(Lack of) Vision Thing

10 June 2016

The Lady of the Manners is going to say, right up front, that she very much wants there to be reader comments on this particular post. Because, to be perfectly honest, she’s not sure how much useful advice she has to give to this Snarkling! The following question is one that has never fluttered into the Gothic Charm School mailbox before, and is a situation the Lady of the Manners has no experience with.

Greetings Mistress,
My name is Sarah, and I have, for many years, been struggling with a rather unique problem regarding my gothiness, and I’ve come to the exhausting conclusion that I can’t solve it on my own. I hoped you’d be able to offer me some guidance because I fear I have nowhere else to turn. The crux of my dilemma, mistress, is that I am blind. I have been so since birth, and although that has not prevented me from living and experiencing life to its fullest, it certainly presents a plethora of challenges.

For starters, I don’t dare apply my own makeup. I couldn’t, even if I wanted to. I’d end up looking like I engaged in finger painting on my face. And I admit, I am a fiercely prideful person. I won’t ask someone else to do my makeup for me. If I can’t do something for myself at my own convenience, I’d rather not do it at all. Not that I’d consider asking my friends to assist me in attempting goth makeup. They’re all, to some extreme, redneck. They’d be as lost as I would be.

Another issue is clothing. I’m a starving college student with bills, rent, and a guide dog to feed. I can’t afford a whole new wardrobe. Luckily, a majority of the clothes I do own are black or in the darker color schemes. Black is quite frankly the only thing I’ve seen, so don’t bother trying to explain to me what periwinkle is; I won’t comprehend it. But how do goths dress? None of my friends or family are goth, I can’t stalk around my college campus and scan one out of the crowd, I can’t search the web for pictures or Youtube for instructional videos to help me muddle through it all. It’s embarrassing to say, but I need a personal demonstrator to take me by the hand and escort me into Hot Topic to tell me this is this and that is that. I find myself asking, is it even worth it? Are there any seasoned blind bats out there who can give suggestions, or does are blindness completely exclude us? Is it enough to say that we are goth on the inside, even if we have no one to teach us how to display it on the outside for the visual community to see? It’s a stupid irony, when you stop and think about it. The people in the world who actually understand the true meaning of perpetual darkness are isolated from dabbling in a culture that revolves around it.

The Lady of the Manners immediate, knee-jerk response is that you don’t need to display your gothness on the outside for the visual community to see. Goth is so much more than the fashion and makeup, and someone doesn’t (shouldn’t!) need to be visually identified by those things.

With that said, the Lady of the Manners also understands why you’d be interested in having things that signal your involvement with the subculture. How to go about doing that? The Lady of the Manners has a few well-intentioned, possibly of no help at all ideas, with the emphasis on WELL-INTENTIONED.

  • Makeup. It isn’t a requirement to be a goth! But if you want to explore makeup, contact the cosmetics section of your local department store and explain your situation. Ask questions of makeup artists at the store until you find one who will do a simple makeup application on you while explaining everything they’re doing. A light dusting of powder over your face, a sweep of a darker color across your eyelid, and a dark lip stain or glittery gloss could be something you could do with practice, perhaps?

    The Lady of the Manners asked one of her makeup artist friends, and they had these suggestions: “Using makeup which can be applied using fingers, like cream shadows, can be super handy for anyone who is doing makeup without seeing what they are doing. For lipstick- practice getting used to where your lipline is with clear lipgloss or lip balm. With time, you learn the feel and motion and then applying color without seeing what you’re doing is much easier.”

    Elsewhere on the Internet, popsugar.com has an article about tips from an aesthetician who teaches makeup application to the visually impaired. Vlogger Christine Ha is visually impaired, and has a video about makeup application. There’s also Breaking Blind, who does a lot of videos for the seeing community that help answer questions of “How does a blind person …?”, and she has a couple of makeup videos, including trying on makeup from an Ipsy subscription.

  • Clothing. Perhaps you could (again) go to a local department store with a friend, and have them tell you the names for different textures of fabric? Then you could decide if you want to expand your wardrobe to encompass goth standbys such as lush stretch velvet, airy lace, or slippery silks. Are you able to shop online at all, using a text-to-speech interface? If so, knowing what textures of material you prefer would give you more options when searching for things.

    Of course, there’s the other goth standby: band t-shirts. Pick a few of your favorite spooky bands and search for t-shirts! A quick search around Amazon turned up shirts for The Cure, Siouxsie, Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Damned, and Depeche Mode. For that matter, do you have a favorite spooky animal, such at bats or spiders? Search for t-shirts featuring those! The same goes for favorite authors, quotes, and so on.

    Another possible option are fashion subscription places, where you answer a questionaire about your fashion preferences, and a stylist selects things for you and mails them out. One of the Lady of the Manners’ friends has been using Stitch Fix, and has been pleased with what they send her, saying that they get it when she says “edgy goth” and other descriptive phrases. While these sorts of services can be pricy, there are options for price point settings and frequency of delivery.

    Can you, and do you want to, dye your hair? Mainstream drugstores now carry “unnatural” color hair dyes, so you could grab a box of blue or purple or stop-sign red, then ask a friend to help you apply the color and rinse afterward.

    Pins and badges are another simple way you could add a goth touch to your wardrobe. Places like Etsy have shops that sell buttons for bands, cartoons, movies, books, quotes … just about anything, really. You could have a friend help you put specific shapes of tape on the back of them for identification purposes, so you could identify them when you want to change them around.

    For that matter, think about accessories! You could expand your style with velvet and lace arm warmers, black and white striped socks or tights, studded bracelets, necklaces with gothy talismans such as spiders, bats, skulls, or ankhs, or charm bracelets that include those things and make a nice jingling noise!

  • Scent! There’s a host of independent perfume companies out there that cater to those with darker sensibilities. The Lady of the Manners’ very favorite is Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, and they have a dizzying array of fragrances for every possible mood.
  • Finding other goths and like-minded weirdos: are there any meetups or social groups at your school that would be goth-friendly? You might be able to find people there who share your interests, would be able to help you decide if you want to show more of your goth nature, and help you do so.

Now, should you bother with doing this? Should you go to the effort of having visual signifiers when you yourself won’t be able to see them? The Lady of the Manners can only shrug and say “Maybe?” The visual presentation of goth is time and labor -intensive for people who aren’t visually impaired, and it would be even more so for those who are. You’re a college student, which means your time is already at a premium. How important is it to you to sport gothy plumage? Will it bring shadowy joy to your life, will it make you happy? If the answer to that is “Yes”, then you absolutely should. But if it will add more stress to your life, then skip it.

If you’re worried that you’re not “goth enough” if you don’t adorn yourself in black velvet and smoky eyeliner, let the Lady of the Manners reassure you: you are. Goth enfolds more senses than just sight. Music! Literature! Thunderstorms! The smell of incense and the feel of velvet! Enjoying the funhouse shiver up your spine as you indulge in something that unsettles you to a delightful degree!

