Of Goths, P.E., and “Is It Dark Enough?”

Hello, Snarklings! The Gothic Charm School mailbox has been receiving a steady stream of letters from babybats with fashion questions. Which is no surprise, because as fledgling spooksters, of course they’re looking for guidance on how to express their affection for all things dark and shadowy. The Lady of the Manners feels that she should take a moment to point out some previous Gothic Charm School posts about gothy fashion, as it is a topic the Lady of the Manners really likes talking about. (And oh goodness, the Lady of the Manners probably should do another post about prom, shouldn’t she?) But! The current crop of correspondence did have a few fashion-focused questions that have not turned up before.

Dear Lady of the Manners,

I hate to bother you, but I have a growing problem that I believe effects some of the baby bat community. I am in middle school and of course we have to take phys. Ed, and I was wondering how you can show your love for the dark when there is no jewelry, your hair is pulled back in a messy ponytail, and the all black look just makes you three times hotter than the rest of the group. The makeup might as well be thrown out the window too, considering it will get messy after the workout anyway. I was wondering if you could help me any or should I just continue on feeling named without my eyeliner? Any response or suggestion would be great.

Your snarkling,


You would think, wouldn’t you Snarklings, that the Lady of the Manners’ revulsion for P.E. class would have long since withered away, what with her middle and high school years being far, far behind her. But no, just the mention of the class brings back memories of being smacked in the head with soccer balls and other such unhappy notions, and the Lady of the Manners very fervently hopes that you school-age Snarklings are having a much better time of things.

But to address lerrose’s question: There are times when being concerned about displaying one’s subcultural leanings just isn’t that important, and P.E. class is one of them. Because you’re right, any efforts toward elaborate makeup are going to be thwarted by the inevitable perspiration that follows exertion, and you’ll only have to redo all of your eyeliner anyway.
The Lady of the Manners isn’t entirely sure about wearing all black making you overheat faster than other colors of exercise clothing, for surely it has more to do with the fiber content of the clothing, not the colors? But even so, you don’t want to risk your gothy finery for P.E. class. When the Lady of the Manners exercises (or Gothercizes, if you’d rather), she tends to wear black leggings and an oversized concert t-shirt, or black bloomers and a “girly”-cut concert shirt.

However, the Lady of the Manners is very serious about there being times when displaying your gothness isn’t what you should be focusing on. When one is exercising, doing housework, or other strenuous, potentially messy things, don’t fret about if you’ve achieved perfect eyeliner or if you’re adorned in the spookiest outfit possible. For that matter, don’t fret about those sorts of things ever. Do you have a day where you don’t feel like painting your face or pulling on layers of fishnet and velvet? Then don’t, and don’t spend any time worrying about it. Which leads straight to the next question for this post …

I am aged 13 and I have recently discovered your amazing school. I have a question, I am a male and want to change my wardrobe, an idea that I have formulated is the following: for clothing nothing too fancy. Just something like a black shirt and jeans, some boots and a leather jacket. Is this dark enough? Please reply,


Oh gracious, darling babybat, of course your black shirt and jeans, boots, and a leather jacket will be “dark enough”. This may seem surprising from the Lady of the Manners, whose devotion to wildly elaborate clothing is rather well known, but your gothness is not determined by your wardrobe. Stop swooning in shock, it really isn’t.

Yes, part of the Goth archetype (or cliche, if you would rather) is that we’re all fabulously-dressed creatures of darkness, draped in velvet, lace, leather, and layers of shredded fishnet, our eyes thickly painted with intricate eyeliner designs, and our black-nailed hands barely able to move for the weight of the giant rings on our fingers. And yes, the Lady of the Manners is very fond of those cliches. But those cliches are not requirements, not by a long shot.

As the Lady of the Manners has said before, Goth is about finding beauty in the darker corners of life, of having an appreciation for the macabre, the unsettling, the decadent, and the monstrous. Goth enfolds much, much more than fashion: there’s music, literature, movies –every type of artistic endeavor has been done with a Gothic twist at one point or another! Plus there’s the historical and philosophical roots of the Gothic movement to explore!

Over the years, there has been this weird double-standard in the Goth world; if you show “too much” enthusiasm for the dark glamour of Goth fashion, some people will dismiss you as a poseur or as someone who is only playing dress-up and isn’t a REAL Goth. On the flip side of the coffin lid, if you don’t concern yourself with that dark glamour and focus more on the non-fashion aspects of Goth, other people will dismiss you for not showing the subculture colors, as it were, and say that you aren’t a REAL Goth. All of which the Lady of the Manners dismisses with a wave of a ring-bedecked hand and says, piffle. Are you interested in parts of the Goth world? Do you want to call yourself a Goth? Then you are a REAL Goth, and ignore the petty people who try and tell you that you aren’t.

