Of Questions About Goth Fashion

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!

16 Responses to “Of Questions About Goth Fashion”

  1. The Fairy Gothmother Says:

    I completely agree with you Lady of the Manners! Though I always considered myself strange and unusual most my life when I finally discovered the fascinating world of the Gothic subculture I had to explore and find what worked best. I started out with black hair, black medieval looking shirts and band shirts. Some dresses and velvety things.

    Then I explored the cybergoth stuff. The cyberlox now retired still hang in my wardrobe but I had the fluffy leg things and big stompy platform boots for a few years and then got a victorian lolita dress and hat.

    Now I gravitate more for everday gothic life on the trad goth with a touch of deathrocker look. flitting between deathhawks and Robert Smith, Siouxsie hair.I did get a pair of the aforementioned pointy shoes form The Gothic Shoe store known as Winklepickers or Pikes. My good friends in Germany got me turned on to them because I admit before then it was all about big stompy boots. I still love big boots but pikes can actually be less expensive and a bit more comfortable. I have nice black leather ones with coffin buckles. They even helped me with making sure they fit because the Fairy Gothmother does not have average sized feet and ankles! Its always great to get more custom things.

    I pretty much found my comfort zone and what looks best after over 10 years. Being a plus size lady makes it more difficult and expensive so until I can make my own things I save up and buy from Etsy, ebay and sellers that offer custom sizes for the more spectacular pieces and outfits for occasions like Wave Gotik Treffen and M’era Luna.

    On the everyday bumming around home its black band shirts, pajama bottoms or a comfy pair of pants or skirt and no makeup including no eyebrows since mine are shaved off lol.

    I also agree Pastel Goth can be really cute. Adora Batbrat sure makes it look fabulous! Some might say she is not goth for her colorful style but who cares. Be happy, be yourself and do not be afraid to mix, match, experiment and enjoy discovering all the weird and wonderful styles.

  2. Bunny Says:

    Ah, babybats, you have so much fun experimentation ahead of you! Don’t feel you have to get it all right now – half the fun comes from trying things out. A truncated list of some of the ways I have personally enjoyed goth style in my over-15 years of loving a bit of the ol’ whimsical darkness…

    1- Baggy jeans, black tee, funky socks cut into arm-warmers and a black beany with animal ears on.
    2- tights with a rainbow/cloud/unicorns pattern on worn under ripped black fishnets, black shorts, even more fishnets on top and hair doo-dads intended for toddlers in my hair.
    3- Black leather trousers with buckles *all the way* up the legs, stompy boots, a tight black pleather top with roses on and an impressive quantity of make-up.
    4- A fishnet dress over shorts and a bra top, worn with stilettos.
    5- A 1950s style dress in jewel colours, coiffed hair, flats.
    6- Full-length velvet skirt, corset, velvet top with dramatic floaty sleeves and haunting make-up.
    7- A binder, black jeans, shirt and suit jacket and my hair pulled up under a hat, with elaborate make-up and nails.

    And my usual uniform these days… a skater-style dress in my usual favourite colours (black, purple, red or green) with black leggings, some sort of floaty, or asymmetrical-hemmed cardigan and the DM boots I basically live in.

    I’ve tried swirly eyeliner, Crow face, black lips, matte lips, porcelain-doll style make-up. I play with dark more/strega, pastelgoth, industrial goth, bondage goth, lazy goth and my very own mis-matched combinations based on what I like wearing, what I find comfortable and what I have in the wardrobe.

    I’ve never really picked one style, and I hope I never do. They’re all far too much fun!

  3. Ria Says:

    Sleek makes decently priced eyeshadow palettes and is easily available in Europe. There is also Makeup Revolution London and it’s sister brands, although most palettes focus on more natural hues.
    KIKO Milano has a huge selection of single eyeshadows and their matte lipsticks are quite nice.

    It’s worth to keep an eye open for smaller indie brands, they’re often quite affordable.

    H&M does a Halloween Collection every fall, it’s worth to keep an eye out on that. Asos does the same and they usually have plus size stuff.

    For legwear I also recommend keeping an eye open on H&M sales, you can snatch tights with interesting flowery/lacey patterns for 3-5€ a pair.

