Hello Snarklings! Eventually the Lady of the Manners will get her bewildering array of projects under some sort of control and get back to writing new lessons for Gothic Charm School in a more frequent, regularly-scheduled fashion. Eventually. But let’s not dwell on the months that have passed since the last post, let’s jump into questions from readers! For this installment of Gothic Charm School, the Lady of the Manners decided to feature letters from readers that have questions and qualms about how they present themselves. The first letter is from Mistet Dreamer, with a question about proper attire:
I am fourteen years of age-soon to be fifteen but that has naught to do with my inquiry hahaha. I’m here to ask you about something that has been bothering me slightly…but at the same time, itching my brain with all sorts of scattering thinking bugs. My Big Sister ((she’s not blood related at all but we’re as close as sisters…she’s younger than I am by a few months but more mature than I am, i assure you haha)) always manages to dress in lovely skirts and dresses, boots,etc. And I’m less of the feminine sort as I wear waistcoats and ties,trousers, and such. The problem is that an Elder Goth brought it to my attention, at a tea party no less, that it was very UN lady like to wear such things and that I should dress ‘prettier’ like Big Sister. I simply dismissed it with a chuckle and a smile but it still hurt. Was she right? Should I be wearing gowns instead of suits and ribbons instead of ties? Being the EVER fashionable lady that you are I seek your opinion and advice on the matter.
Oh dear. When the Lady of the Manners first read your letter, she had to set her tea cup down so she didn’t start sloshing tea everywhere as she waved her hands in frustration during her ranting. First things first, let’s take a look at the definition for “ladylike”: Adjective – behaving or dressing in a way considered appropriate for or typical of a well-bred, decorous woman or girl.
Of an activity or occupation considered suitable for such a woman or girl.
How odd, there doesn’t seem to be a word in there about ladylike dictating a particular fashion, or that dressing “prettier” is more ladylike than wearing such garments as a waistcoat, tie, and trousers. Now yes, the Lady of the Manners admits she’s being pedantic about this, what with pulling out a dictionary definition and all, and that “everyone knows” that ladylike when applied to clothing means dressing like a LADY: dainty gowns and dresses, with an emphasis on the traditional trappings of femininity. Heaven knows the Lady of the Manners’ preferred mode of dress falls under such a heading, what with the petticoats, the full skirts, and the makeup. But! There is no rule or mandate (from Above, Below, or from the nonexistent Goth Cabal) that dictates that if you consider yourself female and are in the Goth subculture, you must dress in an overtly feminine, ladylike way, and the idea that there would be such a rule or mandate is preposterous.
Just like the majority of Goth fashion, ladylike fashion can be expensive and time-consuming. And not just time-consuming in the getting all dressed up in frills and corsetry and makeup aspect, but time-consuming in the finding of those sorts of clothes. If you don’t want to spend the (often considerable) amounts of money to accumulate a “prettier” wardrobe, then you have to spend the time in finding budget-friendly versions, be it by hours spent sewing, browsing thrift stores, or bargain-hunting online. Some people don’t want to spend their time doing that or putting on all the clothing and cosmetics, and that’s fine. Yes, the Lady of the Manners has joked that when she eventually becomes Vampire Witch Queen of the Universe, there will be a lovely — but strict! — dress code, but that jokingly-threatened dress code is not going to enforce gender stereotypes.
If you are happy in your waistcoats, trousers, and ties, then don’t let anyone make you feel that you need to change your sartorial ways. This applies to anyone else and their wardrobe choices! Are you happy in tattered layers of fishnet and vinyl? Or in flowing asymmetrical layers of chiffon and jersey knit? Or in ::gasp:: jeans and a t-shirt? Then good. The only caveat being, of course, that if there is a specific dress code for an event, do your best to comply with it. (School and workplace dress codes are an entirely different matter, in that not obeying those can lead to being reprimanded, written up, and other such unpleasant things.)
Now, does your being happy with your attire mean that you will be free from well-intentioned –and not-so-well-intentioned– commentary? Gracious, no. Because people are people, there will always be someone who feels they can and should comment on your appearance, whether they feel they’re giving you helpful advice or because they feel they’re allowed to pass judgement on what everyone else is wearing. And you know what? No one the Lady of the Manners has ever met has been exempt from those impulses, not even herself. The important thing is that while you may not approve or understand of another person’s sartorial self-expression, you shouldn’t voice those comments. Telling someone that their boots have come unlaced, a zipper is undone, or commenting on other such clothing issues? That’s fine. Telling someone that you think they should dress more ladylike (or masculine, or deathrock, or trad goth, or industrial, or anything, you get the idea) is not okay.
There have been times when the Lady of the Manners has exchanged blank looks with someone she has walked past, each of us obviously thinking, “You chose to wear that? Ohhh-kaaay”. And while the Lady of the Manners is baffled by what some people think looks good, the Lady of the Manners also tries very hard to remember that her aesthetic principles are not everyone else’s, and that other people are just as baffled by her choices. (Sequined Ugg boots, though. Why? Whyyyyyy?)
To sum up, Mistet Dreamer, the Elder Goth who informed you that you should dress “prettier” and “more ladylike” was in the wrong, not you. If you cross paths with that Elder Goth again and they repeat their comments, smile your best winning smile at them, say “Thank you for your opinion”, and ignore them. Don’t bother arguing with them, just acknowledge that you heard them, and feel secure in the knowledge that you have adorned yourself in the way you prefer.