For that matter, the notion of REAL Goths is ridiculous, because no one, and the Lady of the Manners really does mean NO ONE, is super-spooky ultra-Goth 24/7. It’s not possible, and the people who try to say that “this thing is Goth, this thing isn’t, and here is the list of rules you have to adhere to in order to be Goth” are doing nothing but betraying their own insecurities.

So don’t worry about your style being “dark enough”. Don’t worry if there are activities that keep you from wrapping yourself in dark finery, and don’t worry if there are times when you just don’t feel like putting on the full creepshow display. You are still Goths in your black hearts and inky souls, and that, Snarklings, is the most important part.

21 Responses to “Of Goths, P.E., and “Is It Dark Enough?””

  1. juliana Says:

    “Just something like a black shirt and jeans, some boots and a leather jacket. Is this dark enough?”

    That’s certainly dark enough for Johnny Cash and Lou Reed – who, while they might not have actively associated with the goth movement, are certainly gothy style icons.

  2. Judith Says:

    This is actually really relieving for me to read. I’ve always been really iffy because people always talk about how Goth is mainly a music scene, and it’s hard for me to pick up new genres sometimes (my musical taste is wild and varied) but I’ve always been creepy at heart. Goth isn’t something I’ve been able to pick up until recently, and it always bugged me that there was the possibility I’d be judged cause my tastes weren’t ‘stereotypical’ enough? Does that make sense?

  3. Black Friday Says:

    Auny Jilli you are so good at explaining things. I’ve been getting lots and lots of questions from Babybats too asking similar things, especially about how to dress and look, but I’m so bad at explaining things. Maybe in future I should respond to all questions with a link to your blog :p x

  4. Vi Says:

    I like the jeans, tshirt and jacket look for every wear. I think it “goths up” very nicely if you add accesories to it. Like a couple necklaces or rings to the outfit will dress it up a bit.

  5. MadGastronomer Says:

    If you have PE outside regularly, as I did growing up in Florida, and the sun is bright and direct, wearing black will absolutely make you much hotter than lighter colors, regardless of fiber content. The black soaks up a lot of heat, and it’s right against your skin. Wearing cotton and/or wicking fibers, and thin light-weight loosely-knitted or -woven will absolutely help, but black is definitely hotter.

  6. Creature Action Says:

    Regarding the PE question from Ierrose: The Lady of the Manners is absolutely right about there being times when appearance matters less than ability to perform tasks, but if you absolutely have to maintain your style even when running laps, there are ways to do so. Barrettes in a variety of shapes/colors, from bats and the like to the classic ‘baby’ barrette, can keep your hair out of your eyes while being eye-catching. Jewelry might be a hindrance, but you might be able to manage with a light wrist watch, whether your taste is more toward delicate Victoriana or fun spooky prints on plastic. Are printed socks allowed in your class? In autumn, you can usually stock up on inexpensive Halloween print socks to wear year round. Sneakers might not be the most stylish shoes around, but in my opinion, no matter what your style, you can’t go wrong with the classic Converse high tops, which come in a variety of prints- or classic black. If you need a shoe with more support, a lot of athletic shoe brands now make ‘retro’ styles, which might not be terribly gothy, but still have a certain ‘alternative’ je ne sais quoi. Make up probably isn’t a good idea, but sunscreen certainly is; if you like looking pale, the sunscreen will both make you slightly paler than your natural skin tone, and keep the sun off of you. Though, obviously, take into account any allergies or sensitivities you might have when selecting a product, and use your common sense in general. And take heart- PE isn’t forever.

  7. Dorothy Heydt Says:

    It sounds as though the young woman who wants to know what to wear for P.E. does not go to a high school that assigns a gym uniform and everybody has to wear it, will they nill they. (You should have *seen* what they made us wear in the 1950s.) This is to her advantage, as long as she uses her smarts. May I suggest some variation on tennis whites? They’re exceedingly Victorian and, while not black, will give the impression that one is listening to a different drummer from long ago. Note that they should be immaculately clean.

    Oh yes, and invest in a couple of good sports bras. There may be occasions when you want to bounce up and down, but the basketball game is not one of them.

  8. RaivenEye Says:

    Regarding Ierrose:
    It is no concern for what you wear for PE – at least you are lucky enough to express your individuality. Here in the UK, your PE kit is provided by the school and is colour-coded. We were only allowed to choose our own kit in our Senior year (Yr.11). Band t-shirts or vests and converse hi-tops go down well. No need to go crazy with the makeup (it’s a waste of time).

    And Regarding Jay:
    You are still a babybat in my eyes, and will be until you understand the aesthetic of Goth and set yourself on your path. Yes, it is difficult at first – moreso for guys than girls. You might be gothically inclined, but just experiment – my partner is currently in Metalhead Mode, and it’s difficult for him to transition into the Goth image, purely for the fact he’s broke or can’t find the clothes to fit his “lanky” (tall & thin) frame. It shouldn’t take long for you to choose which path of Goth you should follow, considering you’re only 13 and you’ve discovered your dark calling.