  4. Josie Says:

    Oh thank goodness!! This has been bothering me for some time now. That is a load off my mind. I probably should have asked but i didnt want to bother anyone. Anyway, i like to mix and match gothy things (however it is a little difficult since i work at a clothing store) i like the layered look of Dark Mori but also enjoy the sillouette of Victorian Goth, and some days i just want to wear my Loki shirt and jeans.

    Pur minerals is a good brand in Canada. Their redness reducing primer is AMAZING!! Their foundation is nice and light too, so it doesnt feel like you used a full sized compact in under 2 months… Their cleanser is a little to be desiered, but their mostueiser is the best. I would basicly have to empty a bottle of drugstore mosturiser and my skin would still flake.

    As for gothy fashions, there really isnt much unless you live somewhere like Edmonton or Toronto. If you are creative, Fall and Winter are you best bet for dark colours. If you are lucky you have a vintage clothing store you can raid, but if you are in my situation where all you really have is Value Village then you are kinda doomed. Anything that is a goth brand i have to either buy from the US or go on a road trip to find. With Canada’s current economy i cant afford anything so i really have to improvise and its even worse since i work at clothing store that is… well aimed at the average 30-35 working mom.

  5. Rosemary Says:

    Hey, I am going into archaeology as a trade and believe you me, it doesn’t lend well to the Goth clothing styles. This mainly has to do with the fact that I expect to spend a lot of time in the sun, and black is generally not a good idea in a hot climate. And like everyone says, you don’t have to dress Goth every day. I can keep my corset and wonderful swing skirts for days when I am not in the field. I will also admit, I am really really lazy and don’t wear makeup every day, but it is true that practice helps get wonderful winged eyeliner.

    Also, learning to sew has been the best things I have ever done. I can sew or even alter clothes to the style I want. I suggest learning this kind of thing.

  6. Dean Says:

    Its not really important but I thought I would add in that also you can have something that is between gothic and what is considered typical fashion today, for about two years I would wear black cowboy boots, black jeans, black and dark grey plaid button ups, basically something identical to what all the farmers in my town wore, just in black for almost every item of clothing. Whatever style is popular in your area can probably be put together the same way, and if you’re looking for something that resembles combat boots but is not as heavy or hot, Guess brand has a few boots that are remarkably similar looking and unlike the shoes they normally make, I was fortunate enough to get the first of two styles they came lit with which looked more like combat boots than the second but under a pant leg they look identical if you’re looking for something cheap.

  7. Nyx Shadowhawk Says:

    I tend to go for the flamboyant romantigoth look. I wear long black skirts almost every single day, black velvet, lace, chiffon, cotton and corset tops (I don’t wear real corsets, but I have a lot of shirts with lacing up the front that makes them look like corsets). If I could wear my many velvet cloaks to school, I would. I like silver and pewter pendants, lace gloves, and chokers. When I’m not at school and I can dress more casually, I also have some favorite T-shirts with cats, owls, ravens, and gargoyles reading books on them. My favorite one says “Carpe Noctem” in front of black wings, a black rose, and a rising moon. It basically sums up one of my novels on a T-shirt.
    I’m impressed with myself that I’ve managed to find so many clothes of this style available in the United States. I REALLY wish that the Sinister brand sold to the US! Most of my clothes are from Pyramid Collection and Spiral Direct (USA).
    I don’t wear makeup on a regular basis and don’t feel like starting, but I’ll try to use next Halloween as an excuse to get more dark makeup and pale foundation for when I do wear it.

  8. Stormbringer Says:

    As a 50 year old male, I tend to dress in an ‘age appropriate way’. I work for a charity where our current manager has implemented a very relaxed dress code, bordering on no dress code at all. That being said, I still come to work in neat casual dress – black t-shirt, often with a couple of neck ornaments,black leather look jacket in winter, black jeans and black boots or black canvas shoes. While I don’t wear makeup, piercings or have tatoos, I do wear at least 6 chunky silver rings and a couple of bracelets. I consider this to be goth enough for work.

