Clothing, Snarklings. Goth fashion is a source of perpetual questions here at Gothic Charm School. Assembling a gothy wardrobe can, at times, be a bit daunting; the Lady of the Manners does understand that. Here, let the Lady of the Manners share with you some of the types of letters that come fluttering into the Gothic Charm School mailbox:
question: I’ve admired the gothic subculture for years now, but kept my distance from the fashion for lack of confidence and to keep certain persons (i.e., mom and dad) from getting upset. Now while I still don’t have quite the amount of confidence I’d like, I’m past caring about the approval of my parents in my taste of clothing.
I’m especially fond of the elegant Gothic aristocratic/Victorian apparel. My concerns, and the reasons for writing to you, boil down to two things. First, I’m unsure how to begin, how can I put together such clothes without looking like a noob, a wannabe, or a person in costume?
Second, I’m having a hard time finding such clothes. I’m leery of places on the internet like eBay selling expensive things at questionable quality. Pickings in the surrounding stores are slim to nonexistent. I can’t sew, so making my own clothes is also out of the question (I know you’ve encouraged others to learn how to sew, and I’m making every effort to learn at least enough to alterations).
I apologize if my questions are variations of others, and thank you for taking the time to read my letter
question: I love your regular online column and read it often. About me: I’m now 52, part of the “first school” of Goth from way back in the day and have found some great advice for aging Goths like myself on your website. Bravo!
Question: Where in the world can one find any decent clothes for Goth men, particularly, for the older crowd who, like me, tend to feel a bit silly and self-conscious wearing items that are obviously aimed at the 20-something and younger set?
I search all the time online and always seem to find that most of the clothing items are being marketed to women, and not men. Or, as noted above, that most of the items are of the “club wear” variety and are not as conservative as I personally feel that one of my age and station should wear.
The Lady of the Manners suspects that both Curt and Katie (and countless other gothy-types out there beyond the Lady of the Manners’ computer screen) have fallen prey to a classic mistake when looking for Goth clothes: that they’re focusing on finding “Goth” clothes.
The Lady of the Manners isn’t sure why more people haven’t figured it out yet, but she’s quite happy to share this bit of advice with all of you: very often, the best items to fill out your Goth wardrobe aren’t specifically marketed as Goth at all. “Mainstream” stores are full of items of clothing that can be perfect Goth pieces! Blazers, waistcoats, sharp-collared dress shirts, blouses with frills and lace trim, good trousers, flowing velvet skirts; the Lady of the Manners and her friends have found all of these items (and more!) in black at stores such as Macy’s, J.C. Penny’s, Target, Ross, and H+M, not to mention thrift stores galore. Of course, shopping those mainstream stores requires a bit more perseverance and ingenuity than just popping ’round to Ye Olde Spooky Shoppe. In addition to searching through racks for a hidden gem with gothy potential, you have to be able to look at what you find with an open and creative mind. Do you have items in your closet that will look smashing with that “basic” black blazer you’ve just pulled off the rack? How would it look with a long skirt, or well-tailored trousers? Would it be a good item for customizing, be it with a handful of interesting brooches, patches stitched or safety-pinned on, or by changing the buttons?
In her letter, Katie mentions that she’s trying to learn how to do alterations. The Lady of the Manners cannot stress this skill enough, Snarklings. If you can learn how to thread a needle and do a basic stitch, a whole world of wardrobe customization will open up to you. Adding trim, changing buttons, sewing on appliqués or patches … all of these things can be done by hand, and can turn a basic garment from a big box store like Target or Wal-Mart into something with a more spooky air.
Don’t think that you need to have easy access to a fabric store to find things to customize your wardrobe with, either! Yes, fabric stores are the simplest way to gather supplies such as lace, ribbon, buttons, or patches, but they’re not your only option. Most general stores sell basic sewing kit items such as scissors, needles, and thread; now that D.I.Y. crafting has become trendy, those same general stores also sometimes carry buttons, or patches and iron-ons with (usually rather cutesy) skulls. If you’ve got a good eye and are clever, another good place to find D.IY. supplies is your local thrift store. Perhaps that shirt you just found is made from horrible fabric, but what about the buttons on it? Take a look around at the piles of sheets and curtains; dismantle those ruffled pillowcases and use them as layers of flounces!
Of course, the most important things to keep in mind when you are shopping for Goth clothing is what style of Goth you are interested in, and to keep an eye on mainstream fashion to see if elements of your chosen style are deemed “In” at the moment. Are you looking for an antique-styled, gothy Victorian look? The fashion industry flirts with that style every few years, and when it does, that is the time to stock up on lace blouses and velvet jackets. More of a fan of sharper-edged lines, or punk aggression? Again, there are times (such as this current fall fashion season) when those sorts of items can be found at your local shopping mall. It bears repeating: it helps to have at least a vague knowledge of what is going on in mainstream fashion. Take a look at fashion blogs, flip through fashion magazines, use Polyvore as an enormous set of paper dolls to build outfits from (that’s what the Lady of the Manners does!); that way, when the fashion industry decrees that Adam Ant-style jackets with lots of shiny buttons are what everyone should wear, you know, and can keep a sharp eye out for the clearance sales!