Goth is not about who has the sharpest eyeliner or the most elaborate outfit, no matter what an appearance-obsessed society (or subculture!) seems to say. Anyone who tells you that you must “look goth” to be a goth doesn’t know the subculture very well, and can be ignored. Or they’re being an elitist gatekeeper, and can also be very pointedly ignored.

And now, the Lady of the Manners is going to turn to the Gothic Charm School readers! Are there any other blind bats out there, who can offer Sarah words of support and advice? Do any of you have suggestions for things she can do if she wants to have external representation of her spooky mindset? Comments are open! (And moderated, of course.)

Having a gothy-related problem? Curious about something spooky? Ask the Lady of the Manners! This link should help you reach the Gothic Charm School inbox!

Of Finding Goth Fashion at Mainstream Stores!

6 May 2016

The Lady of the Manners has been so pleased with the response to the Gothic Charm School masterpost of clicky-links, Snarklings! The Lady of the Manners is even more pleased with the additional suggestions people have been making in the comments, so keep doing that!

Of course, making a massive post of goth clothing shopping links had another effect that the Lady of the Manners should have expected: a wave of emails asking for help finding day-to-day goth fashion and places to look when budget or circumstances puts shopping at specialty goth vendors out of reach. Is it possible to assemble a spooky wardrobe without shopping at dark specialty shops?

Of course it is. There is no goth rule stating you have to buy your fashion exclusively from oh-so-goth stores and merchants. In fact, to indulge in the tiniest bit of cliched Eldergoth cane-waving: back when the Lady of the Manners was a spooky teen (and in her 20s!), finding gothically-inclined stores and merchants was rather difficult! It involved looking through the few spooky magazines you could find, squinting at address information printed in elaborately–but not always legibly!–designed advertisements, mailing off your self-addressed stamped envelopes, and hoping, hoping that you’d get a catalog back.

Also, Back In The Day , black garments were not as easy to find. Not every mainstream store offered separates in black; you really were stuck with whatever the “seasonal” colors were, and finding a good black skirt or shirt was something to rejoice over.

But nowadays! Black clothing is considered to be a standard, and every mass-market retailer offers at least a handful of inky-hued things. Add that to the fact that mainstream fashion gleefully mines the gothic subculture for style inspiration at least once a year, and you’ve never had a better time for being able to pull a basic goth wardrobe together.

Behold! The Everyday Goth Fashion Pinterest! Yes, the Lady of the Manners spent many an evening browsing through sites such as Target, JC Penny, Sears, KMart, H+M, Forever 21, Roaman’s, and the overwhelming choices on Amazon.com, and has pinned over 350 items of gothy fashion interest. All of which are US resources, so the Lady of the Manners would love comments from Snarklings about international budget retailers!

(A caveat: fast and/or inexpensive fashion–goth or not–often cuts corners during production. It’s a sad truth that you won’t be able to avoid sweatshop-produced clothing unless you’re not on a tight budget, or are able and willing to sacrifice and save for it. Alas, that isn’t always possible, so be aware, but don’t punish yourself if it’s unavoidable in your circumstances.)

Even if you don’t buy any of the items suggested and pinned on that page, it can be a useful tool to show, say, parents, what sort of items some of you younger readers are asking for when you talk about wanting a more spooky wardrobe. Your parents may be assuming you want couture frock coats and vampire gowns, when really, you want some black tops, a black jacket, and some black skirts and leggings!

The Lady of the Manners had so much fun window-shopping and assembling the Everyday Goth Fashion Pinterest that she’ll keep updating it, though probably not in such a frenzied manner. However, seasonal updates? Almost certainly.

There’s another way to create your wardrobe of darkness on a budget, but it takes time, patience, and a bit of luck: thrift shopping. Shopping at thrift stores is a treasure hunt which can turn up some wonderful things, but will also have times where you walk out empty-handed and shaking your head. The Lady of the Manners has some tips to make your treasure hunt a little easier:

  • Wear. Comfortable. Footwear. Thrift shopping is not the time to wear the icepick-heeled boots or the ones with more buckles than toes.
  • For that matter, wear clothing that you can try things on over. (Yes, the Lady of the Manners goes thrift shopping in full, petticoat-enhanced skirts, but they’re part of her everyday attire, and anything she buys at a thrift store would have to fit properly over them, anyway.)
  • Know your measurements, not your “size”, and take a fabric measuring tape with you. Check the measurements of potential finds instead of going by the number on the tag!
  • For that matter, don’t look for things grouped by size on the racks. Thrift stores are not known for their ability to keep things organized, so look everywhere in the store.
  • Keep a mental list of things you’re looking for, but don’t go in with expectations of what you’ll find that day.
  • Keep at least a vague eye on what’s going on in mainstream fashion, because that will give you an idea of what will turn up in thrift stores six months to a year later. For example, if you like tops embellished with black sequins or black chiffon skirts, NOW is the time to be searching the thrift stores for them.
  • Halloween is when thrift stores (especially Value Village/Savers and Goodwill) put out the more vintage and gothy garments that could be used as a costume. THREAT LEVEL: PUMPKIN applies to more than home decor!

With that, Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is going to go back to wading through the Gothic Charm School mailbox, and browsing Amazon.com for more gothy fashion, even though she knows she doesn’t need more lace capelets or shawls, they’re very tempting …

Finally, there’s some behind-the-scenes housekeeping that needs to be done here at Gothic Charm School, which means the Correspondence page may or may not be working. So if you have a question, this link should help you reach the Gothic Charm School inbox!

Of Clicky-Links! Goth Shopping Masterpost!

9 March 2016

Here it is, Snarklings! The long-threatened list of gothy fashion links from the Lady of the Manners!

Is this a comprehensive list of every goth or alternative fashion resource out there? Sweet darkness, no. The Lady of the Manners seriously doubts that anyone could pull such a list together and have it be accurate. This list is a collection of the merchants that the Lady of the Manners either has purchased items from, or frequently browses when she’s in a window-shopping mood.

And! As a bonus! The Lady of the Manners has included a list of keywords that she uses when searching eBay, Etsy, shopgoodwill.org, and other marketplace sites.

So, without further ado, the clicky-links!

Clothing

Chic Star
Crowd-sourced fashion, heavy on the rockabilly dresses and Victorian-esque jackets and coats. Women’s sizes up to 26.

Drac In a Box
Classic gothic clothing, custom-made in the UK. Women’s and men’s sizes up to 2X.

Dracula Clothing
Formal gothic jackets, blouses, shirts, skirts, corsets, trousers, vests, and coats. Women’s and men’s sizes up to 2X.

Dress Like a Pirate
Goth and pirate wardrobes share some basics, like billowy shirts, frock coats, and full skirts. Women’s and men’s sizes up to 3X.