    When it comes to brands, I’ve always had an issue with being a walking billboard for some brand or other. I tend to avoid any t-shirt that overtly advertises it’s brand and I mostly wear cusom made ones instead, printed with some of my favourite literary quotes in Latin, German and from Shakespeare. So while I’m not as ‘gothy’ as some, I think age appropriate and comfortable at work is the way to go then you finally reach that half century.

  9. Kixtus Says:

    Tyler, I understand the struggles of looking for cheaper boots to buy. I’m a poor uni student (majoring in Psychology). I was first influenced by the Hex Girls from Scooby Doo when I was six, I think (which is pretty embarrassing, now). I only started wearing darker fashions when I was fourteen and became a Goth when I was sixteen. I’ve dabbled in various Goth styles and at 20, I’ve settled into Deathrock Goth/ “blackified” Wayward Victorian Girl (My style’s been influenced by Emilie Autumn (Yes, I know Wayward Victorian Girl isn’t Goth.))

    My style consists of: band t-shirts, owl t-shirts, graphic t-shirts and my favourite t-shirt, which; has a cross with wings, a cross on the back and diamantes and studs all around, (most of my t-shirts have ripped sleeves. Then I have jewel-coloured shorts, black, ripped skinny jeans, a black skort, black pants, dark blue pants, black & white skirts. Ripped black tights, striped thigh-high stockings, black fishnet tights (worn under the stockings) and a garter belt (worn with stockings when I don’t go with fishnet tights). A Yin-Yang necklace and an owl necklace. Faux leather jacket (I like animals and it’s cheaper than leather), a black coat with a faux fur-lined hood and a fishnet black jacket. A black, little clip-on hat with a black rose and small black veil. Black finger-less gloves. I have only two pairs of boots. I sometimes wear black sneakers instead for practicality’s sake.

    One cheap but cool looking pair that are like combat boots with slightly higher heels from K-Mart for $20. Which I wear practically every day and are kind of worn. One pair from Etsy for just over $100 which are much better quality. I know I’m a female so guys stuff is going to be different but oh well.

    I used to have ear piercings but I have an allergy to nickle so that didn’t work out. I haven’t gotten any tattoos although I have considered and dreamed about them. I rarely wear make-up because I’m allergic to something in the make-up and I don’t know what exactly. I occasionally wear liquid black eye-liner and Just Bitten Revlon lipstain (yes lipSTAIN not lipstick). I usually wear my hair down and it’s naturally curly so it has that Wayward Victorian Girl look. I also tend to wear large, black, clunky headphones. I buy most of my clothes from cheaper shops such as; Op-shops, K-Mart or Jay Jays and fix them up a bit. My style may sound a bit strange but in my opinion, at least, it looks pretty good.

  10. SeaRune Says:

    I’m a 45 yr. old Goth who still has not found a style. LOL! I also barely wear make up or can colour my hair because my skin/scalp/hair do not like it and I have a horrible reaction to them. So I stick with my short silver/gray/white hair and when I don’t want that, I cover it with black scarves of various gothy colours and patterns. 🙂 At least I can wear nail polish. 😉 As for fashion…as Josie said…with the economy and well…here in Canada unless you live in the big cities the chances of finding things can be more challenging. So I go to thrift stores and find something to wear there either as is or maybe modify it to what I envision it. I’m not the greatest at sewing but I manage. 🙂 Do I wear gothy clothes all the time? Nope! I mix them up…and that’s okay too.

  11. Caroline Carnivorous Says:

    I guess my favorite goth fashions are the historical ones. But I love the original trad and deathrock looks too! I also like some aspects of cybergoth. Other than that I love (black) metal too, so I incorporate that into my style as well! I look pretty different every day, and for Wave Gotik Treffen I always go for a different look for each day – last year I even did two outfits a day.

    I’m from Norway, so we don’t have much make-up and especially no gothy fashion stores. I always order everything online, both in make-up and fashion. Nowadays I love shopping for Too Faced make-up and at EMP!

  12. KnitterKat Says:

    E.L.F has some good basic make-up supplies. I especially love the eye shadow primer, since otherwise, whatever I put on will just gather in the crease. And they’ve got some good darker shades on their large eye shadow palletes, too. Also, Maybelline has some really nice darker eye shadows and lipsticks as well. they’re actually advertising a Rock Nudes palete that has some nice darker colors from what I’ve seen. I’d definitely suggest keeping an eye out for sales and clearance items if you’re worried about keeping to a budget. That’s how I’ve collected most of my makeup stash and the pair of stompy boots I’ve had for the past year, year and a half.

