Goth Fast Fashion, and Why It Isn’t Always a Good Thing

3 October 2021

For this installment of Gothic Charm School, the Lady of the Manners turned to Twitter and ran a poll to narrow down what topic she should tackle next. It turns out that many, many Snarklings were interested in the Lady of the Manners rant opinions around the rise of gothy fast fashion.

As some of you may remember, the Lady of the Manners has always been a defender of goth clothing and goods being available at mainstream and mall stores. (Hi there, Hot Topic and Torrid.) (Yes, when Torrid first opened, they were the plus-size offshoot of Hot Topic, and plus-size femme goths rejoiced.) The Lady of the Manners’ opinion was anchored by two beliefs:

  • Not everyone has the time, money, or ability to find and customize thrift store items, or afford a wardrobe of custom clothing. A budget-savvy goth can take advantage of the never-ending discount offers from mall stores and get good foundation pieces for their wardrobe of darkness.
  • Mainstream “normal” culture shows tolerance and acceptance toward “fringe” cultures through the availability of mass-market goods. Babygoths have an easier time convincing their parents to accept their spooky tendencies if stripy tights and skull-bedecked clothing are available at mainstream stores. When mainstream cosmetic companies endorse dark lipstick and sharp eyeliner as “must-have” styles, people’s unease around our spooky subculture lessens, and perhaps the legacy of bullying and harassing anyone who is “other” starts to ease.

So if the Lady of the Manners still holds that opinion, how can she also believe that goth fast fashion isn’t always a good thing? For several reasons:

Quality vs. Cost

Clothing from gothic and alternative “lifestyle” companies such as Killstar, Blackcraft Cult, and Dollskill are known for clothing that will potentially fall apart after a few wearings. There are also issues with unfinished seams, hanging chains of thread from serged edges, misaligned trim … 

Some of the issues are easy enough to fix on your own – dangling threads can be snipped, buttons can be reattached – but for the prices that the lifestyle companies charge, that sort of basic garment maintenance shouldn’t have to be done as soon as you pull something out of the box.

The quality of the clothing fabric is also hit or miss: scratchy, stiff, or may not survive laundering no matter what the garment care tags say. The Lady of the Manners has been told that Killstar is better about this, as they do have some of their fabric exclusively made for them, but she hasn’t gotten her hands on anything (yet) to find out. (Yet, because the Lady of the Manners is going to take advantage of discounts in order to write a review.)

For these sorts of quality issues, plus the items themselves being churned out in factories, the prices don’t reflect what you’re actually getting. If you want to purchase from those sites, always look for discount codes and sales.

Going hand-in-hand with the quality issues:

Vegan “leather”

The Lady of the Manners wholeheartedly supports vegan folks! If it’s a lifestyle that works for you, fantastic. But “vegan leather”, “PU leather” and PVC are all plastic. Shoes, boots, bags, and other accessories made from those materials can’t be repaired. Once those pointy toes get worn down, once those boots or purse rip along a seam, there’s no saving them, and all you can do is throw them in the trash.

Leather can be repaired, and will last for decades (or longer!) with proper care. The Lady of the Manners has leather shoes and boots from the 90s that she still wears on a regular basis, and her current purse is from the 40s. Vegan and PU leather sound like a great and environmentally friendly option, but are ultimately destined for a landfill.

Sizing

Everything the Lady of the Manners has ever heard about the spooky lifestyle companies’ clothes sizing is that it’s inconsistent at best and misleading at worst, across all the size ranges. Size charts exist, but they’re generic, not garment or production-specific, which means a lot of guesswork when trying to decide if you’re going to order something. Yes, this is an issue that plagues all mass-produced clothing, but again: if you have to ask on multiple social media platforms to find out how an item might fit, frustration is the norm.

It’s worse if you are plus-sized. Plus sized garments are notorious for weird fit issues, because most companies don’t look at the proportions for a garment, but just scale up the pattern. Plus size clothing often means strangely proportioned shoulders, overlong sleeves, and weird proportions in the body. Also, many of the items are made in Hong Kong or China with no additional input from the fashion company about the size ranges; a 3XL could mean it would fit someone who is a US size 14, or it might be too tight on a person who wears a US size 10. And to add an additional layer of frustration, asking online about the sizing and fit of plus size clothes opens the door to strangers making insulting and hurtful comments about plus size folks. When the Lady of the Manners gets annoyed is when people tell her to “eat a salad and exercise”; when the comments escalate to threats and insults, well, she becomes incoherent with rage and despair and ends up taking a break from the internet before she tries to burn the whole thing down. 

The Big One: Design Theft & Poor Business Ethics

It’s an unspoken secret (but becoming less of one) that the big name “lifestyle” brands are known for watching the websites, stores, and social media accounts of indie designers and artists to see what’s making a splash, and directly copying designs or making a few tiny changes to them. (Supposedly Killstar has stopped doing this, but the Lady of the Manners hasn’t had the time to do intensive design cross-referencing.)

As for the business side, well … Killstar has had a history of treating BIPOC employees very poorly, and Dollskill is no better.

Dollskill has been notoriously racist, selling products such as copies of Native American headdresses for costumes or “festival wear”, and “Goth So White” t-shirts. There’s also accusations of them being ableist, asking an IG influencer to work with them and then cutting ties when they learned she used a wheelchair.

Other Fast Fashion “Options”

You may ask, “But what about those companies who have advertisements all over social media? Their things look cute, and are super-inexpensive, right?” Stay away from them! Those companies are notoriously terrible scams. 

