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!