fashion more accessible and has definitely shaken the old stereotypes that you have to own brand to be a Lolita, but at the same time the sheer volume of clothes it made available to people only saturated the second hand market further, in turn driving (some) brand prices down too. Having said this, it’s also pretty common for newbies to buy a brand main piece and then use their leftover budget on a little spending spree on Taobao to get all the other bits of their coord: petticoat, blouse, shoes, accessories, bags, what have you. That’s one order via a shopping service or a reseller, which saves on shipping costs, and means that they wait less time to put the whole coordinate together. And you know that you have items that fit the Lolita aesthetic instead of trying to thrift something when you don’t yet get all of the nuances of the fashion and what makes something fit or not.

Ok, wow, this was long! Thank you if you’ve managed to stay right up until the end, you’re my hero! I know that you must be tired now after reading what’s essentially a university-length essay, but I’d love to know your opinion. Do you think Taobao is better for beginner Lolitas? Or do you think that Bodyline still deserves its title and recommendations as “best for beginners starting our”? Are you seeing the same trends that I am or does your corner of the internet/Lolita community see different trends? 


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