They steal photos from everywhere and everyone to use as catalog images on their own “retail” sites. If you buy something from them, there’s a high chance you’ll never receive your order, and will have to go through the laborious process of getting your money back from PayPal or having your bank perform a chargeback. If you do receive your order from one of these companies, it will be nothing like the photos you saw on the site. Clothing will be terrible quality reproductions that look and feel like cheap Halloween costumes sold in a plastic bag. The chances of the sizes corresponding to whatever size guide they provided are very low; indeed the sizes probably won’t correspond to any adult human measurements. Home decor items will almost certainly have wildly misaligned printing, may be covered in blobs of hot glue or epoxy, or arrive broken. Finally, each package is a mystery, and not necessarily a fun one. You may get the “item” you ordered. You may get a random towel, packages of expired snack food, or an extra sleeve. Not attached to anything, just a single lonely sleeve. 

Always do your research on these “stores”: look for online reviews, perform reverse image searches on their catalog photos, and if you do decide to order from one of them, use a payment method that will help you get a refund if necessary.

Better Options

So where can a goth buy clothing? The Lady of the Manners’ traditional recommendations still hold true:

Finally, buy items from independent designers. Yes, it’ll be more expensive, but artists deserve to be paid fairly for their work! Some of the Lady of the Manners’ favorite designers to purchase or windowshop include:

You can also turn to social media and ask for suggestions for where to find ethical/sustainable goth fashion. Here’s one such thread from Twitter.

With that, Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners opens the floor to all of you: share your suggestions for stores and designers! Do you have reviews? Commiserations? Leave a comment. (As always, comments will be moderated, so be polite!)

Of Reclaiming Goth for Yourself

26 July 2021

Hello Snarklings! Now that the Lady of the Manners has drifted out of her crypt again, it’s (finally) time for a new Gothic Charm School post.


Dear Lady of the Manners,

I am a young trans “baby bat” trying to get a handle on what gothic style I want to pursue. I’ve always adored the goth subculture and wanted to be part of it, but I didn’t want to be like my mother, who has been a goth since she was young and raised me as such.

I won’t go into detail for your sake and mine, but she is not a good parent, for many reasons. However, I’m close to moving out (hopefully within a year!) and have started to make the transition into gothic style (I’ve always listened to the music).

I want to know: do you have any advice on how I could separate the gothic culture and scene from its ties to my mother in my head? I want to be able to move on and enjoy my life without thinking of her and wincing every time I see a velvet maxi dress.

With love,
Eden


The Lady of the Manners has been prodding at this reader mail for a long while; it’s an emotionally-fraught subject, and the Lady of the Manners wants to do it justice. 

First things first: Moving out and being in your own space, and having emotional distance from your mother will be an enormous help. Day-to-day ties and reminders are weighty things, and getting out on your own will lighten them. Congratulations and good luck!

Don’t feel you’re alone in this. The issue of needing to untangle and reclaim things that are important to you from upsetting and painful associations is hard and can be almost as emotionally wrenching as the origins of those associations. Almost. However, in the Lady of the Manners experience, the emotional strife of reclaiming those things is worth it. Some of the things the Lady of the Manners has done:


– Write a list of the things you “want back”. Songs, books, fashion styles, and so on. For each one, write why it’s important to you. Don’t feel you must write an essay filled with flowery prose; “Because I love it and want it to be mine” is a good reason. Make a copy (or copies) of that list, then destroy one of the copies. Soak it in water until it turns to mush, tear it up, burn it — it doesn’t matter how, just obliterate it. (If you do decide to set it ablaze, do so in a safe manner in a fireproof container.)

Once you’ve destroyed a copy of that list, use another as a checklist of sorts. For example, if there’s a song on that list, listen to it  (as often as you can) while thinking about why it’s yours. After you do that, treat yourself very gently and kindly. You just poked at an emotional bruise, and now you need to take care of yourself.

If you’re thinking “This sounds suspiciously like something a therapist would say”, you’d be right. This is something the Lady of the Manners learned from her therapist, and it’s apparently something a lot of therapists recommend.

Please remember the Lady of the Manners is NOT a therapist. If you feel doing this would be too overwhelming, trust your instincts

(The Lady of the Manners does feel that making lists and destroying a copy would be a low-stress way to approach things without going through the emotional stress of rewriting your reactions part, but again, use your own judgment.)

– Another thing that has worked for the Lady of the Manners is to explore the music, movies, books, aesthetic, and so on that are adjacent to the ones that have uneasy associations. For example, there have been songs that the Lady of the Manners loved that became tainted because of associations with certain people. So the Lady of the Manners searched out other versions – covers, instrumental, whatever – of those songs. Something just different enough that they didn’t hit the “And now I’m stuck thinking about [person] and the bad parts” button, but similar enough to help her find her way back to enjoyment. For the velvet maxi dresses you mentioned, search through Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and so on for images of velvet maxi dresses that are slightly different than the ones you associate with your mother.  

– Then, of course, there’s good old fashioned spite. You deserve the glorious darkness of goth! Those things don’t solely belong to your mother, they are yours, and by heaven and hell, you will take them back and enjoy them.

The Lady of the Manners has had varying degrees of success with motivational spite. There are times when it works wonderfully. There are other times when the Brain Raccoons rummage in the mental and emotional trash to fling things around. At which point the Lady of the Manners decides to put cheerful motivational spite on hold for a little bit.

The very most important thing to remember is that your mother doesn’t own anything related to goth. You deserve to make your own version of it, and keep all of the lush and darkly glittering bits that delight and comfort you.

