Of Elegant Gothic Lolita, Deathrock, and Victorian Fashion

Apparently some of you Snarklings have figured out that the Lady of the Manners loves loves loves to blither on about clothes and the aesthetics of Goth fashion. Why does the Lady of the Manners say this? Because several of you have sent fashion-related questions to Gothic Charm School. And not just those of the ”Am I still a Goth if I don’t wear all black?!” type questions either, thank goodness.

(The Lady of the Manners would like to reassure the readers who aren’t terribly fascinated with clothing that no, Gothic Charm School isn’t going to turn into an all-fashion all-the-time site. Really. The Lady of the Manners solemnly promises this.)

The first fashion dilemma is from Bunny, asking about Gothic Lolita and Victorian clothing:

I really need your wonderful fashion advice. I love Gothic clothing, and especially favour a mixture of Lolita and milkmaid-style clothes (think little porcelain doll in Victorian-style dress with more cleavage, extra ribbons and big cute buttons).

Unfortunately, I don’t really fit the, er, “standard” mold. To put it bluntly, I am 5 foot 2, and although not particularly big (English size 12 waist), have FF-G cup breasts and matching buttocks. This makes it difficult to buy any clothing to fit (except from very expensive specialists and tailors- out of my budget for all but the most occasional of treats- and I already spend most of my clothing budget on reinforced bras) let alone Gothic clothing.

I cannot, simply cannot wear most high-necked blouses or tops. The lovely frilly Gothic lacy ones that are currently so popular pop at the seams across my bust and a high-necked jumper or ordinary top makes my already too-large breasts appear to double in size, along with my waist. I must be careful not to cover up too much or wear too long skirts or I look even shorter and start to appear dumpy. If I expose too much (usually modest-yet-appealing tops make me look like a porn star in a cheap “Gothic” porn movie) I look easy and find that local men see this as free license to grab whatever they like the look of.

Please tell this overly-bouncy bunny how she can appear as an elegant porcelain doll instead of a frump or a barbie-in-black.

Yours,

Bunny.

Let the Lady of the Manners start off by reassuring Bunny that the Lady of the Manners’ figure is not too different from Bunny’s own. (The Lady of the Manners is a smidge taller, but that’s about it.) The Lady of the Manners is (rather infamously) devoted to frilly Victorian-style clothing, and has learned what needs to be done to make that style work for those who don’t possess model-like figures.

Firstly, learn to sew. Wait, don’t run away in terror. While learning how to sew things completely from scratch is the ideal path, learning how to sew just enough so you can do your own alterations is essential. If you can do your own alterations, you can buy tops that fit properly in the bust and then tailor them to fit properly in the waist. Knowing how to sew also means that you can add as much frilly lace trim as your heart desires to a garment, which is Very Important to those who want to dress like pretty Victorian dolls.

Speaking of frills—Bunny, when one has the sort of figure that you do, there is sadly such a thing as Too Many Frills. The Lady of the Manners suspects this might be part of the reason you say that you can’t cover up too much or wear long skirts. A lady of your shape needs to be very aware of where an outfit adds bulk, visually. You should look for garments that are extremely well-fitted through the bust and waist, and save the explosions of ruffles and frills for below the hips.

Along the same line as Too Many Frills is the problem of Giant Puffy Sleeves. The Lady of the Manners has learned that while blouses and jackets with puffed sleeves (usually known as “leg-o-mutton” sleeves”) look darling on the hanger, they can make an already busty figure look unfortunately wide. A garment that is close-fitting through the bust and waist will avoid the “dumpy” problem, and instead make you look slimmer and taller. Another way to avoid the “dumpy” problem, of course, is corsetry, be it wearing a well-fitted corset as the underpinnings for your outfit or wearing a cincher to emphasize the waistline. Do keep in mind that corsets are one of those garments where you get what you pay for; if a deal on a corset or cincher seems too good to be true, it probably is.

What this means is that many of the ready-made Elegant Gothic Lolita and Elegant Gothic Aristocrat outfits that are available just won’t work for you. Most of them are designed for people who are not of an hourglass shape, and while they can be made to work on that sort of figure, it will involve hours of alterations. Which, again, is why the Lady of the Manners really thinks that learning to sew is your best option. If you’re absolutely fumble-fingered and have an irrational terror of sewing machines, then start saving your pennies and have things custom made for you. (An Aside: Please do not be One of Those People that complains about “how expensive” custom clothing is. Custom clothing is made by small businesses run by artisans, and they don’t have the cost-cutting tricks that larger clothing companies do. Those artisans deserve every penny they earn, so please don’t try and haggle with them or whine about the cost. The properly mannered thing to do would be to thank them for their time, effort, and creativity, which is all devoted to making you look beautiful.)