Fan + Friend
EGL/EGA fashions, gothic, Victorian, steampunk, plus some cosplay designs. Offers custom sizing and fabric choices.

Gentleman’s Emporium
Reproduction historical clothing for men and women! Women’s and men’s sizes up to 2X.

Gloomth
Indie goth designer from Canada. Morbidly sweet designs. Custom sizes offered.

Good Goth
Almost a one-stop-shop for goth supplies! Clothing, corsets, shoes, accessories, makeup, hair dye, and bath and body goods. Plus sizes available.

Heavy Red
Elegant modern gothic designs. Sizes up to women’s XL.

Holy Clothing
Flowy blouses, skirts, pants, and dresses that are perfect for witchy or mori fashion. Be warned: they have a tendency to toss the word “g*ps*” around in names and descriptions. Women’s sizes up to 5X.

Kambriel
Clothing and accessories for your dream self. Full of whimsy and darkly-shimmering romance. If the Lady of the Manners ever achieves the fabulously wealthy part of being a fabulously wealthy eccentric, her entire wardrobe will be from Kambriel. One-of-a-kind and ready-made pieces are her current focus.

Lotus Traders Clothing
Similar to Holy Clothing, but with slightly different styles and more tie-dye. However, they make fantastic “peasant” dresses that can double as Gothic Heroine nightgowns! Women’s sizes up to 5X.

Orchard Corset
Well-made corsets in a wide range of styles and sizes. Offers plus-size corsets up to waist measurements of 46″.

Recollections
Reproduction historical clothing for women. Bustles and blouses and lace collars, oh my! Sizes up to women’s 4X.

Renn Store
Yes, renaissance fair clothing. Billowy shirts, full skirts, and chemises are useful in goth wardrobes, too! Women’s and men’s sizes up to 3X.

ReStyle
Goth fashion that ranges from spooky t-shirts to velvet coats. A wide selection of gothy jewelry, belts, and handbags. Women’s and men’s sizes up to 2X.

Retroscope Fashions
Gothic/Victorian/steampunk finery. Women’s and men’s sizes up to 2X.

Rose Mortem
Flowing gothic gowns, skirts, and tops. Custom sizing available.

Shrine Clothing
Best known for their decadent goth coats in ultra-lush fabrics. (They also offer shirts, pants, skirts, dresses, and cloaks. OMG THE CLOAKS.) EXTREMELY expensive, but worth saving up for. Women’s sizes up to 2X, men’s sizes up to 3X.

Somnia Romantica
Beruffled romantic goth clothing, hand-made in the Netherlands. Women’s sizes up to XL

SOVRIN
Hand-printed dark and witchy leggings, tanks, cardigans, and scarves. Plus patches to adorn your existing garments!

Uniformal Warehouse
Men’s formalwear, so a good source for waistcoats and tux jackets. More importantly, a budget-friendly place for top hats!

Shoes, tights, accessories

American Duchess
Reproduction historical footwear. Someday the Lady of the Manners will own a pair of Tavistock button boots, oh yes she will.

Bella Lili
Beautiful necklaces and pendants with intricate filigree.

Bloodmilk Jewels
Gorgeous witchy jewelry, including the original sterling raven claw pendant.

Callisto Jewelry
Chunky crystal pendants, handcrafted with love. The Lady of the Manners owns rather a lot of pieces from here.

Cyberoptix
Silkscreened ties to add a darker bit of interest to your shirts.

Evil Supply Co.
Deliciously evil patches and pins to adorn your clothes. Plus fantastic stationery and planners!

Haute Under the Collar
Vintage and modern ties, all embellished with hand-set rhinestones. Add some sparkle to your wardrobe.

Mordaunte’s Coffin Gems
Exactly what it says! Coffin-shaped gems, set as rings, earrings, pendants, and tie tacks.

Poison Apple Print Shoppe
The Lady of the Manners’ favorite witchy/occult patches come from here.

Omnia Oddities
Beautiful jewelry (oh, the Lunar Oracle ring!), and bat leggings!

Sock Dreams
Socks, tights, stockings! All colors and styles, and sizing tips for everything they sell!

The Gothic Shoe Co.
POINTY TOES. Winklepickers. All the buckles. This is THE place to go for trad goth pointy-toe footwear.

Tormented Artifacts
Leatherwork! Masks, utility belts, bracers and handwraps, and BOOTWINGS!

We Love Colors
50+ colors of tights, stripey tights, and fishnets! Plus sizes available!

Keywords

You can find some great things on eBay, Etsy, and shopgoodwill.org by using the right keywords. You will also find some hilarious, terrible things. It helps if you filter your results to remove any “costume” sections. Also, do not buy/bid on things if you are sleep-deprived or in an altered state! Window-shop responsibly!

In no particular order, the keywords that the Lady of the Manners will occasionally frequently search for:

80s goth
90s goth
Edwardian
EGA
EGL
black chiffon
black lace
black maxi dress
black maxi skirt
black sheer
bohemian/boho/g*ps* (UGH. But sometimes sellers tag wonderful things with questionable terms)
gothic romance
goth punk
mourning
new romantic
pirate
poet
strega
Victorian gothic
Victorian romantic
Victorian vampire
visual kei
witch/witchy

Finally, there’s some behind-the-scenes housekeeping that needs to be done here at Gothic Charm School, which means the Correspondence page may or may not be working. So if you have a question, this link should help you reach the Gothic Charm School inbox!

Of Questions About Goth Fashion

18 February 2016

Snarklings, this month, the Lady of the Manners is going to address a topic that 1) appears in the Gothic Charm School mailbox on a regular basis, and 2) is one of the Lady of the Manners’ favorite things to hold forth about discuss: Goth fashion!

A young Goth named Tyler wrote with the following question:

Hello miss Jillian i have a question to ask you. I might add that I’ve been into the goth subculture since i was fourteen im now eighteen. I have always liked the dark aesthetic that goth brings and the music, but one thing has always bothered me, the fashion now i know I know what your thinking but hold on darlin i can explain. i love goth fashion but I have not quite found my comfort zone with a particular style that I can call my own. This most defenatly bothers me. do you have any good advice for me hun. p.s forgive the spelling thank you

Oh precious batling, don’t worry that you haven’t found a particular Goth style to call your own! There’s no requirement that you pick a style and stick to it. Feel free to flit amongst whatever styles catch your eye!

Now, the Lady of the Manners will admit that having a style of clothing that you prefer can make things (slightly) easier on yourself. (Slightly, because the Lady of the Manners will admit that while she has a very specific style, she has been known to dither for ages over which ruffly blouse should go with which full skirt, and which frock coat to wear over both.)