What say the rest of you? Do you have any words of comfort or advice you can share with Eden and the rest of us? Please comment!

~~~~~~

On a completely different topic: summer has arrived with a vengeance in the Lady of the Manners’ part of the world, ugh. Therefore she wants to remind you of previous Gothic Charm School posts on dealing with the burning orb and sweltering temperatures, plus some DIY tutorials to help you stay a bit more comfortable.

Vampire Fiction, a Personal List

19 April 2021

As some of you know, the Lady of the Manners likes vampire fiction. Really likes vampire fiction, to the point of having a very large bookcase to house her collection, and really does need to get another bookcase, but that would involve opening an inter-dimensional portal or something. 

So, after years and years of threatening promising to write titles down, the Lady of the Manners presents to you her “by-no-means comprehensive, but I like them” list of vampire fiction, in alphabetical order. Are all of these brilliant works of genius? No. But they all, in some way, tickle the Lady of the Manners’ velvet-draped heart.

The Well-Known “Classics”

  • Carmilla – by Sheridan Le Fanu
  • Dracula – by Bram Stoker
  • ’Salem’s Lot – by Stephen King
  • The Vampire Chronicles Trilogy: Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, and Queen of the Damned- by Anne Rice

Those with a Vaguely “Historical” Setting

  • A Delicate Dependency – by Michael Talbot
  • Anno Dracula – by Kim Newman
  • Beguiled by Night – by Nicole Eigener
  • Blood to Blood (original published title: Mina)- by Elaine Bergstrom
  • Claudia’s Story (graphic novel, a retelling of Interview with the Vampire from Claudia’s point of view) – by Anne Rice and Ashley Marie Witter
  • Covenant with the Vampire – by Jeanne Kalogridis
  • Daughter of the Night by Elaine Bergstrom
  • Dowry of Blood – by S.T. Gibson
  • Hôtel Transylvania – by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
  • Lord of the Dead: The Secret History of Byron – by Tom Holland
  • Renfield: Slave of Dracula – by Barbara Hambly
  • The Blood Wine series: A Taste of Blood Wine, A Dance In Blood Velvet, The Dark Blood of Poppies, The Dark Arts of the Blood, Nights of Blood Wine – byFreda Warrington
  • The Parasol Protectorate series: Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, Heartless, Timeless – by Gail Carriger
  • The Stress of Her Regard – by Tim Powers
  • Those Who Hunt the Night and Traveling with the Dead – by Barbara Hambly

Those with a Vaguely “Modern” Setting

  • Blood 20: 20 Tales of Vampire Horror – by Tanith Lee
  • Blood is the New Black – by Valerie Stivers
  • Gothique – by Kyle Marffin (Caveat: the writing in this is a bit clunky in places, but I read it for the rush of 90s goth nostalgia it always gives me.)
  • In the Blood – by Miranda Luna (Caveat: the writing in this is also a bit clunky, but I read it for the rush of 90s goth nostalgia around what all of us imagined the goth scene in San Francisco was like.)
  • Lost Souls – Poppy Z. Brite
  • Pretty Dead – by Francesca Lia Block
  • Prince Lestat – by Anne Rice (Caveats: This book reads like Lestat decided to write MarySue fanfic of his own life. You don’t need to have read any of the books between Queen of the Damned and this one, Lestat will explain everything.  This is the book that led me to invent the game of “Who said it? Lestat or Fall Out Boy?” It is gloriously cracky, and I love it.)
  • Still Life – by Michael Montoure
  • Suckers – by Anne Billson
  • Sunshine – by Robin McKinley
  • The Blood Opera Trilogy: Dark Dance, Personal Darkness, Darkness I – by Tanith Lee
  • The Hollows Series: Dead Witch Walking, The Good, the Bad, and the Undead, Every Which Way But Dead, A Fistful of Charms, For a Few Demons More, The Outlaw Demon Wails – by Kim Harrison (Caveat: the series actually runs 15 books, but I drifted away after book six.)
  • Tourniquet – by Kim Lakin-Smith
  • Vampires Don’t Sleep Alone – by Elizabeth Barrial and D.H. Altair
  • Voice of the Blood – by Jemiah Jefferson

Those from the “YA” Side of Vampire Fiction

  • Bunnicula – by Deborah and James Howe
  • The Den of Shadows Series: In the Forests of the Night, Demon in My View, Shattered Mirror, Midnight Predator – by Amelia Atwater Rhodes
  • The Morganville Vampires Series: Glass Houses, The Dead Girls’ Dance, Midnight Alley, Feast of Fools, Lord of Misrule, Carpe Corpus, Fade Out, Kiss of Death, Ghost Town – by Rachel Caine (Caveat: I feel the first five of the series are the strongest, and it goes downhill from there.)
  • Tantalize – Cynthia Leitich Smith
  • The Vampire Kisses Series: Vampire Kisses, Kissing Coffins, Vampireville, Dance with a Vampire, The Coffin Club, Royal Blood, Love Bites, Cryptic Cravings, Immortal Hearts – by Ellen Schrieber (Caveat: This series is adorable, cotton-candy vampire fluff, and may not be to everyone’s tastes.)

Anthologies

  • Blood Is Not Enough: 17 Stories of Vampirism – edited by Ellen Datlow
  • Dracula’s Guest: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories – edited by Michael Sims
  • Love in Vein – edited by Poppy Z. Brite
  • The Best of Dreams of Decadence: Vampire Stories and Poems to Keep You Up Till Dawn – edited by Angela Kessler
  • Visions of the Vampire: Two Centuries of Blood-Sucking Tales – edited by Sorcha Ni Fhlainn and Xavier Aldana Reyes

If you decide to read any of these, remember to read the descriptions. Many of these works include and explore dark themes and dubious or reprehensible morals. There is nothing wrong with curating the media you choose to engage with, and not everything is for everyone.

Go forth, Snarklings! Read about vampires. And if your particular favorite vampire book isn’t on this list, please mention it in the comments!

The Lady of the Manners in her vampire form.

