Of Goth Styles And Labels

Hello Snarklings, and welcome to 2012! There are all sorts of plots being polished and things in the works here at Gothic Charm School, including clothing reviews, more vampire book discussion in the Nocturnal House, and events to attend! But never fear, the Lady of the Manners is still reading and answering the letters that come in to Gothic Charm School.

As has been the case for the last few installments of Gothic Charm School, the Lady of the Manners has picked a few letters with a similar theme; this time the questions are about learning more about the Gothic subculture. The first letter is from a young creature asking about different styles of Goth:

question: Dear Lady of the Manners,

I am a 12 year old who is interested in developing a Gothy style.
Can you explain what the different styles of Gothiness are like?

You must give the Lady of the Manners a few moments to collect herself, dear Snarkling. You see, way back in the dim and misty reaches of time, the notion that there were different types of Goths was slightly absurd. If you called yourself a Goth, that meant you liked certain bands, tended to read dark-themed books (fiction and non-fiction), and wore a lot of black. It was only as time passed and the subculture grew that Goth started to send forth creeping tendrils with different, but still dark, blooms. The first time the Lady of the Manners remembers seeing mention of different types of Goths was back in the heyday of the alt.gothic newsgroup. Those sorts of lists, while vaguely amusing, are generally … not very kind, in addition to being words or attributes smushed together, and not actually terms that people use. Or if they do, it’s in jest, or perhaps to show off that they’ve spent some time looking up Goth definitions. They’re certainly not the sort of reference to use to figure out what sort of Goth styles you might be interested in!

Of course, there’s the wholly adorable (and useful!) cartoons exemplifying different Goth styles by Megan Balanck over blackwaterfall.com. (Which the Lady of the Manners isn’t directly linking to because two different search engines warned her that the site was potentially harmful to her computer. So look at the blackwaterfall.com site at your own risk!) But here is Megan’s DeviantArt page, which also features the Goth (stereo)types cartoons. The Lady of the Manners is especially fond of Goth Type 13, the Victorian Goths (which should be no surprise, look at the woman in the cartoon!) and Goth Type 17, the Vampire Goth.

But! As amusing and charming as those illustrations are, they do not need to be used as strict patterns to follow or model yourself upon. The Lady of the Manners feels quite strongly about this, even though she isn’t one of those people who automatically rails against labels, or insist that we spooky dark snowflakes cannot be be labeled because we are so special and unique. Labels can be very useful things, but they are not the be-all and end-all of who you are. Yes, lists of descriptions like “perkygoth” (the bouncy and cheerful types), “tribal goth”(typically fans of darker “world” music, a penchant for dreads, accessories of shells, bones, and feathers, a fondness for tribal belly dance, and a rougher-edged, primitive take on Goth fashion) , “gothabilly” (50s greaser and hot-rod style crossed with Goth, with a heaping helping of pin-up glamour and skulls), “rivethead” (stompy stompy music and boots, and semi-utilitarian fashion that means they’re ready for the dance floor or to greet the alien robot overlords when they arrive), “deathrocker” (enormous backcombed hair, heavy makeup, and ripped fishnets layered over everything), and “faerie goth” (flowers, glitter, antlers, layers of floating tulle and silk, and sometimes wings) are fun to read through, and of course they are terribly useful as a shorthand for describing some of your interests, but they’re just that: a shorthand. For example, the Lady of the Manners has been known to describe herself as a Cupcake Goth, which (she hopes!) gives people at least a vague understanding of her spooky-sweet nature and her fondness for adding pink accents to her inky black wardrobe.

No one can be (or should be!) described by a single label, or even multiple labels. Telling someone you’re a Victorian Goth (bustles, frock coats, high-collared blouses, and spooky tea parties), a Trad Goth (leather jackets, big hair, and a strong belief that nothing sounds as good as Joy Division, Bauhaus, or early Siouxsie and the Banshees) , a CyberGoth (neon dreadfalls, tight clothing with light-reflective accents, and a fervent devotion to dark oontz music), a metalhead (leather jackets, tight jeans, spikes everywhere, and lots of dark or symphonic metal music), a CorpGoth (a spooky type dressed in dark-colored office-appropriate clothing) , or any combination of gothy types can give someone an overview of what you’re interested in, but it’s only a snapshot. All the complexities of who you are, what you like and don’t like, or what drew you to the spooky side of life can’t be summed up by that snapshot. So feel free to peruse all the different lists of Goth styles, but don’t feel that you must match any (or all!) of them to be a Goth.