Picking one specific substyle of Goth can make shopping and getting dressed easier, and can signal to other Goths which parts of the subculture you find particularly fascinating. As an example, the Lady of the Manners is pretty sure that no one would take a look at her Mary-Poppins-by-way-of-Tim-Burton-plus-fairy-tale-witch wardrobe and assume she was a devotee of cybergoth, EBM, and tweedly-beep-oontz music. Likewise, if you saw someone wearing layers of shredded fishnets, a blazer adorned with safety pins and patches, and sporting a sky-scraping teased deathhawk, you could reasonably assume that their black heart beats faster for all things deathrock.

Yes, there are certain fashion markers that help signify that you’re part of the Goth subculture: black clothes, dark eye makeup and lipstick, a fondness for luxurious or impractical fabrics (velvet, lace, satin, pvc, leather), jewelry with a morbid theme, and so on. But you don’t need to adopt any of those sartorial signifiers to be a Goth. Oh, there will be other people, elitist types, who will be quick to say you’re not a Real Goth if you don’t dress like one. And by now you all should know what the Lady of the Manners’ response is to those types: that they’re wrong, that they are being gatekeeping jerks, and that no one gets to decide “how goth” someone else is.

But! Don’t limit yourself! Do you want to wear draped layers of lace, all the black eyeliner in the world, and giant teased hair on one day, and the next be striding around in skinny black jeans and slicked-back hair? Do that! In fact, there’s not a requirement for you to dress in a gothy manner at all! The closest there is to a universal Goth fashion rule is “wear black”, and even then, it’s not actually a rule. There has been no dress code ratified and issued by the Elder Goth Cabal, because there is no Elder Goth Cabal. Do you want to wear blue jeans and a t-shirt? Then do so!

Finally; Snarkling, you’re eighteen. Don’t worry that you haven’t settled on a Goth style to adopt as your own. You have years and decades ahead of you to experiment with styles and how you present yourself! So cut yourself some slack, and spend the next few years (or decades!) exploring the dark side of fashion and playing with looks. Some people reinvent themselves (sartorially and otherwise) every few years, and are happy to do so. Or to put it another way: changing styles every few years was good enough for the sainted David Bowie, so it damn well better be good enough for everyone else, including us gothy types.

A reader calling themselves NewGoth had other fashion-related dilemmas:

I’m 17 going on 18 and I’m trying to join the Goth subculture. I have admired Goth since I was 5, but I waited until I was older to actually start being Goth. I have a few questions for you about starting off:
Where can I find those cool boots for a cheap price?
Must I wear makeup and if I do, what kind is best?
And finally, can I wear “kid-ish” non-gothic stuff along with my Goth stuff?

The Lady of the Manners suspects that when you say “waited until I was older to actually start being Goth”, you mean dressing in a darker, spookier way, not waited until you were older to explore some of the music or literature of the Goth world. Because remember, Snarklings! You don’t have to dress like a Goth to BE a Goth.

Anyway, to address your questions:

  • Saying “Those cool boots” is rather vague. Some Goths wear combat boots, which you can find at any Army + Navy surplus store. Some Goths wear Dr. Martens or similarly styled boots, which are available from the Dr. Martens website (and aren’t particularly cheap), and look-alikes can be found just about anywhere, including eBay, Amazon.com, H+M, Forever 21, Target, and so on.

    If you mean the traditional Goth pointy toe buckle boots, the Lady of the Manners has some sad news for you: finding that style of boot for a cheap price is akin to being struck by lightning. You might get lucky and find a vintage pair on eBay, but your best option is to save your pennies and buy a pair from The Gothic Shoe Company. The Lady of the Manners has heard wonderful things about them, and is planning on indulging in a pair of boots from them in the near future.

  • Must you wear makeup? Of course not! If you don’t want to paint your face, then don’t! Again, there is no Official Goth Dress Code, because the Elder Goth Cabal doesn’t really exist. If you don’t want to wear makeup, don’t feel pressured into it.

    If you DO want to wear makeup, the Lady of the Manners strongly recommends spending days or evenings practicing with it. Put on a full gothy face, take a photo, then wash it off. Makeup is one of those things where practice will hone your skills; no one is able to recreate Siouxsie’s perfectly sharp eyeliner on the first try.

    What kind of makeup is best? Snarkling, that entirely depends on your skin and what it reacts to! However, the Lady of the Manners will say that you don’t need to go to a department store and put yourself into debt for good products. For Goths in the US, head to your local drugstore and browse the offerings from Wet n’ Wild and NYX cosmetics; both of those companies put out good products at very reasonable prices. (The Lady of the Manners doesn’t know what brands to suggest for non-US folks, but hopes that people will leave suggestions in the comments!)

  • Can you wear “kid-ish” non-gothic stuff along with your Goth stuff? Absolutely! For one thing, there’s the subgenre of Goth known as “Pastel Goth”, which mixes a lot of “cutesy” things with traditional Goth symbols such as coffins and skulls. For another thing, Goth style is what you make of it, and if it makes you happy and confident to mix kid things in with your spooky darkness, then do that.
  • The point, Snarklings, is that there are so many different expressions of Goth style that you should feel free to explore and play around as much as you want. THERE IS NO DRESS CODE IN GOTH, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is probably feeling a touch insecure.

    With that, the Lady of the Manners is going to open up the comments! What are some of your favorite styles of Goth fashion? Do you readers from outside the USA have suggestions for good brands of makeup or places to find gothy fashions?

    Finally, there’s some behind-the-scenes housekeeping that needs to be done here at Gothic Charm School, which means the Correspondence page may or may not be working. So if you have a question, this link should help you reach the Gothic Charm School inbox!

Of Going to Goth Clubs

13 January 2016

Welcome to 2016, Snarklings! To kick the new year off, here’s a question about going to goth events at nightclubs:

question: Dear Lady of Manners,

I have a dilemma. I attend a school that doesn’t allow its students to frequent night clubs. Normally, I wouldn’t want to go to one, but there is a gothic event at one next month that I am dying to attend. I’ve never really known any other Goths, so I would love to go. (Disclaimer: I would not be going to gawk. I dress goth or punk about 50 percent of the time and used to in high school as well, but I have had a pull to the gothic things for years.) However, naturally, it is in a seedy part of the city, and I would be going alone. Should I go or not? And if so, what are the best ways to ensure my safety both in the city and in the club? (I have never been to a club before.)

Thank you so much,
Raven

The Lady of the Manners is going to say right off the bat that because your school doesn’t allow students to frequent nightclubs, if there is any chance that a trip out to explore the nighttime goth scene will jeopardize your scholastic career, DON’T GO. Yes, the Lady of the Manners is being a repressive worrywart, but she can’t imagine that any school that forbids students to go to nightclubs would be very understanding about the “but I’ll finally be able to meet people like me!” aspect of your desire to go.

Should you go? Snarkling, that’s for you and only you to decide. If you are determined to go to the goth night, and think you can manage not to alert the scholastic authorities to your excursion, then the Lady of the Manners won’t dissuade you. But again, she will state that going out to this one event may have disastrous consequences with regard to your schooling, especially if you’re there on a scholarship. Review your school rules. Review them thoroughly. What are the repercussions of breaking the rules? Is it worth risking those repercussions for one night of dancing and socializing?

