YORK – Some people garden or hike in their spare time, but Alesha Leach and her friends like to dress up in elaborate baby-doll costumes and then get together in public places.

They call themselves the Maine Lolitas, one of hundreds of such groups around the world that follow the Lolita style, a street fashion that originated in Japan in the 1990s. Enthusiasts spend hundreds of dollars on their frilly, ultrafeminine outfits. They are mostly young women who would never be caught in public wearing a pair of sweats.

“Today a lot of girls want to discard their femininity. This style celebrates it,” said Leach.

Leach, 23, of Kennebunkport, a student at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, said dressing as a Lolita is a form of creative expression that also ties into her interest in Japanese culture.

Like many Lolitas, Leach discovered the style in her teens and did a lot of Internet research. She finally worked up the nerve to wear one of the outfits in public a year ago and now has 20 Lolita-style dresses, with prices ranging from $80 to $300, in her wardrobe.

Leach and about 20 other Lolitas get together about once a month, to be seen and to visit with each other. They have toured the Victoria Mansion in Portland, had a potluck picnic at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport and showed up at the Yarmouth Clam Festival. They have also gone bowling and roller skating.

On Saturday they toured York’s Wild Kingdom, where they managed to turn as many heads as the animal attractions.

“People come up and ask, ‘Oh my God, what are you doing?”‘ said Leach.

Lolitas say the Lolita style has nothing to do with the Vladimir Nabokov novel about a middle-aged man’s obsession with a 12-year-old girl by that name.

In fact, the style — which combines elements of Victoriana, the French Rococo period and other influences — is deliberately modest and not intended to be provocative.

The poofy dresses end at the knee. Legs are covered by anklets, knee socks or stockings. Bloomers and layers of petticoats protect against unintentional glimpses of flesh should a breeze send hemlines flapping.

Sleeveless tops are taboo. Bonnets and other headpieces are part of the look. Mary Janes, a parasol and a cute purse complete the look.

Rebecca Cole, 22, of Gray, an art major at Southern Maine Community College, has been dressing as a Lolita since 2008. She has about 25 outfits. She has purchased many of them from high-end Japanese manufacturers. She also sews some of her own fashions.

Cole said dressing as a Lolita gives her confidence she doesn’t have in other clothes.

“I am really shy in real life. I use it as armor,” said Cole.

At York’s Wild Kingdom she sported a pink-and-brown dress with a deer-pattern print — after all, the group was there to pet the deer at the park. She dyed a formerly white ruffly blouse brown to match her dress, and wore her grandmother’s cast-off, lace-up brown bootlets.

Cole said she rarely dresses in anything else, while other members of the group say they “dress down” for their jobs.

For Jaimie Jollotta, 26, of Winslow, dressing as a Lolita is a refreshing change from the scrubs she wears to work.

“I am a dental hygienist,” said Jollotta. 

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com