The next question is about what one should do when a friend is using the Goth label in a not-entirely-accurate way:


Hi there,
Allow me to start off by saying that I am so lucky to have come across your book and website. They have helped me through many issues that I faced throughout my babybat years. I’m having an issue that I could only message you to resolve.

I have a friend and she is such a sweetheart! She’s showing a large amount of interest in the subculture but not to the point of research. She listen to Black Veil Brides and doesn’t know much about the subculture. I have no issue with the way she dresses and the music she likes but It’s what people around my school are referring to as “Goth” because she was so open about her transition into the subculture. I want her to know more about what goth really is and how different it is from her interpretations. She’s such a good friend and I cannot say anything that would make her feel bad in the least. I wouldn’t be able to stand it. But at the same time, the gothic subculture is one I call my home and even though it’s ridiculous It bothers me a tad. I would hate to be rude because I try my very best not to be, I just need a very polite way to tell her.

If you have any ideas as to how I could show her more about the gothic subculture I would be more than grateful!

Thank you so much for all you have done for me,
Lots of love,
Claire

Forgive the Lady of the Manners for asking an obvious question, Snarkling, but it really is the first thing that popped into her mind after reading your letter: have you sat down with your friend and mentioned that you want to show her more about what Goth means to you? Because really, if she’s interested in the subculture, and you call the subculture home, then it should be a very short step to spending hours talking to each other about all the different aspects of Goth that the two of you like. You know, the time-honored friendship game of “Oooh, have I told you about this? Or shown you this thing I found that I think is amazing and fascinating? Have I made you listen to songs by these bands I adore?”. The Lady of the Manners and her friends do this sort of thing all the time sometimes by means of emails with clicky-links and excited flailing in all-caps.

The very important thing to keep in mind during all of this is to not come across like you’re trying to correct her, or make her feel like you think she’s Doing It Wrong. Because honestly, there are a squillion different paths to the Goth subculture, and telling someone (anyone, but especially a friend) that their interpretations of Goth are all wrong is unhelpful and unkind. The Lady of the Manners is very glad to have read the part where you wrote “She’s such a good friend and I cannot say anything that would make her feel bad in the least.”, but wants to just, oh, underline that in glittery black ink or something. Because she has run across people who are so determined to teach people about The Right Opinions and Interests to Have that they forget about treating their friends as people they like and care about.

So! Spend time with your friend and ask her what it is that draws her to Goth, what got her interested in it. Talk about what drew you to the Goth subculture. Watch movies together. Listen to music together and make each other playlists or mix CDs of music you think the other would like. Drag out your cosmetics collection and do each other’s makeup, plunder each other’s closets and play dress-up, and … just be good friends to each other, for goodness sake! The Lady of the Manners is pretty certain that just by hanging out and geebling at each other about the things you like, you’ll open her eyes to the larger world of Goth. (And make an only slightly self-serving suggestion, you could also wave a copy of the Gothic Charm School book at your friend and suggest she read it.)

Coming soon to Gothic Charm School: a post about the gothy blogs that the Lady of the Manners is particularly fond of reading (including information about the Filthy Victorians 2012 thing, which is about encouraging people to dress in Victorian or Victorian-inspired clothing for the whole year, and oh! Did the Lady of the Manners’ heart skip a joyous beat at that idea), the long-delayed review of Spin Doctor clothing (simply gorgeous things, Snarklings!), exciting news about upcoming appearances, and very exciting news about something brewing between Gothic Charm School and Seattle Night Out Radio! And of course, reading (and even maybe answering) the letters you lovely people send in

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