However, if you do decide to go, some things to keep in mind:

  1. How are you planning on getting to the venue and back? If you are driving your own vehicle, take enough cash (in small bills!) to pay for any parking so you can be as close to the venue as possible. If you aren’t driving, keep in mind that public transport may not be reliable or may add a not-inconsequential amount of travel time; consider budgeting for taxis to and from the event. (Or Uber, Lyft, or other such options, but only if you feel safe about using one of those services!)
  2. Don’t drink any alcohol. (That is, assuming you are of legal age.) You will be there on your own, and traveling to & from on your own. Don’t do anything that would impair your senses or judgment. Yes, you’ll be nervous and meeting new people, and the Lady of the Manners is sure that a shot or two of liquid courage sounds enticing. But it’s more important that you are completely aware of your environment and those new people!
  3. Stay hydrated!
  4. Even if you’re not drinking alcohol, it’s easy to become dehydrated from dancing a lot. Make sure you drink some water, not just sodas.

  5. Do not leave your beverage unattended! Do not leave your beverage with someone you do not already know well. Yes, this means the Lady of the Manners is suggesting you take your beverage onto the dancefloor; she trusts that if you do that, you will keep exuberant arm movements to a minimum. But better a spilled drink than the chance of it being dosed!
  6. Make sure you have a secure place to keep your ID, phone, money, and keys. Interior pockets, some sort of small purse or pouch that will securely attach to your person, or so on. Keeping track of a large purse or bag at a club is tedious at the best of times, and doing so at a venue you haven’t been to before is even more aggravating.

Now that the Lady of the Manners has worried at you and possibly come across as wildly overprotective, it’s time for the fun advice!

  1. Dress up! Adorn and armor yourself in your favorite gothy outfit. Spend hours on your makeup, if you want. This is a chance to express your ties to the goth aesthetic, so do what makes you happy!
  2. Contrariwise, don’t feel you have to dress up or look like a goth-punk fashion plate if that’s not what makes you comfortable or doesn’t express who you are. The most important thing is to be true to yourself, and if that means battered combat boots, black jeans, and a black t-shirt, then wear that and be proud of it.
  3. Talk to people! Complement their outfit, ask them if they’ve been to this club before, ask them if the DJ has played a certain song you like yet. The Lady of the Manners realizes that her telling you to do this is easy, because she’s an extrovert and has no real qualms about talking to people she doesn’t know, but for some of you, the idea of talking to a stranger is terrifying. There’s no shame in feeling that way, there really isn’t! But if you’re at this event, part of the reason you went is to meet people who share your interests. Be a brave Snarkling, and strike up conversations with people.
  4. Dance! Don’t worry about if anyone is looking at you; while someone might be, they’re also just as worried about the same thing. So squash any insecurities you may have, and when a song you like comes on, go stomp and swirl around the dance floor.

And now is the time when the Lady of the Manners asks for input from the readers! Do any of you have advice for first-time club-goers in our spooky scene? Talk about it in the comments! (Which are, of course, moderated.)

Of Writing Stereotypes and Being Exasperated

16 December 2015

Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is trying to rouse herself from the depths of winter hibernation, but gracious, it’s difficult. Still, she has made her way to the goblin city unwrapped herself from fuzzy blankets and brewed an extra-strong pot of tea so she can answer reader questions!

Hey, Lady of the Manners, I’m a babybat with a girly best friend and I have a problem.

See, my best friend (let’s call her B) and I both love to write stories, and I think we’re decent at it. But while I just do it as a hobby, B is serious about writing and wants to be a published author one day. (I’m not sure if that’ll ever happen, but I keep that to myself.) B also posts her stories on Fictionpress and has a decent following.

Now… All of B’s stories always have a token goth character. This character is always female, hyper independent, cynical, depressed, rebellious, etc. Basically a complete stereotype. While I still have a lot to learn about the subculture, this really bothers me. I’ve tried linking her to your site and others like it for resources, but B has made it clear that she respects who I am but has no interest in learning about the subculture. Should I just let it go? If not, what should I do?

-The Goth Friend

Oh, how frustrating! Yes, the Lady of the Manners certainly understands why this bothers you. Should you just let it go? Well, that depends. Are you capable of actually letting it go, of not reflexively rolling your eyes and gritting your teeth whenever you read one of B’s token goth characters? The Lady of the Manners isn’t asking this sarcastically, dear Snarkling; deciding you’re not going to give in to being annoyed by something is one of the most difficult things the Lady of the Manners can think of to do. If you decide that you don’t want to have conversations about this over and over with B., then be prepared to practice some deep breathing exercises that are designed to reduce your stress, and learn to change the subject when she wants to talk about writing.

However, before you decide to ignore B’s habit of writing a stereotypical token goth character, perhaps you should have one more conversation with her about her fondness for that character type. An in-depth, writing analysis conversation. Ask her why she likes to write the character. Ask her what story purpose she thinks the character serves. Ask her if she thinks all goths, including you, are like that; if not, why is she so attracted to writing the same character over and over?

Be very careful not to ask these questions in a dismissive or aggressive way, but with honest curiosity. As a writer, you know that there are choices involved in creating characters, and finding out how other writers approach those choices is always interesting. It may be that she’s never really thought about the reasons and choices behind her creating this stock goth character, and once she starts explaining her reasons, the character may slowly start to evolve out of their stereotyped form.

(This does make the Lady of the Manners wonder, however, if some of B’s other characters are somewhat stereotypical in their forms, and as B. becomes more proficient with her writing, (whether or if) all of her characters will evolve. Because that’s what writing is: constantly learning about and refining one’s craft.)

The Lady of the Manners has a comment for you, dear Snarkling: you say that B. is your best friend, but her refusal to learn more about your chosen subculture seems a bit … dismissive. Now, goths and non-goths can absolutely be friends! And limiting yourself to friendships only with people who share the exact same interests as you is terribly, terribly limiting. Again, ask her why she is so determined to write a stereotypical character when she knows (or should know) that goths aren’t all like that. And perhaps point out to her that her insistence on writing this token character over and over makes you feel like she doesn’t know you (or want to know you) very well.

It may just be that your friend, not sharing your enthusiasm for the subculture, isn’t sure how to respectfully say that she doesn’t want to talk about it all the time. Because that’s part of what true friendship is: respecting each other’s fascinations, with a strong enough bond that you can occasionally look at the other person and say, “Really? We’re talking about this more? What about this other thing?” ::grins::

The Lady of the Manners hopes that you do have a conversation with B. about these things, and that it will improve both her writing and your friendship!