The next question is from Krista, who is having a bit of a crisis of confidence:
Lady, I was wondering if you could help me. I’m having a terrible identity crisis. I want to dress Goth, but I have no idea which part of the fashion appeals to me most. I sort of want to enmesh Victorian Goth and Deathrock fashion? I love elegant lace, but I also love that edgy/destroyed look of clothing. I also really don’t have the means to buy beautiful clothes online (struggling college sophomore), and I know that I am very late in entering the subculture.
I’m slowly dipping my toes into the pool of Goth, but I feel like my outfits look silly, my music taste isn’t accurate, my makeup isn’t extravagant or “good” enough. In short, I sort of feel like a fake, trying to find my way, and stumbling a lot! I feel like I just haven’t evolved into that “ideal Goth” that I want to be.
I do understand Goth is so much more than clothes, or music, or makeup and hair, but I honestly just feel quite lost.
Darling gothy creature, the Lady of the Manners is going to let you in on a little secret that shouldn’t BE a secret in the first place: you don’t have to stick with A Goth fashion, no more than you have to listen solely to one subgenre of Goth music. (Nor do you have to listen to nothing but Goth music!) You want to mix up Victorian Goth and Deathrock? Go for it! (The Lady of the Manners is also fascinated with the blending of those two fashion styles.) You want to wear flouncy frills and elegant draperies of lace one day, but long for shredded fishnets, black shorts, and a razor-sharp black blazer the next? That’s fine. While picking one fashion style and sticking with it can certainly make life easier (in terms of finding clothes, DIY projects, and getting dressed in the morning), there is no one True Goth Uniform. No, you don’t even have to wear all black. Just wear what appeals to you, and do your best to feel and project confidence. (The Lady of the Manners says “do your best” because she is sadly aware that all the well-intentioned pep-talks in the universe won’t be enough to help some people in their battles against insecurity and anxiety.)
You say that you sort of feel like a fake, and that you haven’t evolved into the “ideal Goth” that you want to be. You said you’re “slowly dipping your toes into the pool of Goth”, so of course you haven’t evolved into the vision you have enshrined in your head. Precious Snarkling, give yourself time! No one sprang forth with a fully-evolved Goth style and music library; no, not even Her Royal Highness Siouxsie Sioux. Yes, there are people who have completely transformed themselves overnight into spooky creatures of darkness; those overnight transformations often are accompanied by that faint, indefinable air of someone trying on a costume, not really settling into who they want to be. The Lady of the Manners realizes that some people think she’s being ridiculous in saying this, and is hopelessly out-of-step and uncool in addition. But the Lady of the Manners really does believe that if Goth is something that calls to you, if it’s not just a phase (but remember, there’s nothing really wrong if it IS a phase), then of course it is going to take some time to figure out which parts of it work for you and which don’t. Stop fretting that you haven’t achieved your ideal version of Goth, and enjoy the meandering journey to getting there.
There’s another side to the “feeling like a fake” dilemma. Everyone in the Goth subculture, and the Lady of the Manners really does mean everyone, has times where they feel like they aren’t “Goth enough”, that they aren’t the fabulous elegant monster they long to be. That at some point they wail in despair that their hair isn’t big enough, they aren’t wearing enough eyeliner, their clothes aren’t fancy or shredded enough, they haven’t read every single thing connected to Goth and Gothic history and literature, that they don’t have all the Goth music or aren’t as wildly enthusiastic about all the classic Goth bands … and so on, and so on. Every Goth has been visited by at least one of those sorts of creeping fears and uncertainties.
So, how does one deal with those unwanted, vexing, upsetting notions? By laughing at them, for one, because trying to be 100% Uber-Spooky Goth all the time is … pointless. And impossible. Just stop and try to imagine someone being a mysterious Goth creature while, say, brushing their teeth. Toothpaste spatters on black velvet would be a tragedy, for one thing.
Now, the Lady of the Manners, and many other Eldergoths who are at peace with who they are and what they like, is all for embracing her cliches. The Lady of the Manners delights in spending an evening sitting on her burgundy brocade couch, a classic vampire movie on in the background, adding black lace trim and safety pins to the latest black velvet blazer she’s found at the thrift store, with flickering candles and a glass of absinthe sitting on the side table. The Lady of the Manners is also able to acknowledge what a complete and utter cliche such an evening is, and will happily laugh at herself and her interests, because if you can’t laugh good-naturedly at yourself, you probably shouldn’t be laughing at anyone or anything else. Revel in your stereotypical Goth interests, but also know they don’t have to be the only things that define you.
The Lady of the Manners has often said that no one is Perfectly Goth all the time, 24/7, because everyone has interests outside of our dark little corner of a subculture, and trying to act like they don’t is a silly, pointless affectation. If someone is going to look down their nose (probably daubed with white foundation and powder) at you for daring to like something that isn’t quintessentially gothy, reassure yourself that they are the ones who are in the wrong.
To sum up, you are not a fake, and becoming the fabulous gothy creature you aspire to be will take time. Everyone in this subculture has gone through the sometimes awkward learning about Goth stage. (Which is different than being a babybat! A babybat is a Goth who is not old enough to go to nightclubs and buy alcohol, and has nothing to do with one’s Level of Gothness.) Take lots of photos during your fledgeling Goth era! Save your journals, art, and poetry! For one thing, some of it may be better than you suspect. But most importantly, a fun (and vital!) thing for Goths to do is to look back at the mementos of their hilarious-in-retrospect gothy selves and think about how they’ve evolved. It’s called Growing and Having a Sense of Self, something that everyone should do.
With that, Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is going to dive back into the monstrous pile of Gothic Charm School correspondence that has been ominously growing, and swears she won’t spend all of her time over on Tumblr. Honest.