Of Goth Fashion for Accessibility and Chronic Health Issues

As a preface to this month’s question, the Lady of the Manners is going to make a statement that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, and yet even the Lady of the Manners herself is occasionally tripped up (literally) by the realization:

Goth fashion isn’t really practical. Especially the more elaborate aspects of it.

A stunningly obvious statement, yes? But until one really thinks about the day-to-day logistics of it all, it’s easy to shunt aside with a wave of a hand. The Lady of the Manners even joked about it a few months ago on one of her social media accounts, that she was having to relearn the muscle memory of wearing long ruffled skirts while using wheeled office chairs. 

And then Violet Webb wrote in with her question of logistics: 

Dear Lady of Manners
My question is less one about etiquette, and more about logistics. I have my own mix of Victorian goth and punky style that I was perfectly happy with until fairly recently. 

The problem is that around 3 years ago, my chronic health conditions deteriorated, and I had to start using a wheelchair full time. I can no longer stand or walk, and a large portion of my clothing is not suitable for wearing in a powered wheelchair. 

Most of my skirts are long enough to get caught in the wheels, I can’t wear jeans because the seams and studs on the back can give me pressure sores, and anything shorter than knee length will be a problem because everyone can see up it all the time.

I can’t seem to consistently find clothing that works for my practical needs and fits my style, and it’s getting really depressing. I would certainly prefer to keep my style rather than lose that part of my identity in addition to the other things that have had to change in the past years. I’m relatively happy and comfortable being a disabled woman now, but it is still frustrating that certain clothing is not wearable for me.

Strangely the first thing that popped into the Lady of the Manners head was a tag she’s seen being tossed around Tumblr: cripplepunk. While the Lady of the Manners wavers back and forth on how she feels about the tag itself, there are some interesting  Outfit of the Day posts that pop up with that tag. Many of those outfits are similar to a “dark mori” style: loosely fitting clothes made of flowing or drape-y fabrics, usually with layers of slips, dresses, cardigans, and skirts with asymmetrical hemlines. (Lagenlook is a similar style, but with less witchy drama.)

Here, a description of the sort of outfit the Lady of the Manners is envisioning: 

  • A lightweight blouse with some sort of high ruffled collar.
  • A drape-y textured cardigan with some sort of interesting buttons.
  • Leggings or long bloomers.
  • A knee- or calf-length skirt with ruffles.
  • Comfortable slip-on shoes
  • Interesting goth/punk accessories or jewelry.

And of course, because the Lady of the Manners is nothing if not predictable in this, here’s a quick Pinterest board she put together! (Who knows how often it’ll be updated, but it at least gives a bit of visual reference for what she’s talking about.)  

Speaking of skirts and wrangling ones that are too long for your wheels: Dress hitches! You need dress hitches! They’re essentially the same thing as a dress clip that all of us used in the 80s and 90s to give more of a nipped-in waist to jackets, blazers, and dresses. They’re a short length of elastic, ribbon, or other fabric with a clip on each end. Attach one clip at the top of your skirt, clip the other to a pinch of the skirt around knee-height, and ta-da! A skirt that is up out of the danger zone, but still looks quasi-Victorian! It looks like the Steampunk folks ran with the idea, so there are a plethora of them on Etsy.

Another very practical solution is to find a seamstress or tailor to shorten your skirts to an appropriate length. Even if you have sewing skills, because while skirt shortening can be a simple and straightforward project, it’s also a time and energy -consuming one.

Longer bloomers are an option instead of tights or leggings. Places like April Cornell always seems to have at least one style in their catalog, as does Holy Clothing. The Lady of the Manners has also found that pirate -focused retailers (Pirate Fashion, Dress Like a Pirate, and so on) carry bloomer-y type garments. If you do search for bloomers, other keywords to use are: pettipants, pantaloons, and culotte half-slips.

And now is the time when the Lady of the Manners hopes other Gothic Charm School readers have helpful comments for Violet Webb! Suggestions? Clicky-links? Other Pinterest boards? Leave a comment!  