  13. KyLeigh Boyland Says:

    Hello,
    Im 14, Im interested in your sense of style and your perspective on the world. As a little girl I wore girly clothing and listened to pop music. Over the years, up until now i’ve grown outta that. I still have a kidish/girly personality, but I noticed that I have some of the same interests and I guess you can say “beliefs” as goths. I adore the color black. Don’t get me wrong other colors are great, my hair is blue, but I enjoy wearing the color black. People often think black is dark and a sad/depressing color, but I believe that yes its dark but its a happy color. I love heavy metal music, but I enjoy classical music as well. I also believe that theres beauty in everything. I don’t believe in violence, doing drugs (not even marijuana), drinking, or smoking. I can be loud and obnoxious, but quiet and low-key, I have very few friends, and Im not a fan of people. I have a darker mind then most, and I can be morbid, but yet I can be colorful. Now I have a lot of people who think I’m Emo. 1. because of the way I dress 2. Perhaps the way I act. In all honesty, I think my personality and taste of style would be more on the gothic side. I love laced clothing and such, but we don’t have a lot of money and when we do shop we don’t shop online. The clothing I have may show me more as an emo then anything else. Im having trouble finding out exactly which type of person Im more like and expressing myself as this type of person. So I come to you to help me figure what I am and how to express myself as this kind of person.

  14. Twisted Pixies Says:

    Ahh! My favorite subject! I love all of the tips already dolled out by the wonderful Snarklings. 🙂 I would only add that if you can, shop handmade/artisan made when something strikes your fancy. Buying cheap is awesome, and good deals are killer, but if you truly want to stand out and express yourself (as most Goths do), then going with a more original handmade items, especially for your accessories, is an easy way to set your look apart and get a plethora of “where did you get that!?” questions. 🙂

  15. Cody Says:

    Pastel Goth has been an issue in the Gothic Subculture because it’s different. No one accepted Cybergoth because it uses electronic music and stuff, but now it is.

    It’s because Pastel Goth is more Grunge, rather than using Gothic fashion.

    People tend to confuse Pastel Goth with Bubble Goth because they both look similar in their style. Bubble Goth uses Cybergoth elements, some Babydoll, and Kawaii. Of course it borrows Pastel Goth fashion and accessories from time to time. Bubble Goth mostly uses Gothic fashion, whereas Pastel Goth is more casual.

    I went through a phase around 14/15 years old pretending I hated the colour pink. I love pink, I love cheery, I love bright, sparkly, and cute things. I shouldn’t have to hide it. It’s what makes you a fake. If you love kawaii, colourful things with spooky designs, go for it!

    I was a girly child who played with Barbie dolls, my favourite colour was pink and purple, but also had a thing for vampires and witches. And then I grew more into the darker things. Half of me loves the dark and creepy as well as the bright and the cute.

    We shouldn’t be afraid to be ourselves.

  16. CastIronCrow Says:

    I am a Canadian goth, lonely as that is, and my suggestion for make up is Nyx, as stated by the lovely lady, and to try what works for you. I find that drugstore names usually do one or two things really well, and finding out which for who can be frustrating. Milani has a wonderful water proof liquid eyeliner that I suggest to anyone, Maybelline has lipsticks that are vibrant and long lasting, and I would suggest finding out of there is a Winners or Marshals (or other such stores) nearby, as there you can often find more expensive high quality make up for cheap, such as Smashbox (who’s eyeshadows are to die for), and make up brushes and sponges. Winners/Marshals can be a great place too for clothes, as they get so many different brands and styles, things you can modify or things that just need the right bat shaped necklace to unlock the spook potential. Frequent any vintage shops or respectable second hand store as well, things there always change and there are always new lovelies to discover.

    Of course me those are suggestions for starting out, assuming you are in an area where goth shops are limited. But no need to fret that you can’t buy online or afford handmade articles. One day you’ll get there, and in the meantime keep out a sharp eye.

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