Another thing you must remember, if you are going to be a devotee of more elaborate styles, is that you must pay attention to the details. It is not enough to throw on a frilly dress or blouse and skirt; make sure you’ve put the same thought into the rest of your look. Do your socks (or stockings, or tights) and footwear go with the rest of your outfit? Or if not, do they give the impression that you are deliberately going for a mixed-up look? The same ideas apply to the rest of your look: hair, make up, hats, gloves, jewelry, and any other bits and bobs. It’s paying attention to the details that will keep you from looking like you’re wearing a Goth costume instead of being a member of the subculture.

The final word of advice the Lady of the Manners has for you is to try to avoid the mutton dressed as lamb trap. The Lady of the Manners has seen far too many frilly Victorian-esque outfits that make the wearer look like they’re desperately trying to appear younger than they are. Looking like one has escaped from a re-make of a Shirley Temple movie, even a Goth-tinged one, flatters no one. Looking like an elegantly spooky Victorian doll is one thing, but looking like a spooky baby doll is an entirely different type of disturbing.

The next question, from a young gentleman named Tim, is about how to dress in a stylish and spooky manner while still working within rules set by one’s parents. (Well, questions, really, because Tim also asked for some advice on dealing with an argumentative classmate.)


Dear Lady of the Manners,

I have two issues. I will try to make this to-the point. I’m a seventh grader, and I have been having trouble with a kid named {name removed}. At school, he often makes rude comments about my gothic lifestyle. He claims to be a Christian, but he is incredibly self-righteous and claims that rock music, and anything non-traditional is evil. He won’t listen to anything I have to say.

My second issue is that my Mother is rather limiting on how I dress. I’m a fan of both the deathrock and Victorian looks (strange mix, yes?)

These are a list of things she won’t let me wear.
-no fishnet
-no black hair, no mowhawks
-no makeup
-nothing “weird”.

I think this leaves me with few options. How can I look spooky within her limitations?? Please help!!

First things first: You must simply try and ignore the kid who is making rude comments to you. Of course he won’t listen to anything you have to say. It sounds like he thinks he’s in the right about everything, and that you (being different) are wrong, and must be reminded of that. There is nothing you could say to change his mind, so the Lady of the Manners thinks you shouldn’t even bother. If there isn’t any real reason you need to talk with him, then don’t. If he makes rude comments about or to you, ignore them, or make vague, non-committal answers. (“Hmmm” in a thoughtful tone is always a safe bet.) If you have to talk to him because of a class assignment or something similar, only talk to him about the schoolwork.

Now, on to your clothing questions. The Lady of the Manners has seen some deathrock-tinged Victorian looks, and has been delighted with them. Admittedly, your mother’s restrictions will make it a bit more difficult for you to fully indulge in your preferred looks, but there are still ways to show your spooky tastes.

Since your mother has said nothing “weird”, that means you will probably need to stick with a more Victorian look instead of deathrock. Start searching through thrift stores for a black suit coat. The fabric doesn’t really matter; velvet, wool, a poly/rayon blend of some sort, just as long as it’s in good condition and is close-fitting.
While you’re at the thrift stores, also look for nice shirts and ties. (The Lady of the Manners is sure you know to look for them in black, white, and jewel tones, but thinks one can never be too clear about these sorts of things.) Once you have those basics (along with black jeans, slacks, and combat boots), you can start to customize them! Safety-pin patches for bands you like to the jacket, or smaller patches to a tie. (You can make your own designs for patches by using iron-on transfer paper with an ink-jet printer, or you can paint or stencil designs onto fabric, cut them out, and use them for patches.) If your school’s dress code would allow such a thing, run lines of safety pins down the seams of the jacket or down the side seams of your jeans.

As to your mother’s rules about no black hair, Mohawks, or makeup; yes, this will put a bit of a damper on achieving a true deathrock look. But be patient, and see if you can’t strike a bargain with her: she’ll allow you to dye your hair or have a Mohawk if you get consistently good grades, or help out more with household chores.

With that, Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is going to wander off, drink a cup of tea, and contemplate the alterations she wants to make to a recently-acquired jacket. The next lesson here at Gothic Charm School will concern a Goth parent who needs some advice on how to deal with other parents who are less than supportive or welcoming to her daughter. The Lady of the Manners has been delighted with all the letters you Snarklings have been sending her; please keep writing!

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