But what if you don’t want (or don’t have time) to spend playing hunter/gatherer to build your wardrobe of gloom? This is where the Internet can be particularly useful, if a little overwhelming. There are squillions and squillions of sites out there with Goth-targeted merchandise, but how do you know which ones have quality goods? Firstly, ask people. Ask the people you know on social networking sites. (The Lady of the Manners is just going to assume that everyone reading this is probably on some sort of social networking site, be it LiveJournal, DreamWidth, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, or some other one she’s not yet heard of.) Ask folks if they’ve heard of the particular site you’re looking at, and if they have any reviews, or ask people for recommendations about where to find particular items. And in that spirit, now is the section for the Lady of the Manners to give you a list of designers and retailers that she personally recommends!
Kambriel is, as far as the Lady of the Manners is concerned, the Goth designer. Her work was shown in the recent Goth: Dark Glamour exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Kambriel is justly renowned for her beautiful designs and exquisite attention to detail. If you’re a lady or gentleman looking for dark glamour and elegance, give your money to Kambriel. You won’t be disappointed.
Voodoo Lounge on Etsy offers spookily whimsical skirts, dresses, shrugs, and vests, with a dollop of Victorian circus sensibility. Stripes, ruffles, lace, and rag doll-stitching accents abound, with wonderful construction and a general air of “we’re going to run away and join a very mysterious traveling circus”.
Gloomth explores the Gothic Lolita aesthetic, but with a more dark Victorian ragamuffin feel. Many of their offerings look like they could have come from an Edward Gorey book; the Lady of the Manners is eagerly awaiting her first item from Gloomth, and will give a full review when it arrives.
Retroscope Fashions is where the Lady of the Manners purchases a lot of her skirts from. Anyone seeking items for a Victorian-esque, Gothic Lolita, or aristocrat sort of look should start browsing Retroscope, including the gentlemen! Everything the Lady of the Manners has from Retroscope has been well-made, and the owner of the company is an absolute sweetheart.
(Forgive the Lady of the Manners, Snarklings, but she’s going to be a bit mercenary for just a moment. If you do take the plunge and purchase something from Retroscope Fashions, the Lady of the Manners would be very, very grateful if you mentioned her as the person who referred you there. Customer referrals equal more stripy skirts in the Lady of the Manners’ closet!)
Clockwork Couture, while more focused on the steampunk aesthetic rather than Goth, has a wonderful selection of clothing and footwear for ladies and gentlemen. And gracious, do they have a constantly-changing selection of wares!
Gentleman’s Emporium is another site that is packed full of splendid neo-Victorian goodies for men and women. (The Lady of the Manners is particularly charmed by the Ladies 1900 Black Bathing Suit, which is the sort of thing she has wanted long before she started watching Tim Burton’s version of Sweeney Todd on a near-weekly basis.)
The sharp-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the Lady of the Manners’ collection of shopping clicky-links is rather heavily representative of the neo-Victorian/Gothic Lolita/Elegant Gothic Aristocrat side of the subcultural closet. Well, yes, those are the Lady of the Manners’ favored styles, so of course those are the links she has. If any of you have favorite retailers for punk and industrial fashions, please send them to Gothic Charm School, and the Lady of the Manners will make be sure to post them! (After, of course, checking the sites out. The Lady of the Manners trusts you people, but thinks that blindly posting links is just asking for trouble.)
The final bit (well, final for this lesson) of advice concerning Goth fashion that the Lady of the Manners has for you all is something that Katie mentioned in her letter. Here, to remind you:
I’m unsure how to begin, how can I put together such clothes without looking like a noob, a wannabe, or a person in costume?
One thing to be aware of, if you wish to avoid the “clueless newbie” or “I’m in a costume!” air clinging to you, is the quality of fabrics your garments are made of. Lightweight panne velvet or satin-finish fabrics scream costume, generally with an undertone of costume that came in a big plastic bag. There are many items that could be a darkly gleaming example of elegant gothy finery, but are betrayed by the fabrics they’ve been made from.
Another important thing to keep in mind is to look at your entire outfit and check if it looks well-put-together, as opposed to a collection of random “Goth” garments all worn because they’re So Goth. You want to look like you’ve put some thought into what you’re wearing, not like a walking pile of laundry from the Haunted Mansion.
And lastly, what the Lady of the Manners feels is the most vital way to avoid looking like a noob or wannabe: make sure that you are wearing your outfit, rather than it wearing you. You have chosen to dress in a manner different from other people, so be comfortable in your decision! Nothing ruins a striking outfit faster than the person wearing it looking uncomfortable or unsure about what they’re wearing. If you feel like you’re wearing a costume, then you will come across like you’re wearing a costume. Be confident in what you’ve decided to adorn yourself with, and that will go a very long way toward helping you look like the Real Thing. If this means that you need to give new, elaborate, or complicated outfits a “trial run” at home before you wear them out, so be it. It is better to discover any problems or quirks with outfit in the privacy of your home, instead of being out in public and discovering that you are in danger of tipping over backwards from the weight of your bustle!
With that, the Lady of the Manners is going to go back to window-shopping and watching Sweeney Todd. Does the Lady of the Manners need to give you the handy clicky-link to write to Gothic Charm School? Well, better safe than sorry, right? So write!