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

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!)

12 Responses to “Goth Fast Fashion, and Why It Isn’t Always a Good Thing”

  1. Edgar Says:

    While I agree with a lot of the points you make, I feel that arguing about ethical standards of these companies while then telling people to buy leather doesn’t come off quite right. While I agree with staying away from plastic that’s going to end up in the dump, I wonder if you’ve heard about cactus leather which is biodegradable and less resource heavy than raising cattle for slaughter. Also, all the chemicals that are in real leather to make them last “forever” also means that they don’t biodegrade when they are past the point of repair. They leech these toxins into our soils, rendering them infertile and reducing our ability to grow anything in them until they are regenerated.

  2. Teja Says:

    Some goth-adjacent independent/sustainable clothing brands I would also recommend are Revintaria, Nour and the Merchant, French Meadows, Voriagh, Son de Flor, Little Women Atelier, and Of Her Own Kind. A number of these lean more “cottagecore”, but as that is inspired by vintage looks, you can get wonderful, well-made, Victorian-inspired or witchy pieces that will last you ages. And shopping from indie designers is a delight because they are passionate about the craft and community and just trying to survive doing what they love. You can also get a lot of pieces made to measure, whereas shopping fast fashion if they don’t have your size or the fit is weird there’s nothing you can do about it. Shopping sustainably means spending more on an individual piece of clothing and thus being more deliberate with your purchases but you get better-made and more beautiful clothing, and if you know your sense of style and it’s not influenced by trends, it’s not that risky of an investment.

  3. The_L Says:

    If you can sew or knit, you’d be surprised what you can make. I’ve seen patterns on the knitting/crochet site Ravelry for early-2000s-style arm warmers with a goth flair. My favorite at the moment are called “Punk Rock Corset Gloves” and lace up. There are also quite a few shawl patterns with skulls, for the very patient goth knitter.

  4. Mona Says:

    Have you heard anything bad about Heavy Red? They’re a little pricey but I’ve been ordering from them since the 90s and have always been satisfied.

    Die With Your Boots On is a great local shop and I want to support them but often times the clothes they sell are exactly the same as the no-name Asian brands on Amazon but marked up 25%. They use the same marketing images even. It makes me really sad.

  5. Romany Says:

    Moonmaiden Gothic Clothing (UK-based) make their clothing to measure and ship worldwide. They’re also willing to customise, the turnaround time is amazing, quality is good enough that I’ve had some pieces for the better part of a decade, they do plus sizes properly, and the owners are basically lovely human beings.

    Not the cheapest place to shop, but it’s hard to go wrong there.

  6. Lady of the Manners Says:

    They’re one of the shops I plan on ordering from soon! I regularly swoon over their catalogue.

  7. JJ Says:

    Not to mention that fast fashion is often wasteful. If you pay a pittance for something and it falls apart after 2-3 wearings, most people just throw it out. Which means you must order more, and turns into a hamster wheel of junk clothing. Better to base your wardrobe on solid, inexpensive basics and elaborate with fun stuff from artists & thriftstores and/or customize.

    It’s always worth watching Bernadette Banner’s video about buying her own dress from a fast fashion rip-off site.

  8. Miska Says:

    I want to say thank you for mentioning the fact that most of the vegan ‘leather’ out there is petroleum based. there are some out there that are vegetable bases (I have heard about the cactus leather as well as a mushroom based one) those are still not readily available.

    and there is a glut of leather out there. I remember hearing on NPR (tinyurl.com/4wph3jte) that there is a glut of leather on the market as the beef industry has grown and there is all the extra hides on the market from that. it should be used and it will last a very long time and for things like shoes, it is easier to wear. Leather shoes will break in to my feet, with plastic shoes, my feet have to break in to the shoe

  9. Miska Says:

    oh, a couple places that I also have found some things are are https://www.verillas.com/ and https://www.eshakti.com/ (the later has good corpgoth and fit and flare designs and some great swoopy skirts on occasion. plus the custom measured clothing is fabulous)

  10. Reece Says:

    For original designers, I’ve had good results from Psylo (UK) – not strictly goth but good for that sort of harder, post-apoc, industrially look, could also be worked into a punky, deathrocky sort of aesthetic. On the expensive side but frequently have sales, sizing is true to description if you consult their size guide. Good range of mens/masculine-wear*… Very well made and I believe fair-trade.

    For well-curated re-sellers, EMP Clothing (also UK) have become my go-to. They’re a general ‘alternative’ shop, but have a dedicated goth section and a lot of goth-adjacent things in other ranges. Mid-priced, quality and fit varies by brand but I’ve not had a badly made item yet. Also have a good range of mens/masculine clothes and accessories.

    *this is my beef with a lot of ‘lifestyle’ goth brands, they assume everyone is a hyper-feminine woman, and if they sell any menswear at all it’s a handful of tacky graphic t-shirts and a hoody with some buckles on it.

  11. Miss Moonlight Says:

    “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.”

    Thank you so much for saying this! When I was younger I loved thrifting. But, these days I find it exhausting due to my career and caretaking disabled parents. My time is very precious these day. And so, the idea of going to a thrift store and digging for 4 hours yet coming out with NOTHING is just horrible to me (which has happened before). I find it SO much easier just to shop online. At this place in my life, thrifting or going to flea markets is a luxury for me, not an everyday thing.

    Throughout my years of online shopping I’ve found ways to get huge discounts when shopping at any retail store online or offline. Here are my tips.

    — Know the seasons when Retail Stores typically have their sales.
    In retail, new lines are introduced according to the seasons. In winter stores release sweaters, coats, and warmer styles of clothing. Then the previous seasons, like Summer and Spring, go onto the clearance rack. There’s a rule in retail that a store has to wait a certain amount of time before putting a new line of clothing on sale. So, that dress you want but can’t get due to price will be sold at that retail price for about a month or so (the timing is different for each store). If you come back in a few weeks or a month they’ll begin releasing their sales. Combine this with discount codes and rewards points and you can get a huge bargain.

    — Sign up for their newsletter.
    Often sites will send out exclusive coupons and discount codes only for those subscribed to their newsletter. They’ll also send out emails notifying subscribers when a sale is taking place.

    — Create a Wishlist
    Many sites have a feature that allows you to create a wishlist of items you want to buy. These days, a lot of sites are now including a feature that will notify you when an item on your wishlist has gone on sale or dropped in price.

    — Sign up for Rewards.
    Some sites make it so that you can’t use coupons on top of sales. Others allow it. In that instance, you can really rack up on savings if you combine discount codes and rewards points on top of their sales.

    — Check the clearance rack first.
    I’ve found some amazing finds on my go to sites simply from browsing their clearance rack. Again, if you combine clearance with a discount code you can get a lot of items for a steal.

    — Amazon.com
    On Amazon.com, I found Goth wardrobe staples (that were amazing quality as well) for as cheap as $12.00! Since Amazon is simply massive you have to know what you’re looking for ahead of time. Otherwise, you’ll be searching for months! LOL! Use the search engine function and type in “Black lace skirt” or “bell sleeve top” or whatever you’re looking for. Always read the reviews as they can help you when it comes to deciding the right sizing for you (and potentially avoid some lemons).

  12. Skyeanna Says:

    I used to love Dracula Clothing, but the last few dresses I bought from them had a lot of random loose threads, the dye leaked really badly, and the fabric was really stiff and uncomfortable. It made me really sad because I adore the design of one of their dresses and literally want to wear it every single day.

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