Dearest Lady of the Manners,

Let me first say that I LOVE this school and thoroughly enjoy reading your profound advice. I’m 13, and have embraced my goth-ness rather recently, although I’ve had a dark taste for years. Earlier this week I read one of your articles in which you spoke of how there is no such thing as a REAL goth, and if you believe you’re a goth then you are. I agree with this for the most part, but there is something I must ask about. There’s this 11-year-old girl I know, and she’s the perky-est, bubbliest, dramatic, but brattiest girl I’ve ever met, and she calls herself a goth. Meanwhile, she hates to read, doesn’t listen to music, barely knows what rock is, thinks screamo is a band name (as opposed to a genre), and doesn’t even know what goth really is. Plus, she acts like little miss innocent 24/7, and uses phrases like “OMG there are so many haters out there” She gossips a lot, is mean, and lies often. I don’t hate her, I actually tend to just avoid her, but it just really annoys me when she says she’s a goth because she “likes dark clothes” (not that she ever wears anything even remotely dark and hates chains and such). Am I wrong for getting so annoyed? Thank you so much for your time.

Your grateful snarkling,
Mitchy

PS. I have tried MANY times to kindly explain to her what goth is normally composed of, even generally, but she refuses to listen and then proceeds to throw a melodramatic hissy-fit.

Darling Mitchy, the Lady of the Manners is pleased that you’ve tried to explain to this younger girl what goth is. This is what all goths should be doing: helping each other learn about the subculture! Sharing information!

However. Oh, however. The Lady of the Manners also thinks that in this case, maybe you should stop trying to bring some spooky definition to this young lady’s lack of understanding. It sounds like she takes her definition of goth from the mainstream fashion sites, who fling the word “goth” around any time a pop starlet throws on a black outfit and some dark lipstick.

Are you wrong for getting so annoyed? Mmmm, yes and no. No, you’re not wrong to be annoyed, because this girl is claiming to be part of something you identify with, something that you’ve been interested in for years. Seeing someone you dislike have the most shallow, skimming-the-surface grasp of something that’s important to you is going to make anyone at least a tiny bit annoyed.

But on the other hand, yes, you’re slightly wrong to be annoyed. At the risk of sounding like a terribly pretentious Eldergoth OR someone’s mother: this girl is eleven. Cut her some slack. It sounds like she’s trying out personas and fashions, and that she’ll migrate on to another “interest” in a few months. Instead of spending your time and energy being exasperated by her, focus on what you want out of your involvement with the goth subculture. Explore the music, the literature, the fashion, and don’t spend another minute thinking about her. Ignore her as best you can, and if anyone says things like, “Oh, do you know Miss Bratty? She’s a goth, too!”, just smile politely at them and say, “Yes, I know her. We’re different types of goths”. Just because she considers herself to be one of the “goths” in your area doesn’t mean you need to hang out with her or become best friends.

As the holidays are upon us, here are some goodies from the Gothic Charm School archives that you may find useful!

On Surviving Family Gatherings During the Holidays

Holiday Shopping and Parties

The Gingerbread Bats tutorial!

And now, the Lady of the Manners is going to stare into the depths of her own pantry to see if she has all the necessary ingredients for a batch of festive gingerbread bats, or if there’s yet another trip to the grocery store in her future. But a trip to the grocery store means a chance to look at twinkling holiday lights, which is always good. May each of you have as festive a time this winter as you desire, and may all of you feel safe, loved, and happy. Gothic Charm School will return in January 2016!

Beware of Crimson Peak – Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab!

9 November 2015

You shiver in your delicate nightgown, the ruffles fluttering. A draft makes the flames of the candles gutter and snap, your fist so tightly clenched around the silver candleabra that your knuckles ache. What was that sound you heard?

If you’ve recently caught sight of me on my assorted social media accounts, then you’ve seen seen me shrieking and flailing in delight about Guillermo del Toro’s movie, Crimson Peak. It’s a darkly lush gothic romance, full of terror, ghosts, and every gothic romance trope that Guillermo del Toro could layer into it. To say that I loved this movie (and the novelization by Nancy Holder, and the art book Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness) is to only faintly portray my enthusiasm for it.

When I learned that my beloved olfactory geniuses at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab and Black Phoenix Trading Post had created a line of perfume oils and atmosphere sprays, my flailing glee reached new levels.

They very kindly sent me some of these dark treats for review, and I’m thrilled to be sharing my impressions of the scents with you.
(All text in italics is from the Lab’s descriptions.)

Crimson Peak perfume oils – $30 per 5ml bottle.

Black Moths: A flutter in the darkness: wild plum and blackcurrant with aged black patchouli, vetiver, red rose petal, tonka absolute, and opoponax. Enticing and shimmering, but there’s no warmth here. The scent of flowers gives way to dark earth and dusty velvet, with something faintly medicinal.

Crimson Peak: Snow marbled with blood-red clay, frozen over the scent of decayed wood. Dark earth and damp wood, with an iron wire binding icy white flowers. On my skin, over time, the wood and the iron became more pronounced, with the barest breath of something floral to sweeten it.

The Manuscript: A leather-bound manuscript, ink barely dry. A Gothic ghost tale, personified. The pages are permeated with a preternatural, otherworldly quality – but only slightly, as “the ghost is a counterpoint”; leather and paper and splotches of ink, with a hint of ghostly chill. This is the scent of freshly-cut flower stems, wrapped in old newsprint and tied with a strong leather cord.

Alan McMichael: Bay rum and sandalwood. The smell of an old-fashioned gentlemen’s barber shop. The bay rum is sharp and bracing, but the sandalwood softens it and makes it sweeter and less aggressive.

Edith Cushing: Pearlescent vanilla musk with white sandalwood, grey amber, white patchouli, ambrette seed, and oudh. A delicate, golden scent, with the grey amber and white patchouli lending it a glimmer like dust in a sunbeam. Over time, as the scent enters the drydown stage, the vanilla musk and the oudh become stronger, smelling like the best library you could imagine.

Lady Lucille Sharpe: Faded red roses and a glimmer of garnet with black lily, ylang ylang, smoky plum musk, and black amber. Again, a faded velvet feel to this scent, but with more flowers than I was expecting for poor Lucille. Flowers covered with dust, or sealed behind glass. The plum musk comes through as time wears on, adding an appropriately feral note.

Sir Thomas Sharpe: Black amber darkens a pale fougere. The sweetness and warmth of amber, overgrown with moss, ferns, creeping vines, and every other wildly-growing green thing. As time goes on, this becomes more and more enticing.

Crimson Peak Atmosphere Sprays from Black Phoenix Trading Post, $35 per 4oz. spray.

Lucille’s Bedroom: Lilac water, fossilized black amber, lily of the valley, violet leaf, and oakmoss. More dusty florals, as is appropriate for Lucille’s bedroom. The lily of the valley is the most noticeable, but gives way to the green of the violet leaf and the depth of the oakmoss. The fossilized black amber adds a touch of warmth.