This entry was posted in Being Fashionable, Fashion, Serious Matters and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Of Goth Fashion for Accessibility and Chronic Health Issues

  1. As I think the Lady of the Manners might know, I deal with a few chronic illnesses that limit my fashion options. I’m a big fan of leggings with a tunic or shorter dress and gothy accessories. I do pettipants with knee-length dresses in the summer. I love all of the suggestions in this post.

  2. Damien says:

    This is really useful! I don’t need a wheelchair but I occasionally need a powered scooter as a person living with lymphedema and chronic pain. I lovelovelove the gothic style and sometimes want to wear long flowy things, and sometimes that interferes. So thank you for this lovely idea post with the boards and the useful links!

  3. QueenMorticia says:

    I realize that as a typically abled person, my opinion on this matter is likely ill-informed and useless, but as a student who’s constantly moving around and busy, I’ve had to tailor out my more cumbersome and impractical goth attire. In this manner I have cultivated a distinctly dark wardrobe that includes items such as many basic black shirts and leggings, ruffly blouses, and knee-length square-ish skirts in interesting gothy prints like Ravens, ouija boards, and bats, which you can probably make yourself.

  4. Violet Webb says:

    Thank you so much for responding! I will confess that I have been checking every few days to see if you posted a new article. Dress hitches seem like a great idea that I hadn’t heard of, so that really helps solve that part of the issue. I can see, but obviously, as you say, it’s very energy consuming. Thank you again for the wonderful advice, and I’ll definitely be checking back here to see the comments as well

  5. deadrose says:

    Harem pants may also be an option, as they’re usually very drapey and lacking in seams, and also come in pleasantly flowing fabrics. Just be careful they’re not overly balloony, or they’ll cause the same problems as long skirts. I can recommend a place that does slimmer-fit ones in sueded silk charmeuse and other fabrics, if anyone’s interested – I just don’t want to spam links all over the page.

  6. Kara says:

    One of my faveourite skirts is a long pencil skirt with a lace frill at the bottom (sort of like a short mermaid skirt). I think that might be apropriate? Another idea is a knee leangth layered, frilly skirt. With mulitple layers of lace and frills there shouldn’t be much danger of exposure, yet all the volume will stay in you lap and away from the wheels.

    Also check out Anna Calypso on Instagram (and perhaps other platforms too). She is a (mostly) wheel chair bound model. While she does not pose in her chair, many of her outfits might be apropriate (and many are not).

  7. Hypatia says:

    I’ve been lurking for a long time, but this one caught my eye. I’m a 53 year old academic goth who deals with chronic pain issues (back & hip–massive back surgery and another one coming). While I don’t yet require a wheelchair, I can’t tolerate overly complicated or fitted things anymore. If it touches my back, I’m out. I wear a lot of the tunic top sort of things from Holy Clothing with leggings. I have a collection of leggings; some have cutouts on the waistband to allow for a looser fit around my back. This helps!

  8. An interesting thread. I don’t do gothic clothing,* I do 9th century English/Welsh, which shares with gothdom long, full skirts. And I am now confined to a wheelchair. Knee-length skirts do not compute.

    But my husband does Danish “Viking” from the same century, and now I remember that the Norse cultures permitted women to wear trousers, *so long as they did not have a fly front,” which was considered “dressing like a man.”

    So maybe I can get away with flyless trousers and a tunic. I’ll discuss this with Meg.

    *Meg, however, insists that I was dressing like a goth long before their was gothdom.


    I’m the one in the middle. Late 1960s.

  9. Courtney Smith says:

    I’m trying to sell my gothic chain to people with limited hand movement. I’m not physically disabled but see how it’s difficult to wear gothic clothes with the clasps and stuff. Anyone who wants to tell me their experience of gothic jewelry please message me! I’m trying to do my research and make jewelry that comes with accessible features.

  10. Cat says:

    Very late to the party, but as a wheelchair-using goth-type person who has pretty much given up on long floaty skirts, thank you so much for addressing this! You have given me some great ideas – like Violet Webb I had never heard of skirt hitches and I’ll definitely be looking to get some of those now, as well as considering long bloomers.

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