Of Goth Nostalgia

21 January 2021

For this first Gothic Charm School of 2021, the Lady of the Manners pulled an anonymous question sent to her Tumblr inbox:

How do you deal with nostalgia as an older Goth? Sometime I just get this overwhelming sorrowful feeling where I yearn for things that don’t exist anymore. As in things about the scene that have gone away or just aren’t popular anymore. I don’t want to romanticize my past but I can’t help but feel like a relic sometimes. How do you resolve this feeling?

Oh Snarkling, the Lady of the Manners is right there with you in this. There are many, many things from Ye Olde Goth Days (Nights?) where the memories spring forth, flatteringly colored by the flickering candlelight of memory. And it takes a determined effort to also remember that the distance of time blunts the sharp, painful edges of those memories. 

On the indulge in nostalgia, wrap it around you like a velvet shroud side of things, the Lady of the Manners will page through her precious stack of Carpe Noctem, collect other vintage goth magazines (when she can afford them, because back issues of Propaganda go for mind-boggling prices), and assemble Pinterest boards to look at again and again.

Then there’s the tried-and-true method of putting on a playlist of music from the peak nostalgic era you miss (the Swirly Goths – Deep Gorgeous Cuts playlist assembled by Meredith Collins is perfect), lighting candles, pouring a glass of absinthe or Chartreuse (if you partake of Adult Beverages), and rereading the oh-so-goth books of that era. The Lady of the Manners will, of course, return to The Vampire Lestat at the drop of a lace glove, but also finds herself pulling her copy of Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite (now Billy Martin) off the shelf when nostalgia hits.

(If you want a book that perfectly encapsulates the sense of hazy 90s goth with additional vampires, In the Blood by Miranda Luna, while rough in spots, is a velvet delight.)

But the trick with indulging in nostalgia is to ponder many of the good ways that The Scene has changed over the years. Some examples of things the Lady of the Manners misses with a fierce sense of nostalgia, but has also realized the good of the modern versions:

The neighborhood where all the “weird” small shops were clustered. They were the retail neighborhood where the alternative types went to shop (window and otherwise), to go on first dates, and to hang out in general. They usually had a record store, a vintage/second-hand clothing store, a used bookstore (with at least one shop kitty), a tiny import shop that sold incense, cheap silver jewelry, and gauzy skirts and scarves, a coffee shop, and a place that had cheap, tasty food. (The Seattle version had a pizza place, Pho, and Greek.) 

And even before the pandemic, the internet (and the tech industry boom, which led to cheap rents withering away), was making this sort of weird retail area extinct. Brick and mortar shops couldn’t compete with the advantage that online shops had with lower overhead costs. 

But the internet meant that goths stuck in the middle of small town nowhere could still experience The Scene in some way. Sure, they couldn’t get the ‘zines, browse the bookstore shelves and choose a book solely on the title, cover art, or back cover blurb, and buying clothes from indie goth designers was an adventure in “this looks great in the moody catalog photo, what will it look like when it gets here”, but the trade-off of making goth less insular is worth it.

(However, the Lady of the Manners will always miss the in-real-life sensation of just wandering those neighborhoods. She fears that will be lost forever more.)

That particular fragrance we all associated with goth. Nag Champa incense, clove cigarettes, sandalwood candles, dried roses, patchouli, red wine, and the faintest hint of AquaNet. (The Lady of the Manners gets especially nostalgic about clove cigarettes, but now we all know that clove cigarettes are absolutely terrible for us, health-wise.) And again, that particular fragrance has been gilded by memory: we forget that the incense would occasionally have a bitter scorched scent, the dried roses hung on the walls didn’t always dry, but moldered instead, and most of all, while many of us associate that idealized fragrance with goth clubs, the reality included the undertones of spilled beer and vomit (if your preferred club was on the more dive-y end of things).

But! The Lady of the Manners discovered some indie perfume companies with scents that are aimed directly at nostalgic Eldergoths, without us having to impair our breathing with cloves:

  • Goth Club ’89 from Whisper Sisters. This is it. This is the fragrance the Lady of the Manners was eternally nostalgic about. It is GLORIOUS.  “If you were there, you know the smell. Heavy resins, candle smoke, nicotine, clove, incense, absinthe, with a hint of intoxicating florals and vintage dark patchouli to balance everything out.”
  • Oh Bela, also from Whisper Sisters. Take Goth Club ’89, subtract the nicotine and the absinthe, but add dust and honey. (Or at least that’s how it seems to the Lady of the Manners’ nose.) “Oh Bela – the sweetest clove, the reddest rose, the tombiest of tombs, the most velvety of velvets, the blackest of capes.” 
  • Clove Cigarette, a collaboration between Thorns Clothing and Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. Sadly, it’s sold out, but there’s always a chance it will be rereleased.

Finally, did you save any of your art, journals, or letters from friends from those years? If so, pull them out and re-read them. DO NOT give in to the “cringe” mindset of “Oh G-D this is awful crap, ugh, I was so dumb”. Do not. Re-read them as what they are: a time capsule, an artifact of your younger self, and think of that younger self with fondness and compassion.