The Cemetery, Many Years Ago: A solemn, pale child standing amongst snow-laden tombs as wet flakes descend from a leaden sky. The smell of snow, fresh-turned earth, and the bitter seasoning of salt tears.

The Workshop: Machinery made magic; the final manifestation of dissolving hopes and clockwork dreams: sawdust and gear lubricant, metal rods shining in golden afternoon light. There’s something golden and amber in this, grounded by the smell of wood shavings and machine oil. Over time, something chilly creeps in, weaving around the amber.

Allerdale Hall: A grand house brooding against the horizon, a silhouette of jutting chimneys and sharp angles silhouetted against the grey sky. Damp wood, earthy clay, and the scent of rain. Exactly what you’d expect a haunted manor house to smell like, actually.

The Sharpe Library: A vast double-height room, crowded with books and glass cabinets. Oil portraits stare down from the walls, and a grand piano plays the ghost of a lullaby. Dry cinnamon, with the barest whisper of vanilla, and everything grounded with a dark wood.

Young Edith’s Bedroom: Beeswax, leather-bound paper, and white gardenias; porcelain and wood, lace and shadow. My absolute favorite of all the atmosphere sprays. The beeswax and white gardenia are sweet and comforting, while the wood and paper smell like a library you want to stay in for hours.

The Black Phoenix Trading Post also has produced Crimson Peak-themed nail polishes, memento boxes, and jewelry. To say that I covet all of these items is, again, to only faintly portray my enthusiasm and longing for these treasures.

If you haven’t had the chance to indulge in lush, terrifying gothic romance that is Crimson Peak — quick! Find a local theatre that’s showing it, and go.

An Important Announcement

4 May 2015

Dear darling Snarklings,

The Lady of the Manners has been dithering over this announcement for a while. This website, the original home of Gothic Charm School, is taking a hiatus from reader questions until around October. Everything is fine, there is no crisis or problem! But there are some other projects of mine that need my focused attention, and I need to take a break in order to do that.

While reader questions are going on hold, there will be the occasional interview or review posted over the next few months. If you do have gothy questions, be sure to search the archives that are packed with over 15 years of articles. Alternatively, you can buy the book (if you haven’t done that yet)!

I am not vanishing from the internet. You can still follow my hijinks over on Twitter, on LiveJournal (remember that? Yeah, I’m still there), and, of course, over on Tumblr.

To sum up: Taking a break from answering questions! Everything is fine! Other important projects to be done! The Lady of the Manners will return in October! In the meantime, take care of yourselves, take care of each other, and treat everyone (including yourself!) with as much kindness and compassion as possible.

With much love,

Jillian
The Lady of the Manners

Of Werewolves. Werewolves and Goth.

25 February 2015

The Lady of the Manners feels like she needs to state that the question in this edition of Gothic Charm School is one she had never received before. Which isn’t to say it’s bad, or creepy, or unsettling! Just … this isn’t something that people have asked before. It comes from a young spooky creature:

well two things one I love your book and now two my mom is one of the vampire subculture kind of people but she hides it from the rest of our family she also has accepted I’m Goth but I don’t live with her now I live with my gran and she can be judgmental and will not accept it now comes the fact I dress like a werewolf with the ears tail eyes and teeth most people know of vampires in the gothic subculture just not wolves there a little less understanding and I’m leader of a nonviolent pack but my family will not understand this like this I have them read your book but I just don’t know what to do any more I get asked by strangers and I get one chance to make a good impression for Goths and wolves plez help me answering it without the accidently rudeness is a bit hard

The Lady of the Manners will be honest, it took her a few readings of the message before she was able to understand what was being asked, but not because of any distaste or side-eying of the subject, but purely because of the writing style. Punctuation, Snarklings. Punctuation and writing for clarity; learn about them and embrace them.

The Lady of the Manners is NOT saying this out of some sort of scholarly elitism or writing snobbery! Writing is part of communication, and if you want to make the best possible impression with someone you’ve never met, being able to write in a way that is easily understood is important. Something written with no pauses or breaks between sentences comes across as someone quickly blurting out a bunch of information, without stopping for breath or to see if the person they’re communicating with grasps what they’re trying to say. So! Punctuation. It is everyone’s friend, and being able to write a clearly-understood message is an incredibly valuable skill.

With the small writing lesson digression out of the way: You’re right, Wolfy Snarkling, that people are far more aware of vampires and vampyres in the gothic subcultures. (VampYres with a “y” to indicate the people who are part of that subculture, and are not the same as vampire fiction enthusiasts.) The Lady of the Manners isn’t really sure why more people in the gothic subculture don’t identify with werewolves, for they are, just like vampires, a classic example of someone separate from regular society; a monstrous Other who is feared by the rational world. (The Lady of the Manners once had an interesting discussion with some people about the genre divides that were a relatively accurate predictor of your preferred subculture: goths liked vampires, with their elegant menace tinged with decay, and metalheads preferred werewolves, with their tribal loyalty and explosive, semi-feral nature. But none of that is written in stone anywhere, and there is no one particular supernatural creature someone has to like (or identify with) to feel aligned with goth.)

Because you dress like a werewolf, with the ears, tail, eyes (contact lenses, the Lady of the Manners assumes?), and teeth, you are going to attract attention. Most people don’t come across other folks dressed like that, so when they see you, of course they’re going to ask questions. Here’s the thing you need to remember, Wolfy Snarkling: you don’t have to give them detailed answers if you don’t want to. If someone asks you why you’re wearing those things, simply answer, “because I like them,” or, “because I want to”.

You see, you don’t owe them an explanation! Most people asking about someone’s personal appearance aren’t looking for a lengthy explanation, they just want a soundbite. If they do press you for more information, you could answer them with something about how you identify with the archetype of the werewolf, or how you want to have your exterior represent your sense of self. Or merely smile, say, “It makes me happy”, and go on about your business.

Your wanting to make a good impression for goths and werewolves is an admirable goal. However, many people just won’t understand your devotion to the werewolf subculture, and will assume you have a very active imagination, or are involved in an elaborate game of pretend, or their only frame of reference will be sensationalist shock “news” stories about furries. And, the Lady of the Manners wants to make sure that you understand that almost all of those people will think you’re weird.

THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING WEIRD.

Own your weirdness. Are you hurting yourself or anyone else? (The Lady of the Manners assumes not, in light of your “nonviolent pack” comment.) If not, then you’re fine; go forth and be true to your wolfy self! Because that’s the big secret, the one that the Lady of the Manners wants to make sure all you Snarklings know:

OWN YOUR WEIRDNESS

Who cares what those other people think? You shouldn’t. Be prepared for people not to get it, to make “joking” or mean-spirited comments, but armor yourself with the knowledge that generally, you don’t need to worry about those people’s opinions. Smile politely (but perhaps not a wide smile that displays your fangs) at them, and then ignore them. This is the key to being a happy eccentric of any sort. Yes, you must live in the world, but make sure that you’re doing it on your own terms, and that you’re being true to yourself.

