Of Cropped Heads, Thrift Stores, And Sewing. And Baggy Trousers.

Good heavens, Snarklings! Even more questions about fashion! Which tickles the Lady of the Manners immensely, and makes her wish that she could gather up a whole flock of you and go on a group thrift store expedition. Think of what fun it would be! Descending upon several thrift stores and helping each other find treasures … but no, the Lady of the Manners will stop day-dreaming, and turn her attention to answering reader mail. Such as this letter from the charming Miss Octobass, who has a question about cropped hair and hats for ladies:

Dearest Lady of the Manners

I am not so much writing to you because of a problem as such, more because I have been wondering about your opinion.

Having been through a lot of things in life (I am almost 29 now), trying out many aspects of sub-cultural styles (though always returning to the gothic look in one way or another) I have also tried out a lot of hairstyles, but I am always ending up with the almost-bald look (tightly cropped 3mm hair), since that is what looks best at me and what I feel most comfortable with. I should probably add that my hair is quite thin and tends to look greasy and dull in no time no matter what I do, should I grow it out, which is certainly also a great motivation for keeping it this way.

I tend to dress in more practical clothes for my job, since it usually involves a lot of moving around, lifting stuff and dirty, dusty things in general. That goes fine with my hair though people tend to think I am a hardcore lesbian, but that is more their issue than mine, really, I don’t care much =)

I do like to dress feminine though, love to wear Victorian inspired things, long skirts and dresses and so on, and tend to like the clash between the style of my hair and the clothes. Mostly I manage to make it look decent and not silly.

I have experienced that people get very provoked by seeing me wearing feminine outfits with my cropped head, because they cannot handle the dichotomy, or embarrassed because they think it is due to illness.

That was a lot of explaining, but here is my question: What do you think of women with cropped heads wearing feminine outfits? Do you see it as wrong, as some kind of insult to the feminine clothes? I am very interested in your opinion.

Oh, and another little thing, hats (your latest post about hats was actually what made me remember to write you). The sad thing about not having any hair is that quite a few of the nice hats out there looks extremely silly on me – especially those wonderful Victorian hats. But what kind of hats/head wraps/etc. etc. would you recommend for a cropped head? Preferably without me looking like some kind of lost skater girl or something like that… I do wear wigs sometimes for parties for the fun of it, and do like 20’s cloche hats as well, but I kind of need fresh eyes on the whole hat thing. And again, you wise opinion interests me very much.

Most sincerely
/Miss Octobass

Personally, the Lady of the Manners thinks that the contrast between a cropped or shorn head and extravagantly feminine clothing is delightful. There is nothing disrespectful about it whatsoever! In fact, the only example the Lady of the Manners can think of where a shorn head would be disrespectful would be if you were to write offensive things on your head. (Which the Lady of the Manners assumes is not what you’re doing; if you are, stop that at once.)

Mind you, of course the strong contrasts in your appearance are going to prompt people to ask you questions. But as the Lady of the Manners has said before, anyone who looks “different” or unusual ends up having to deal with curious looks and questions. The important tricks are to answer those questions in a polite way, and to not send yourself into a tizzy worrying about what other people’s reactions may be. Are you happy with your appearance? Then don’t worry about what passersby may think. If (or when, the Lady of the Manners supposes) someone asks if your cropped head is due to illness or medication, simply answer “No” in a friendly but matter-of-fact way. If the Lady of the Manners was in your shoes, she’d probably say something like “No. I just like my hair like this,” but you certainly don’t owe anyone a lengthy explanation.

As to what sort of hats you could wear with very short hair: the Lady of the Manners doesn’t mean to sound flippant, but well, all of them! Miniature hats or fascinators just need to be securely affixed to a headband (since the usual sorts of haircomb or clip attachments wouldn’t work for you). Top hats, natty bowlers, enormous Edwardian-style garden party hats; the Lady of the Manners thinks any and all of these would compliment a feminine, Victorian-ish sort of wardrobe. The important things are to make sure that the hat is comfortable (not itchy, or constantly slipping into your eyes or off your head), and that you feel confident wearing it. As many of you are well-aware, the Lady of the Manners considers feeling confident about one’s attire to be the key accessory for a well-dressed eccentric.

The next letter asks about a topic the Lady of the Manners covers in the Gothic Charm School book; namely, those very baggy black trousers covered with chains, buckles, and D-rings, and how they are frequently looked down upon by other, perhaps older, gothy types. Lorcan Spiro wants to know if those sorts of trousers really are a gothy faux-pas:

Dear Lady of the Manners,

Greetings.

I’ve been reading your very wonderful book and was horribly dismayed to find that Tripp pants are a big gothy no-no. D:

One of my favorite clothing items is my pair of red tripps with black trim. I’ve had them for a very long time and I’ve kept them in very good condition.

Does this mean that my clothing style is not gothy? I know that it is a staple of goth fashion to create your own clothing, but I’m not very skilled with a needle, so tripps were the next best thing. D:

Is my style in peril? Can I be saved? D:

Sincerly,

Lorcan Spiro

Oh dear. The Lady of the Manners just knew that her wholesale dismissal of the sorts of pants that Tripp makes was going to come back to haunt her. You see, Tripp pants do usually have a faint air of “mallgoth” to them, through no real flaw of their own. It’s just that the people the Lady of the Manners has usually seen wearing the baggy trousers that are a-jingle with chains, buckles, and D-rings are the sort who … well, who are youngsters who seem terribly insecure in their own skin.