~~~~~

Come forth, oh other nostalgic spirits. What do you indulge in to relive the wistful melancholy of the past? 

A Reminder, and Festive Cookies!

19 December 2020

First things first, Snarklings: the Lady of the Manners is SO HAPPY to see people showing their delightful faces and using the #EverydayGoth and #ThisIsGoth tags on Twitter and Instagram. Keep doing that! And feel free to tag the Lady of the Manners on Twitter ( @CupcakeGoth ), because she is determined to retweet every photo she sees with those tags.

In case you missed the original post, “Not Pretty Enough” to be Goth, there is now a movement to show that goth is for people of all races, ages, body types, anyone. GOTH IS INCLUSIVE, DAMMIT.

~~~~~~~~~

And now, festive cookies! Perfect for any occasion, but especially delightful for holidays, the Gothic Charm School gingerbread bats recipe!

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 C. flour (with an extra ½ C. set aside, just in case)
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cloves
  • 2 tsp. ginger
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper (yes, really)
  • 1/2 C. butter
  • 1/2 C. molasses
  • 1/2 C. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1-2 tsp. fresh ginger, very finely minced
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice

Directions:

Combine the molasses and butter in a saucepan over very low heat until the butter melts.

Add the sugar, minced ginger, and lime juice, stir until the sugar dissolves, then remove the saucepan from the heat.

While that mixture cools, sift together all the dry ingredients.

(Note: The measurements given for the spices are guidelines. The Lady of the Manners usually adds several extra dashes of each spice, until the dry ingredients are a dark beige color. Yes, baking is supposed to be about exact measurements. The Lady of the Manners still adds extra ginger, nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon to hers. She wasn’t kidding with the “very spicy, very ginger-y” comment.)

Fold the dry ingredients into the lukewarm butter/sugar/molasses mixture.

Add the egg (just crack it into the bowl!), and mix everything together until the dough is smooth and slightly glossy looking.

(Note: You may need to add a smidge more flour at this stage. Sometimes the Lady of the Manners does, sometimes she doesn’t. But if your dough seems sticky or not holding together, add a spoonful or two of flour, then keep mixing.)

Gather the dough into a ball, wrap up in plastic wrap or wax paper, and chill for a minimum of 2 hours.

Pre-heat the oven to 325* F.

Roll out the dough on a floured cutting board, then cut out cookies with appropriately-festive cookie cutters. Bats, of course, are the holiday cookie shape of choice at Gothic Charm School.

Bake the cookies for 10-15 minutes (the cookies should look slightly glossy, and feel slightly soft if you touch them – do not burn yourself!), then take them off the cookie sheets and let them cool. (On a wire rack, if you have such a thing. If not, setting them on some paper towels works just as well.)

~~~~~~~~~

The Lady of the Manners hopes you have the best holiday you are able in this strange and unsettling year, and may 2021 be better for all of us.

“Not Pretty Enough” to be Goth

22 November 2020

This is going to be a somewhat multi-topic post, Snarklings; well, not multi-topic, but two facets of one larger topic.

Part the First: Over on the Gothic Charm School Tumblr (yes, the Lady of the Manners is still on Tumblr, she’s curated her feed into a reliable stream of eye candy, but thank goodness for the blacklist function), someone asked a fantastic question about the goth scene. The Lady of the Manners did answer it in a Tumblr post, but decided to Hold Forth and Deliver Her Opinions in an expanded form. 

“Auntie Jilli, I wanted to know if I could get some eldergoth insight here. I’ve been noticing that lately it seems like a lot of the well know goth internet folks have a very similar aesthetic. I don’t really get many opportunities to be in the physical goth scene and I’m still relatively new to the scene as an active participant so I was wondering if to you (or anyone else) if it seems like goth has gotten a little homogeneous lately or if it’s always been this way and I just didn’t see it.

Ahahahaha. AHAHAHAHAHAHA.

The short (ish) answer is YES. In the Lady of the Manners’ opinion, the rise of cameras in everyone’s phones and the ease of putting those photos on social media has strengthened the idea that there is a very specific “goth look” that has to be embraced to be part of the subculture. And to be completely honest, the Lady of the Manners had kinda hoped that easy photos + social media would have the opposite effect: an explosion of different goth styles and looks. But alas, it doesn’t seem that happened. 

The basics of the goth look Back In The Day (the 80s and 90s, and hell, even the early 00s) were pretty simple: black eyeliner and black clothes. Big hair was common, as were tangles of jewelry and layers of torn black tights and fishnets if you were really fancy or going out, but not everyone wanted to or was able to indulge in those things. There was also very little in the way of mass-produced goth clothing and accessories. If you were really lucky, you lived someplace that had a shop that stocked things from Bogey’s or Lip Service, and even then, you still hoped something passable might turn up at a mall store, you scavenged the thrift stores for vintage pieces, or you risked getting grounded for permanently staining the washing machine or bath tub with your black RIT dye experiments.

This question prompted the Lady of the Manners to dig out a bunch of her “goth history” books – Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace by Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje, everything by the illustrious Mick Mercer (the book on The Batcave is especially great), and her stacks of vintage goth and alternative magazines – Ghastly, Bats and Red Velvet, Permission, Carpe Noctem, and Propaganda – and her vague hunch was confirmed. While the photos were predominantly of pale thin people (bah!), not everyone looked the same. You could immediately identify the people in the photos as goths, but they didn’t look like they came from the same mold from a spooky doll factory.

Candid photos — true candid photos — don’t seem as prevalent as they once were. Yes, cameras in every phone make it easier to capture a moment (and the Lady of the Manners is very VERY much in favor of that), but the flip side is that not only are people aware of what the flattering angles are for when there’s a camera aimed at them, but the ability to retake and retake photos until the “best one” starts becoming the norm. (The Lady of the Manners admits she’s fallen prey to this mindset, and has had to give herself a “three photos and no more” rule for taking selfies, else her own body image demons will drag themselves out of the murk of her brain.) 

The Lady of the Manners acknowledges that she sounds very much like an old person railing at technology, and that’s not her intent. But she also feels that the charm of not knowing how a photo will turn out until you get the film developed has been set aside. Because people need to be documented in all their fragile and fallible states, not just in a perfect, FaceTuned presentation.

Which leads to Part the Second of this topic: the Lady of the Manners receives a lot of mail and messages from people who want to know if they can call themselves goth if they’re not “pretty enough”. That most of the goths they see online are thin and conventionally pretty, and the concerned person feels that they themselves are not.

