Of Someone Not Sure About This Whole Goth Thing


Hello Snarklings! In this installment of Gothic Charm School, the Lady of the Manners is going to revisit a question that turns up somewhat frequently in the Gothic Charm School mailbox; this time, however, there’s a bit of a twist to it.

Stranded Fashionista wrote with what they call a bit of an existential crisis:

question: How do you know if you’re Goth or not? I’ve never considered myself anywhere close to Goth- but my friends who are more versed in the culture have pointed out that a lot of the things I like are “Goth.” It’s odd to think that I may be part of a sub-culture that I’ve sub-consciously judged for a lot of my life. I’m not exactly sure what help you can give- but, this is causing me a bit of existential crisis.

Oh, how very interesting! Someone asking the Am I A Goth? question, but who feels conflicted about the whole thing. The Lady of the Manners does wish that Stranded Fashionista had mentioned some of their interests, but it doesn’t really matter since there is no Real Goth TM checklist. (Surely you remember, Snarklings: the Lady of the Manners goes on and on about there not being a checklist at the drop of a hat.)

It’s just that the Lady of the Manners finds herself intensely curious about what gothy-type things the Stranded Fashionista is interested in that their friends consider Goth, especially in light of the implications that the Stranded Fashionista has been judgmental about Goth in the past. Because while there is not a checklist of Gothy Things, some interests rate a slightly higher score of You Might Be A Goth than others.

For instance, there is the question of dark-influenced fashion. While it’s no secret that the Lady of the Manners is ”¦ oh, let’s say very fond of Goth fashion, she also feels that there is more to being part of the Goth subculture than wearing dark colors with skulls or other morbid imagery. No, not even adding black nail polish makes an inky-hued wardrobe automatically Goth, it just may mean someone really likes a monochrome look. Black lipstick has become a makeup staple for a wide range of alternative fashion looks, and at least one mainstream cosmetic company releases some version or formula of it every autumn. Indeed, every few years the fashion industry gleefully rummages in Goth’s shadowy armoires for finery to re-interpret. So you see, there is more to Goth than a wardrobe of darkness.

But what if the interest your friends are calling “Goth” is the music you listen to? That’s just as tricky, because no shadowy clot of Goths will ever agree entirely on what musicians are or are not Goth. Sure, many of us will rattle off the standard spooky classics: Joy Division, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Christian Death, The Sisters of Mercy, and so on. But once you get past those “obvious” names, the Goth musical genre is harder to define. Not to mention that many artists (even the ones the Lady of the Manners just listed) object to having the Goth label applied to their work.

Music and fashion are the two obvious signifiers of gothy inclinations, but there are others: a fondness for dark or paranormal books, especially ones that have a generous helping of melodrama. Or perhaps an appreciation for artwork that focuses on morbid or unsettling themes, or that uses bones or taxidermied remains of animals.

However, speculating about Stranded Fashionista’s Goth-ish interests is not the main point of the letter, and is not the thing which snagged the Lady of the Manners’ attention. The really fascinating bit is that one little sentence of “It’s odd to think that I may be part of a sub-culture that I’ve sub-consciously judged for a lot of my life.” Because to the Lady of the Manners, that comes across as someone feeling a bit guilty and defensive about the times they may have mocked or sneered at Those Spooky Types In Black. The Lady of the Manners admits that her interpretation may be a bit on the harsh side, but that’s what she keeps coming back to. She can’t think of another reason why someone would have a “bit of an existential crisis” when one’s friends point out the Goth overtones of one’s interests. It’s true, being a Goth or interested in Goth things does still garner a raised eyebrow or a label of Weird (and oftentimes not in a good way) from some people. But so what? It’s more important to be your own person, to be true to who you are and what you like, than to worry about what other people think of you.

That’s the really important bit. It doesn’t matter if the things you like are also things liked by Goths; what matters is if you want to be a Goth. Even if you wear black velvet and lace and read spooky literature by flickering candlelight in your darkened room decorated with dried roses and animal skulls, if you feel you aren’t a Goth, then you’re not. Of course, if you do indulge in that sort of behavior, there’s a good chance that your friends are going to continue to point out your rather gothy tendencies, and the Lady of the Manners would kind of agree with them. But! If you don’t want to call yourself a Goth, you don’t have to. Just be aware that you should try to stop judging the subculture poorly, even if you reject the Goth label. After all, it sounds like you have some things in common with those of us who look for beauty and whimsy in dark places. Because really, being judgmental of an entire subculture (or mainstream culture) is a bit sweeping, and can lead to bad, knee-jerk reactions without ever thinking about the people who make up that subculture or group. Remember Snarklings, try  to react to people as individuals, instead of labels.

Coming soon to Gothic Charm School: a visit to the Nocturnal House for more talk about vampire novels (just as soon as the Lady of the Manners makes her mind up between re-reading The Historian or Those Who Hunt The Night, that is), more reader letters answered, and talking about dolls! (Hello Ms. Beetlejuice and Dandy of Death!) Until then, feel free to read through past lessons, or even write if you have a question!

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