Are the baggy, hardware-festooned pants by Tripp a big gothy no-no? Honestly, no. They’ve gotten a certain stigma attached to them, thanks to the ease of finding them at certain chain retailers, but that doesn’t mean they’re to be avoided at all costs, and it certainly doesn’t mean that your style is in peril. Just … oh, there’s no point in trying to dance around this statement. When you wear your Tripp trousers, try very hard not to accessorize them with a stereotypical teen-aged scowl of epic surliness. Because the combination of trying to come across as So Very Grrr! And Spooky and the big black jingly pants? That combination is the somewhat eye-rolling thing, not the pants themselves. So wear your favorite red and black Tripp pants! If they make you happy, that is the important thing.

(The Lady of the Manners freely admits that she is not a fan of the big black jingly pants look, but is well aware that her fashion tastes are not held by everyone, and that’s how it ought to be.)

The next letter on the Gothic Charm School writing desk is from a self-proclaimed thrifty Snarkling, who wants to know how to deal with a friend who has decidedly hostile views about second-hand fashion:

Dearest Lady of the Manners,

A friend of mine is envious of part of my wardrobe. Four items specifically: two Tripp NYC skirts (a black crushed velvet mini and a black&red plaid pleated), a black Morbid Threads baby doll top, and a full length black petticoat-style skirt, all of which I got for about $18 at Goodwill.

Problem is, she won’t go to Goodwill or any sort of thrift shop. She thinks wearing used/second-hand clothes is “gross”.

But she likes to ask me about any new wardrobe additions that I’ve made then she gets a bit grumpy when I tell her how cheaply I got them.

How do I convince her that there’s nothing wrong with Goodwill and stores like it?

Sincerely,
Amber, a thrifty Snarkling

How do you convince her there is nothing wrong with thrift stores? Mostly by cheerfully telling her that she’s missing out on one of the great traditions of alternative subcultures by turning her nose up at second-hand clothing. Good heavens, doesn’t your friend realize that even mainstream fashion has learned that fantastic fashion finds abound at places like Goodwill? That every fashion magazine or blog the Lady of the Manners has seen in the past year has had some sort of enthusiastic piece about the glories of thrift shopping?

As to the “gross” bit; does she think that “vintage” clothes are “gross”? Because in the Lady of the Manners’ experience, the main difference between garments labeled as “vintage” and items that are found in thrift stores is usually the number on the price tag. Yes, the things you find in thrift stores are indeed pre-owned. That does not make them horrible, gross, or manky. What it does mean is that you absolutely should launder (or gently hand wash) the goodies you find at the thrift stores before you wear them. Taking a bottle of hand sanitizer with you on your thrifting expeditions would also probably be a smart thing to do.

Really, the Lady of the Manners is at a bit of a loss as to what else you could do to convince your friend that her distaste for second-hand clothing is unfounded. In the Lady of the Manners’ social circle, thrift shopping is seen as somewhat of a social event; a chance to spend time with friends and indulge in the thrill of the hunt of searching for a diamond in the rough. Also, thrift shopping with friends is an exercise in extended creativity; sometimes you need someone else to look at an item and say “But if you made a few tiny alterations, it would be perfect!”

In the end, if your friend clings to her idea that second-hand clothing is gross, there is nothing you can do about it. Just smile sweetly when she waxes envious about your wardrobe, and perhaps occasionally remind her where you found your pretties.

And the final letter for this edition of Gothic Charm School is from a Snarkling thinking about learning to make her own clothing:

For a long time I’ve been wanting to make my own clothing. I know I fall prominently in the rival head branch of goth.

(Note from the Lady of the Manners: she probably meant “rivethead”.)

Yet I always tend to be swept off my feet by the other branches of goth. But recently money had started to become tight for me. Due to the economy, some business matters, and with school, I’ve come to find myself tightening on money. Would this be the best time to learn how to make my own clothing. And if so, what sewing machine would you recommend?

Thank you ^.^
Monica

The Lady of the Manners is going to let you in on a secret that really shouldn’t be a secret. Making your own clothing from scratch is actually more expensive than purchasing off-the-rack garments, especially so if you’re just learning how to sew. There’s the cost of materials, and the cost of your time that you spend cutting out the pattern, pinning things, sewing, ripping out the almost inevitable mistakes …

But! That does not mean that the Lady of the Manners is telling you not to learn how to make your own clothing! No, not at all! However, the Lady of the Manners is suggesting a more practical approach: get yourself a sewing machine, and then learn how to tailor and customize thrift store finds. That way some of the more difficult construction work is already done and won’t reduce you to tears of frustration, but you are able to put your own unique twist on items by adding trim, rows of D-rings for corset-lacing effects, or combining garments to make entirely new items from their bones.

As to what sewing machine the Lady of the Manners would recommend, she’s going to go against common wisdom here, common wisdom being that you purchase the best tools you possibly can for a job. No, the Lady of the Manners strongly believes that if you are just starting out with sewing, you should check the sales for your local JoAnn Fabrics or Sears stores and pick up one of the basic sewing machines made by Brother or White. While those machines aren’t terribly fancy, they’re good, basic, sturdy machines, and can put up with a lot of abuse and neglect from a novice. If you find that you really do like sewing, and do a lot of it, then you can eventually upgrade to a fancier sewing machine. But to start out? An inexpensive, no-frills machine will serve your needs better than one with all the bells and whistles.

Coming up at Gothic Charm School in the very near future, there will be reviews of Miniature Menagerie by Toy-Box Trio (very fun!), ankoku butoh by Faith and the Muse (swooningly gorgeous, but what else would you expect from Faith and the Muse?), and goodies from Peter Pauper Press. Not to mention more letters from readers! You could even send in a letter yourself, you know …

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