The Lady of the Manners’ heart breaks every time she reads one of these; she also becomes very very angry. Goth isn’t about “pretty”. Goth is about finding beauty in darker ideas and themes – the music, the literature, the art, the fascinating things that can come from the passage of time and strongly-felt emotions. Goth is NOT about putting a layer of dramatic makeup, black lipstick, and perfect pointy nails on top of conventional and mainstream beauty standards.

This insidious notion of “you must be this attractive to be a goth” isn’t new. Back In The Day there were mean bats in the scene who would cattily tell people that they weren’t pretty enough, thin enough, their makeup or clothes were wrong, etc. to be a glorious creature of darkness. But the Lady of the Manners really does feel that this idea has become a poisonous, strangling vine around goth and again, it’s partially the fault of photo-based social media. Getting “likes” and complimentary comments on a photo of yourself makes your brain give you a jolt of dopamine, and you feel happy. And if you aren’t getting that dopamine rush while seeing someone else is? It doesn’t matter how aware you are of the biochemical mechanisms, it still hurts and grinds away at your self worth.  

While the Lady of the Manners would like to comfort and assure each and every one of you that you ARE pretty, handsome, beautiful, and that true beauty is who you are, not how you look, she also knows that:

  1. Not all of you will believe her.
  2. “Pretty privilege” is a real thing. Society treats conventionally attractive people better than others. It’s unfair, but it exists. (If you’re interested in further reading about the concept, take a look at this article by Janet Mock.)
  3. A lot of the media around the goth subculture is still focused on the idea of Caucasian beauty, and that you must be oh-so-pale and light-skinned to be adored by other goths. Which isn’t true; there’s a vast world of BIPOC goths, but social media algorithms mean they’re not as likely to pop up in your feed.

Which comes right back to the Lady of the Manners being heartbroken and infuriated that people who would feel at home in our shadowy subculture think they won’t be accepted in it because of their looks. 

So to hell with all that. Let’s bring back the “creature” in Creature of Darkness. Fuck flattering. Let’s all swamp our respective social media accounts with true photos of the goth subculture: we aren’t all thin, young, pretty (which mainstream culture genders as feminine presenting), white. We don’t all have perfect makeup, perfectly styled hair or wigs, and immaculate clothes from goth brands. We don’t have to be hot, we don’t have to be conventionally attractive. We have to be ourselves. Because being true to ourselves is an act of rebellion.

Talk to each other and the Lady of the Manners, Snarklings. Should we start a hashtag over on Twitter and IG for this? Because the Lady of the Manners promises to start posting more photos where she tries to avoid the trap of “is this flattering?” if the rest of you do, too. Let’s figure out a tag, promote the hell out of it, and support people who join in. The Lady of the Manners’ friend Rhias suggested the hashtag #thisisgoth (which the Lady of the Manners thinks is great), but brainstorming more ideas is GOOD

The Lady of the Manners would REALLY like to see photos of goths who don’t fit the stereotypical gloom cookie mold: BIPOC, plus-size, older folks, trans*, non-binary, everyone. Let’s show the diversity in the subculture. That way the next time someone says they’re not pretty enough to join us in the gloom, we can point them to a tag and say “here we are, and you are welcome to lurk with us”

Let’s have that conversation. Leave comments, drag other goths you know over here and have them comment. Please.

Halloween 2020

29 September 2020

Oh Snarklings, this year has been weird, chaotic, and stressful, and it’s not going to get better any time soon. Because of that, the Lady of the Manners was second-guessing herself about writing this post; fretting about Halloween this year seemed frivolous. But we need frivolous right now. Anything that brings even a speck of joy to someone right now is valuable and badly needed. Halloween is NECESSARY, DAMMIT. So, what is going on for Halloween? What spooky things can you join in on?

Perhaps you’d prefer some spooky things to watch or listen to from the depths of YouTube:

While the works of Edgar Allan Poe are appropriate year-round, there’s something very satisfying about hearing them read aloud.

“The Raven” read by:

  • If you have access to a printer (stop snickering, it’s a thing many people still have in their homes), there are all sorts of Halloween and spooky coloring pages you can download and print. The Lady of the Manners collected a few as a starting point on this Pinterest board. Several of those pins link to the Etsy stores of the artists; the Lady of the Manners cheerfully and vehemently encourages you to support small artists and buy their digital downloads!

~~~

Do any of you lovely people have suggestions for activities or online events for this very strange 2020 Halloween season? Please leave a comment!

May the 2021 Halloween season be a return to the usual sort of spooky and creepy for all of us, and not this socially-distanced limbo we’re stuck in.

A Brief Pause, and Helpful Links

25 July 2020

(Regular posting will resume here at Gothic Charm School some point in August. Things in the world have been very chaotic and stressful lately, which has led to a lack of writing.)

The Lady of the Manners gets political: The world has become a much scarier place for a lot of us, and we need to pull together.

• Stand with those who are at risk. Support immigrants, people of color, the LGBTA community, women, people with disabilities (visible or not), anyone who is “other” and is going to be a target.

• Donate, if you can. Time, energy, and money. Some organizations you might want to consider donating to:

â—¦ Black Lives Matter

◦The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 

â—¦ Planned Parenthood
â—¦ The ACLU
â—¦ The Southern Poverty Law Center
â—¦ The Trevor Project
â—¦ Immigration Equality
â—¦ The Wildlife Society
â—¦ The American Library Association
â—¦ Americans United for Separation of Church and State
â—¦ The Center for Reproductive Rights
â—¦ The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
â—¦ Local food banks
â—¦ Local shelters for at-risk people

Stay safe, help where you can, and take care of each other.

Tutorial: Gothy Sunhats!

26 May 2020

The season of the Burning Orb is approaching for many of us. Which means that it is time to be extra diligent with sunblock, parasols, and sun hats. While you could stick with any plain wide-brimmed hat and go for the classic Lydia Deetz look, you could also decorate it and make it elaborately fancy! And you know what that means, Snarklings: It’s tutorial time here at Gothic Charm School!

(A caveat: the Lady of the Manners used long quilter’s pins to secure the decor to the hat for each tutorial, as she was using the same hat for each variation.)

(Another caveat: while you can use a glue gun and hot glue to attach things to your hat, if you change your mind about things you will have to pry those things off and hope you don’t cause any damage. The Lady of the Manners feels a needle and thread is the superior hat decor attachment option.)

Supplies:


– A wide brimmed hat. While certain big name goth fashion retailers all offer extra-wide black sun hats, you can find them other places for much more reasonable prices. The Lady of the Manners has seen the exact same type of sun hat at H+M, Forever XX1, Walmart, Amazon.com, and Wish.com
– Scissors, black thread, a sharp needle.

Anything you want to stick on a hat. Things that the Lady of the Manners generally uses:

  • Black tulle
  • Black ribbons
  • Faux flowers, especially the giant black and red roses that are available in craft stores during our beloved THREAT LEVEL: PUMPKIN season.
  • Enormous bows. You can make them yourself (make a tube of fabric, pinch it in the center, sew a piece of ribbon or other fabric to hold the center), or you can scavenge them off of amazingly 80s prom or wedding dresses. Butt bows can go on hats!
  • Fishnet tights. Yes, really, and the Lady of the Manners will explain in a bit.

Hat Decor: Veiled Gaze

1. Cut a leg off of the fishnet tights, cut off the toe, and then slice the fishnet tube down the length. Why look! You now have a lovely length of interestingly spooky hat veiling!

2. Drape the long edge of the fishnet along the outer edge of the hat brim, and then sew tiny sections of it to the brim.

Behold! A veil to shade you from the Burning Orb and add a touch of mystery to your gaze.

Hat Decor: Ribbon and Tulle

1.Take a length of ribbon that is long enough to go around the crown of the hat and be tied in a large bow with trailing ends. Fold the ribbon in half.

2. Cut a length of tulle — approximately 12” or 31cm — and tie it in a fluffy bow around the center point of the ribbon.

3. Tie the ribbon around the crown of the hat, double-knotting the ribbon for additional security, and then tie it in a bow.

Optional: Adorn the knots of the bow with safety pins for punk/Deathrock flair!

Hat Decor: Tulle Cloud and Giant Bow

1. Cut a huge length of tulle — the Lady of the Manners uses at least 1.5 yards or 45cm.

2. Take one end of the tulle and secure it to the crown of the hat with a few stitches.

3. Turning the hat slightly, pinch a section of the tulle and secure it to a different point on the crown. Keep scrunching, twisting, fluffing, and stitching the tulle until you are pleased with the voluminous effect. You are aiming for a “storm cloud following you” effect around the crown.

4. Place the giant bow in your desired position on the hat and stitch the points of each bow to the hat.

Optional: add a pin, brooch, or any other sparkly thing to the center of the bow!

Hat Decor: Flowers

Perhaps you aren’t a giant bow type of person, and prefer more of a decaying garden aesthetic. While it takes a bit more work, this is still a thing you can do to a hat!

1. Take your faux flowers or leaves and remove them from the stems by gripping the flower in one hand, and yanking it off of the stem. (You can do the same to leaves by forcefully yanking them off the smaller branches that protrude from the stems.)

2. Most faux flowers have little plastic baskets in between layers of petals. These make the flowers more difficult to sew through, so get rid of them! Peel the petals down and pull them off. When you reach one of the plastic baskets, pull it off and discard it.

3. Stitch the layers of petals together to reconstruct the flower.

(The Lady of the Manners realizes this seems like a lot of work for some flowers, but this will save you tears and frustration in the long run. And if you want extra-voluminous flowers, you can sew multiple flowers into one monster blossom.)

4. Place the reconstructed flowers wherever they please you on the hat (they look wonderful nestled in clouds of tulle), and secure the petals down with a few stitches. Do this for a few petals around the edge of the flower to avoid the flower flopping around. 

~~~

Remember, you can use almost anything as hat decor: scarves, sashes, decorative hair combs, little bats or crows from the Halloween decor aisles, brooches, necklaces … anything. As long as you can sew it to the crown or brim of the hat, the night sky is the limit.

Talk about your hat decor ideas in the comments! Or send photos of your decorated hats to headmistress@gothic-charm-school.com so the Lady of the Manners can have a post displaying everyone’s creativity!

Stereotype Technology: Gothic Romance!

22 April 2020

Hello Snarklings. Things are weird right now. “Weird”, in this case, meaning unsettling, upsetting, and honestly? Terrifying for everyone right now. There’s no sugar-coating that truth, and the Lady of the Manners won’t do you the disservice of even trying. Things are scary, and we need to support each other as much as we can without draining ourselves.

What the Lady of the Manners can do right now is offer distractions. In this new reality where many of us are living in our pajamas and other “comfy” clothes, the Lady of the Manners went straight to Gothic Romance loungewear. Why wear leggings and t-shirts when you can swoop around in ruffled nightgowns and billowing caftans? (There is nothing wrong with leggings and t-shirts. In fact, the Lady of the Manners is wearing leggings and a Bauhaus shirt as she is writing this article.)

The Lady of the Manners feels that Gothic Romance loungewear, including ruffled nightgowns, are for all genders. Beautiful, comfortable, dramatic clothing should belong to everyone, to hell with societal norms and expectations. Besides, if ruffled shirts are good enough for pirates, vampires, and brooding characters  based on Lord Byron, they’re good enough for any other masculine type.