Now, what about the people whose opinions you do need to pay attention to? Family, teachers, co-workers and employers? For school and work, make sure to follow any explicitly-stated dress codes, and work hard at being brilliant. It is amazing how many eccentricities will be overlooked if the eccentric in question is very, very good at what they do. As for family members: try not to get frustrated by them, but make it very clear that this is who you are, this is how you have decided to approach life, and that you are asking them to respect that. And if they don’t, grit your teeth, do what you can to keep family harmony without causing yourself any emotional harm, and focus on when you will be able to live your life on your own terms.

Finally, since you have a pack (who share your ideas)? Turn to them for support, and make it a pack project to craft a clear, concise explanation of what has drawn you all to the werewolf ways, so when you find people who do want more than a soundbite, you have something ready to say. (For example, when people ask the Lady of the Manners about “this goth thing”, she’s able to give them a short explanation involving being an offshoot of the punk subculture, and finding beauty in dark places, with some easy-to-reference examples such as The Addams Family, Dracula, and Tim Burton movies.)

What say you, Snarklings? Do any of you have helpful words for Wolfy Snarkling?
(Comments, as always, are moderated.)

Show and Tell: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab: An Evening With The Spirits

18 February 2015

Snarklings, you do know about Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, yes? Just in case you don’t: they’re an independent perfume company that specializes in gothic, decadent, and romantic scents. I’ve been a fan of theirs for over a decade, and their ever-evolving concoctions are the reason I am never able to decide on a “signature” scent for myself; how could I choose just one? (Though I will admit, Blood Popsicle from the Only Lovers Left Alive collection is almost my perfect perfume.

The clever olfactory magicians at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab very kindly sent me their collection of scents inspired by 19th century spiritualism and occultism. I’ve always been fascinated by the spiritualist movement and antique occultism, so the notion of exploring those things through the scented genius of BPAL’s vision — Oh! How I swooned!

In the following reviews, the italicized opening text are quotes from the official Lab descriptions:

A Measurement of the Soul — A tactile scent, groaning under the weight of aeons: wild fig, cedarwood, venerable ti leaf, and white sage.

The fig is what strikes first, thick and juicy. Underneath it’s sweetness, the white sage is a layer of dry dust and ash. This is a sticky, luxurious confection, presented in small cedar box to preserve it.

Claircognizance — Absolute and perfect clarity: rockrose, white amber, Corsican immortelle, Siamese benzoin, white sandalwood, and life everlasting.

The rose and amber provide a warm light, with flickering floral sparks from the Corsican immortelle. These make a gilded setting for the flourishes of the sandalwood, while the Siamese benzoin gives just enough of a sharpness to keep everything in focus.

Ectoplasm — A luminous, viscid blend of white amber, lemongrass, white oakmoss, and davana.

Luminous, indeed. This is the scent of white, hazy fog that is bound in satin ribbons that sting and cut. The lemongrass and white oakmoss give the impression of a clarity just out of reach, but the white amber and davana blur the message you’re trying to interpret.

Eusapia — Pale lilacs, white tea, and candle wax.

The last flowers of spring, dipped in wax to preserve them beyond their season, forgotten on a library shelf.

The Fox Sisters — Deception and despair: rose geranium and tea roses with mahogany wood, bourbon vanilla, and apple peel.

The apple peel and tea roses give the impression of innocence and clear-eyed sincerity, but the bourbon vanilla and mahogany wood hint at something hidden, a darkness that gives a sharp outline to the secret of the rose geranium.

Gossips of Ghost Land — Idle poltergeists and truant phantoms loitering in darkened corners and shadowed hallways: black cedar, patchouli, and tea leaf spiked with a tittering cackle of pink peppercorn, mate, and lime rind.

I’ve tried and tried, but I can come up with no better description of this scent than this: slightly bored with the glittering frivolity, you wander away from the well-lit ballroom and discover, at the end of the long hallway, a shadowy library. You run your fingers along the dusty spines of the books on the shelves, and pull out a small volume bound in dove gray leather. When you open it, pressed flowers flutter from the pages to the floor, and the faded ink tells you the story of spurned love and thwarted tempers.

Luminous Phasmatis — A peculiar manifestation of light produced by physical mediums during ectoplasmic séances: otherworldly snaps of ozone glowing with unearthly light.

Lavender, the faintest hint of a mild mint, salt, and ozone. I don’t know how Beth at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab manages to capture the scent of ozone, of lightning-kissed clouds, but she has. I suspect witchcraft. Amazing witchcraft.

Practical Occultism — A Victorian occultist’s incense, invoking the Four Archangels: precious wildcrafted Indian frankincense with myrrh, cassia, sandarac, palmarosa, white sage, red sandalwood, elemi, and drops of star anise bound with grains of kyphi.

I will admit, the name of this scent made me biased. How could I not love something named Practical Occultism? And love it I do. The cassia, star anise, and red sandalwood are bright droplets of light, the white sage and Indian frankincense are eddies of smoke, tracing unreadable calligraphy in the air, while the rest of the notes blend together to create something grounding and steady.

Psychodynamic Discharge — Repressed rage, terror, and subjugated sexuality erupting through fierce bursts of uncontrollable psychic phenomena: black leather and red musk with aged black patchouli, Chinese rose, black pepper, coconut meat, Haitian vetiver, and igneous red ginger.

This is darkness and rage and everything unkind and uncomfortable that we know we shouldn’t acknowledge, yet secretly want to indulge in, if only for brief, controlled moments. Perhaps one should wear this while drinking something virulently intoxicating and reading The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Spirit Board — Redwood and bois de rose with white lilac, dried pink roses, and black tea.

A tarnished silver tea chest, lined with wood, that you find in the depths of a long-abandoned pantry. The tea inside is mixed with the pale petals of dried flowers; it smells enticing, but you’re not sure if drinking a cup of it is a good, or sensible, idea.

Table-Turning — A heavy, tactile scent that thrums with voices from beyond: black polished teakwood, gullies of ectoplasm, and ghostly white musk.

Crackling ozone swirls around heavy, dark wood, in a room that hasn’t seen daylight in a very long time.

Vital Fluid — The breath and tears and pulse of all life; the fluid that flows through all creation, permeating space and time and spirit: olibanum, red benzoin absolute, labdanum, betel leaf, galbanum, mastic, and angelica.

This smells like the torn edges of newly-sprouted leaves and blossoms, sitting in a vase of saltwater. There’s something vibrant to it, but not overpowering. I suspect this is going to be a scent I dab on my temples when I am in the grimy clutches of sleep deprivation; it smells of wakefulness, but not in a jolting, abrupt way. A clear-headed wakefulness, as sparkling as a drop of rain on a blade of grass.

All scents were kindly given to me by the mad geniuses at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab.