Returning to the Spooky Life (Back to the Crypt)

Every now and then, Snarklings, the Gothic Charm School mailbox sees a gentle flurry of correspondence from older readers asking about returning to their gothy roots. How should they dress? Where can they find other older Goths? Are they too old to seek out the dark forces and join their hellish crusade return to the velvet-shrouded gloom? This letter from Bobby is a perfect example:

question: I was goth back in college (I’m 33 now) and have since become a regular joe working as a medic for a rescue squad and all the niceties that come with having a wife and 2 year old daughter.  But the past few years I’ve felt the pull to go back to black so to speak, but have suppressed it.  The pull is getting stronger and I’m wondering if I’m too old to return.  I don’t know and haven’t seen any goths where I live that are my age to talk to.  So I’m curious how to even go about it.  I know you say even at my age there’s nothing wrong with returning but I don’t even know how to dress as an adult goth.  I’m 6’2″ 325lbs so I can’t pull off what I used to wear and would need to tone it down anyway.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated.   


Now, it’s been a while since the Lady of the Manners addressed this topic, but everything she said in 2003, 2008, and multiple posts from 2009 still holds true. However, to examine some of Bobby’s concerns:

  • No, dark heart, you are not too old to return to your extended Addams Family. The Lady of the Manners is older than you, and many, MANY of the people she admires are older than her by quite a lot. Revel in the fact that you are old enough to know who you are and what you want to spend your time on, and (the Lady of the Manners hopes) secure enough to not worry about other people’s opinions. Be who you want to be; if that involves darker colors and music full of dark bombast, so much the better.
  • You haven’t seen any Goths your age around where you live? That’s what the internet is for! What is drawing you back to the shadowy side? The music? The literature? Horror movies? An appreciation for the overall glamorous decayed aesthetic? Whatever your interests are, type them into the search engine of your choice and start looking around. No, you may not find a community of older Goth types right away, but you will almost certainly find sites that appeal to your interests and help you find those like-minded adults. And don’t forget to search whatever your preferred social networking site is for online communities for grown-up Goths, because there are a lot of them.
  • Also, keep a close eye out for concerts and events in your area that would probably attract an older Goth crowd. It’s become something of a running (skulking and lurking?) joke that certain Goth-friendly bands on reunion tours will pull all of the Eldergoths out of their coffins. The Damned, Dead Can Dance, Peter Murphy, Sisters of Mercy all have played shows in the past few years, and have been fantastic events for reconnecting with spooky people of a Certain Age.
  • How to dress as an adult Goth? Wear whatever appeals to you, and works for your lifestyle! However, slacks, jeans, some dress shirts and a nice tie or two, and a sharp blazer are all good pieces to have in basic black, and can all be found at a wide variety of shops (including thrift stores and big-box retailers). Add in some concert tees for beloved bands, and you should be all set. (Tho’ the Lady of the Manners feels she should warn you about the outrageous secondary market prices for vintage concert shirts, as she has not quite recovered from seeing a shirt for The Damned priced at $500.)
  • Don’t forget jewelry! Tie tacks, cufflinks, and lapel pins can add a dash of ghoulish glamour if you’re aiming for a more dandified look. While your job as a medic on a rescue squad probably means you can’t indulge in substantial rings or bracelets, you probably could wear a necklace under your uniform. (Kudos to you for being one of the heros who work with rescue squads – your work is hard and very appreciated.)
  • Of course, one of the best things about being an older member of our spooky subculture is that we don’t (well, shouldn’t) have the constant societal pressure to justify what catches our interests, or to defend why we are drawn to things. And if you find yourself feeling like you need to justify your interests, or find yourself using phrases such as “guilty pleasures”, try to remember that there are times when the phrase “Because I do. And?” is completely appropriate to use.

Another flavor of Eldergoth correspondence that occasionally flutters into the Gothic Charm School mailbox is from people who are not questioning a return to the darker side of things, but want to express their support, which is wonderful! But sometimes that support comes with mixed messages:

As an early adopter, or original ’70’s bat caver, I will only add that goths are born not made. 
At 54, the eyeliner is out, so although I admire Criss Angel copying the look we had in 1980, we elders can’t pull it off.  An understated, sophisticated look is best.
One must keep their weight down as well,  gaunt and pale rules the night. 

While the Lady of the Manners is always happy to see mail from the first generation of Goths, this message troubles her a tiny bit, because sweeping blanket statements about Goth (or any subculture) usually do.

“An understated, sophisticated look is best”. Perhaps for some, but the Lady of the Manners feels that Goths, especially Eldergoths, should decide what looks they think are best for themselves. One of the Lady of the Manners’ favorite fashion blogs is Advanced Style, precisely because it shows people who aren’t afraid to embrace elaborate styles that aren’t “understated” by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the Lady of the Manners is going to save the photos of this fabulous lady for future reference. (Oh yes, the plan is that once the Lady of the Manners’ hair goes completely white, the black dye will stop and it will be brilliant pink hair all the time.)

If you are a person who has embraced an over-the-top and “overstated” style for most of your life, you shouldn’t be afraid to flaunt it as you get older. The comment about understated and sophisticated looks, while almost certainly well-meant, is perilously close to the sentiments of Goth being a phase and something to grow out of.

As for the notion that “gaunt and pale rules the night”NO, the Lady of the Manners most vehemently disagrees with that. Yes, the classic images that the Goth aesthetic sprang from are primarily of pale, wan, and gaunt creatures of the night, but that doesn’t mean those are the only acceptable forms of the Goth aesthetic. Goths are of all ages, sizes, and skin tones, and the notion that someone must tortuously and slavishly contort themselves to fit the skinny and pale mold is not acceptable.

In other words, Snarklings, if you want your personal vision of Goth to be understated, sophisticated, gaunt, and pale, by all means, do so! But don’t feel that you have to look like that to be part of the Goth world, and absolutely don’t think that you must change who you are to be accepted by the rest of your spooky and shadow-clad subculture. And finally, if someone tries to tell you that you are too old, too young, too ”¦ something to be a Real Goth, feel free to laugh at that person. The Elder Goth Cabal (That Does Not Exist) doesn’t agree with them at all, and thinks it’s terribly quaint when someone tries to insist on such ridiculous and arbitrary false rules.

16 Responses to “Returning to the Spooky Life (Back to the Crypt)”

  1. Linda Strout Says:

    Lady of the Manners, you forgot to point at that adults also get to decorate their homes and have their own movies and books. Yes, the first gentleman has a wife and daughter, so consultation and consideration are needed, but the gentleman may be able to add a few touches to his homelife that will warm his black heart. Heck, perhaps he can just get some bat cookie cutters and make delicious cookies.

  2. Authiel Erynien Says:

    Come hither, folks. It’s time for a relevant anecdote.

    When I was a wee child, my parents owned a restaurant. I was there all of the time, from after school until, sometimes, later at night, especially on the weekends.

    Two regulars of the restaurant were two halves of a goth couple. They came in late and night for food and wine. At the time, they must have been in their thirties. They were both known to wear dusters and cloaks, and were clothed in silks and velvets and brocades. They really dressed beautifully. I remember peering at them sometimes, wishing I could dress like the lady in her gorgeous gowns and floor-sweeping skirts. And now I do! They were my earliest inspiration for getting into the goth scene, and they were certainly not young ‘uns. As for elders “being understated” — they had to be the polar opposite of “understated!” And it worked very well! While I agree that “understated” works well in a *professional setting*, that applies to goths of all ages, and totally excludes out-of-work dress. (But, seriously, get away with as much as you can at work.)

    Age is just a number, after all.

  3. Mary AKA DirtyGirl Says:

    If anything, I am growing bolder in my fashion choices as I age. Long gone are the ripped fishnets and studded belts of my youth, but I still like to dress overstated. Nowadays I favour the romantic or victorian style goth fashion rather than an 80s bat cave look. While I agree it is better to forego the over the top look of my youth for something more sophisticated these days, that doesn’t mean I am ready to retire my dark ways all together. Love the lady in the picture with the pink hair. She reminds me of a lady in town in her 70s that wears her hair neon green and I think she looks fabulous. If you have the confidence and the personality to go along with the overstated look than go for it!

  4. Aging Goth Says:

    I returned during my early 60s to the chergrin of my daughter. She now tells everyone of the goth great grandma living up the street that is her mom. I am a Victorian goth who have embraces the lifestyle even when we were called beatniks. I have no problem adding very Victorian attire to my wardrobe and I am know at work as that ole lady who wears a LOT of black and purple! I used to be cautious about showing my goth side especially to people who equate goths with satanism and such. Now I let them know I am proud to be goth and Catholic and no I do NOT sacrifice dead animals to the dark lord. After a while they have come to accept my different lifestyle but the questions just keep coming. Most think all goths are of the mopey type.

  5. Hercynian Forest Says:

    I “returned to goth” just yesterday when, as my wife was reading “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” to me and the boys, I had a picture-slash-feeling suddenly come upon me. It wasn’t part of the story, but was the dark 19th century reaching out and grabbing me, wrapping wildness and forgotten-ness, telling me about depth and subtlety. Yessssssss.

  6. Bobby Adams Says:

    To the first person that commented-that’s also something I’m looking into. In our house I have a study/library that I’m trying to come up with some ideas on how to decorate. It’s great to see all this support for someone that’s older returning to the lifestyle.

  7. Vi Says:

    “Goths are of all ages, sizes, and skin tones, and the notion that someone must tortuously and slavishly contort themselves to fit the skinny and pale mold is not acceptable.”

    It is beautiful quotes like this that make me love this blog much and admire the lady behind the words. Mrs. Venters, you truly embody a very kind and warming person, I think you are the most wonderful “ambassador” to the goth subculture, because you have a very kind and open minded attitude that I feel can be lacking on some other areas of the goth subculture. I enjoy how the attitude towards you accept isn’t just about being spooky, but also about being confident and having confidence in your own personal fashion statement.

  8. Fee Says:

    Urgh, I can’t believe that there are people still claiming that you have to be skinny and ghost-like to be a goth! I do think that one *may* have to change one’s make up routine as one gets older (you aren’t going to look exactly the same as you did twenty years ago, or indeed want to), but that doesn’t mean that looks worn on a younger face won’t suit you or, even if they don’t, that you should avoid them.

    Welcome back to gothdom, Bobby!

  9. Nicki Says:

    This. This post right here is why I love your blog and keep coming back. Love and hugs from Birmingham! (/^^^^\)

  10. Amber Says:

    I must agree with Ms. Linda. Consult with your wife about a bit of Goth decor. It doesn’t have to be over the top. I have a pair of small gargoyle statues that sit on the top shelf of my entertainment center. Most people don’t even notice them nestled there between the videogames and DVDs.

  11. goth mama Says:

    I may not be that old, 22 in fact. But I am a mother of a 15 month old batbaby and also my beloved fallen angelbaby. (she would have been 4 tomorrow). but I too have come back to the dark side. ( it was those darned cookies!) but seriously, i tried to be… dare i say it, normal for my darling child, ( mostly because i live in the bible belt and dont want my snarkling taken from me.) but mama has got to do what makes her happy. yes its true that my style has ehem, been tamed, but that changes nothing on the inside. why just the other day at my work place, ( a high end boutique that specializes in gucci and the like) i had the cure playing, make up done and dressed to the nines, and lo and behold actually received a compliment! quite a shock mind you seeing as that is certainly not my normal setting at all. anyway back to my point, if you eel the call of the night, dont be afraid to embrace your former darkness, after all, its what you think of yourself that counts.

  12. Odile Lee Says:

    May I add, skinny is not all it is cracked up to me.
    I myself, am rail skinny ( most of the time, unless its pancake night!) As I have numerous food allergies and dance ballet, to boot.
    Having been a death rock goth for 15 odd years, on and off goth for 10, and whatever it is I am now ( alternately,a mess, a black swan, whatever remnant of Industrial goth I have hanging about in the clean laundry pile, that day. Sisters shirts, skinny puppy whatever ) which includes;
    a plump death rock goth, a regular size goth, a seriously too thin goth ( poverty ) a gym-junkie muscular goth ( its not so much dancing as 6 hours of aerobics!)- I tell you this.
    If your skinny: yes your clothes look great ( all people see IS clothes. Thats why models are thin, no distraction)- but seats are hard! It hurts to hit your elbows, and people try to feed you. ( Plus if your a elder goth, you get great sucker cheeks and hardcore cheekbones, but it also makes you look like you seriously like your face is slowly sliding off.
    If your plumpish, well then. What stands out( if your female ) is the nice bits! Plus you have something to put in a corset.
    If your male and not so small( like my boyfriend) you don’t look so elegantly gaunt, but hey! So wonderful to lean on! ( Plus no bony bits to crack on mine.) And you make your lady look dainty. ( In my case, we look like opposites attract! )
    Plus side, maybe not so small but maybe a delicious cook? nom nom nom
    Victorian clothes don’t work on slender people as well. Plus, tour shirts NEVER fit ( I always look as if I am dissolving into clothes, slowly.)
    If your young, never forget this- youth is BEAUTIFUL. Any size. Your skin ( well maybe not everyones, mine wasn’t ) is lush, your hair- full. Youth, as known to us Elders, is wasted on the young! Don’t fret.
    Bellydancer or ballet dancer. Stickman or Strongman. Be what you are until your the next thing:)
    If not a wasted Wastrel, be a hulking Hyde. Or a dainty doll , if not a voluptuous Vamp. Its all Goth.

  13. Barbara Elder Says:

    Do you have any tips for eye glass wearers as how to do our Victorian goth makeup?

  14. Infiltrat0r_N7 Says:

    I agree with the Lady of the Manners. GOths come in all shapes and sizes. No one should be made to feel they have to change who they are in order to be goth.

    Bobby I recommend when exploring what to wear find something that you feel comfortable wearing and feels right for you. Don’t force yourself to wear something just because it’s ‘gothic’ or whatever, if you don’t feel comfortable in something than that lack of confidence will come off in spades and make you look awkward. There are so many different styles of goth (romantic, Victorian, Medieval, industrial, cyber and more) that you’re bound to find something that’s up your street.

    I also suggest that you bring in the gothyness into your wardrobe gradually rather than all at once. When you’re older and suddenly start dressing differently people might worry about you or think you’re going through a midlife crisis or something. If you do it gradually over time it will allow people time and space to get used to your gothy side.

  15. the GhostPony Says:

    Fifty-nine here. And I was watching Dark Shadows at age 10. I loved Chas Addams drawings and wanted to live in the Munster mansion. I knew then I was different.

    And you’re never too old. Until today I didn’t know that.

    Thanks Lady of the Manners.

  16. Margaret Says:

    I’ve had this pull back to my dark side for the past month or so. Living with a conservative husband and changing my way of life for all sorts of reasons made me put that side of myself in a box so to speak. When I went to a tattooist to get some scars on my forearms covered it seemed to close a circle for me – I changed my wardrobe and even my way of thinking almost instantly and definitely unconsciously at the moment. Every day I grow a bit more comfortable being that I am lucky enough to have liberties like online work to dress and express myself as I please. I am involved in game art and can also express my style there. The fact that there is a community of elder goths that I could possibly relate to is truly pleasing. It’s nice not to feel completely isolated or out of touch.

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