With that statement, permit the Lady of the Manners to show off the nocturnal fruits of her window shopping! As many of these links are from Poshmark, eBay, and Etsy, the specific items may no longer be available, but they’ll give you an idea of the types of garments to look for.

Ruffled nightgowns, the cornerstone of a Gothic Romance wardrobe:

The brand The 1 for U makes incredible cotton nightgowns for shockingly reasonable prices. The Lady of the Manners has several different styles from this company, and they’re all pretty, sturdy, and easy to care for. Plus they’re 100% cotton, which means they won’t make you overheat when sweltering weather descends.

When browsing Poshmark, eBay, Etsy, and other 2nd hand clothing resellers, the Lady of the Manners has had success with the following keywords:

  • Ruffle or ruffled nightgown
  • Modest nightgown
  • Victorian nightgown
  • Prairie nightgown

Vintage 1970s Ellissia White Ruffle Hem Nightgown

Vintage 70s Pale Blush & Lace Button Up Nightgown

Val Mode Nightgown Pajamas Modest White Long

VTG Barade Nightgown Ruffle Prairie Bride Satin (Those of you who follow the Lady of the Manners on Twitter may remember her posting about coming across this listing and misreading it as “Prairie Bride Satan”.)

Caftans! (Also called kaftans!) Lounge on a pile of pillows and dream of having a butler bring you a tray of tasty snacks and drinks. In addition to using the keyword “caftan”, search for:

  • Beach cover up
  • Kimono
  • Duster
  • Poncho
  • Maxi dress

Vintage Turkish Robe Cotton Velour Caftan

NWT Soft Surroundings Beach Caftan Coverup

Staring at Stars Shami Applique Caftan

Vintage Mexican caftan poncho dress

Vintage Mexican caftan poncho dress

Dressing gowns! Another foundation piece of the Gothic Romance wardrobe. In fact, Back In The Day [tm], gothy types scoured thrift and vintage stores for dressing gowns to use in their everyday wardrobe. Many were the goths who would flounce into Ye Olde Goth Club adorned in leggings and a tank top with a dressing gown or peignoir over it, cinched with a wide belt. Useful keywords to find these sorts of things:

  • Velvet robe
  • Brocade robe
  • Chiffon robe
  • Sheer robe
  • Bridal robe (Especially good if you want flowing white ruffles for that ghostly aesthetic!)
  • Peignoir
  • Burlesque robe (Be warned, anything using the “burlesque” description will probably be toward the upper end of prices.)
  • Smoking jacket

Betsy [sic] Johnson velvet robe

Oscar de la Renta Robe Black Velvet Ruffle Neck

Victoria Secret Floral Velvet Robe

Vintage Barbizon Pegniar [sic] Floral Lace Evening Robe

Flora lace applique floor length robe

2 Piece 1960s Vintage Gown Robe

50s Vintage Smoking Jacket

Blue and Black 1950s Vintage Tuxedo/Smoking Jacket

Poet shirts! Long poet shirts were all the rage for sleepwear in the 90s, especially from companies like Victoria’s Secret and, strangely, from Frederick’s of Hollywood. Savvy goths snapped them up from wherever they could find them to wear as sleepwear, daywear, clubwear … whatever we wanted, really. A billowy poet shirt over velvet leggings was practically a goth uniform in the 90s, and the Lady of the Manners would dearly love to see that come back. Useful keywords to search:

  • Poet shirt
  • Poet blouse
  • Pirate shirt
  • Pirate blouse
  • Ruffled sleep shirt
  • Victoria’s Secret sleep shirt

Salua Ruffled Nightshirt NWT

Gorgeous vintage Victoria’s Secret poet gown

Victoria’s Secret Black Sheer Nightgown

Vintage Victoria’s Secret Sheer Nightgown

~~~

In this era of social distancing, creating your own goth and industrial playlists to listen to is good, but doesn’t provide the same sense of community.  But many clever DJs and club owners have turned to creating virtual club nights via Twitch channels, Zoom “meetings”, IG Live, FB events, and so on, and also include PayPal, Venmo, CashApp, and other payment options for people to tip the hardworking creatures of the night who help provide the backbone (or backbeat) of our community. Here are some of the links the Lady of the Manners has collected:

  • mixcloud.com/mickmercerradio/
  • https://www.mixcloud.com/CountessVonOontzenjaeger/last-one-in-the-club-turn-out-the-lights/
  • https://twitch.tv/mechangel
  • https://twitch.tv/daemonchadeau
  • https://twitch.tv/mechanismusofficial
  • https://twitch.tv/dj_synnik
  • https://twitch.tv/mercuryjq
  • https://twitch.tv/skinlayers
  • https://twitch.tv/causticmf
  • https://twitch.tv/mercuryatmachinewerks
  • https://twitch.tv/djwudi
  • https://www.twitch.tv/djdonlevi
  • https://www.twitch.tv/thejulianblack
  • https://www.twitch.tv/djslave1
  • https://www.twitch.tv/djniqv
  • https://www.twitch.tv/djbloodline
  • https://www.twitch.tv/djnitrogen
  • https://www.twitch.tv/djredvamp
  • https://www.twitch.tv/joevirus
  • https://www.twitch.tv/evilyn13

Be sure to check whatever social media presence your favorite local clubs and DJs have to see if they’re also hosting virtual events!

~~~

Finally, another distraction: the Lady of the Manners has begun writing “Today’s advice from your Goth Auntie” tweets Monday – Friday. Some of it may be helpful, some of it is spooky silly, and all of it is in the spirit of support and kindness. https://twitter.com/CupcakeGoth

(They’re also being posted over on Tumblr.)

~~~

With that, Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is going to toss her latest batch of ruffled nightgowns in the washer, then pick out a comfort movie to watch this evening. Stay safe and stay kind.