  9. Ashley Says:

    Reply to Ierrose:

    It seems (from my own inference) that you can choose which clothes to wear for your P.E. period. From my middle school and high school experience, we were required to wear school colors or buy the clothes they sold us (middle school being blue and and gray and high school being red and gray.) In my opinion, it’s only one hour or so out of your day and isn’t that big of a deal. The makeup issue was a problem for me too but i did simpler eye liner on days that i knew we would be exercising so that it’d be easier for me to fix if i had to. But you could also customize your P.E. clothes with cloth paint and paint creepy designs on them. But overall, I didn’t feel like it was that much of a problem since I was still able to go back to my treasured skirts and flashy boots. P.E eventually ends, don’t worry and good luck!

  10. Amelia Says:

    Greetings Ierrose! I am a goth who enjoys exercise. I absolutely agree that PE class is not time to stress out about elaborate outfits; however I do find that clothes that feel and look good make unpleasant activities more fun. And I find that comfy, amusing, slightly gothy workout gear makes exercise in general more fun. First, it is worthwhile to get good fitting exercise bra–www.herroom.com has an excellent selection and good instructions on how to measure yourself. Target has a decent selection, but are lacking in the larger sizes. Second, there are lots of quirky and even gothy workout tank tops and t shirts out there. Cafepress.com, etsy.com and activateapparel.com are good sources. Plus, workout clothes are a great excuse for exciting t shirt surgery. While I did not enjoy PE class much, I now like to lift weights and bike in my slashed black t shirt and purple yoga pants while listening to Emilie Autumn 🙂 Now if only I could attach a parasol to my bike….
    If you would like some simple eyeliner that WILL NOT budge during running, dancing, fleeing vampires etc I recommend Urban Decay 24-7 pencil liner. It is a bit expensive though–I hear Milani’s waterproof eyeliner pencil is good substitute and is only $8. Best wishes!

  11. Caroline Carnivorous Says:

    I’m sitting here reading your book, and a while ago read the fashion chapter! As I’m almost 20 and have come a little into the business world (more on that note further down) and such, I know that clothing and appearance aren’t everything. Sure, I have fun hair colors and three nose piercings, but even though I’m wearing something not necessarily considered as goth, I (and I’m sure everyone else) know that I’m still who I am on the inside!
    I’m from Norway, and I have been selected to work at Epcot in Orlando, Florida for a year from july – and when I read the advice for hotter weather in your book, it REALLY helped me with my biggest dilemma: So I will have natural hair (luckily for me black), no piercings and my tattoos covered, what am I going to wear when I at home in cold Norway constantly wear a leather jacket (or cape if I feel like it) and boots and all the layered typical goth stuff every day?
    Now I know! I will bring everything white I own with me, plus look for more over there that has lace, ruffles and frills. I’ll bring my baggy band tees so that hot black clothing won’t be tight, plus my thin frock coat. For bottoms I’ll embrace shorter skirts and look for bloomers, and (gasp) maybe even shorts! We’ll see about socks and thicker socks (Hello Kitty and Disney things <3), but I'll for sure bring at least all of my non-ripped stockings. Oh and maybe I'm gonna have to buy some black Converse, or as my little sister adviced: ''cut-out boots'', which is apparently a new thing in fashion now.
    OHMYGOSH rant. Okay I'll go back to reading your book and watching season two of the 60's The Addams Family <3

  12. Amber Says:

    Ierrrose, if you are allowed to wear whatever you’d like for P.E. and know how to sew (or someone willing to do it for you), Simplicity 2777 can be used to make really cute bloomers and a loose top as well as a cute nightgown. It’s from their Arkivestry pattern collection, which is a really nice selection of Victorian Goth/Steampunk/Steamgoth patterns.

  13. Chicky Says:

    Hiya, Ierrose,
    I share the good Lady’s absolute horror of PE. We had to wear our own clothes, too.
    I’m not Goth, but rather a fan of the Lady’s excellent advice and her website. If your school doesn’t allow slogans of any kind on shirts, go to a big box sporting goods store and invest in a good sports bra (black or gray), and tank tops or T-shirts of the same color (or maybe pink if you do cupcake goth), and a decent pair of shorts in black, also. They don’t show dirt as much. Maybe a camouflage T-shirt for Commando Goth. 😉
    I’m with the others — forget the makeup for PE. It’s a lost cause. But if you’re outside a lot, do remember your sunscreen and if you can wear a baseball cap, wear one. A sunburned scalp is NO fun at ALL!
    @Amelia: A parasol on your bike. Love the idea! If you ever get it done, please post it on the Lsdy’s Tumblr page for the rest of us to enjoy!

  14. Hannah Says:

    really good water proof make up

  15. Shatar Says:

    I have a really fast paced job that often means I end up sweaty, and I can’t wear any of my black because of dress code. Usually I just toss on some concealer, a little bit of black shadow on the outside corner of my eye, and a very light or clear gloss to help protect my lips (nothing that would look silly if I manage to hit myself in the face with something and smudged it). It’s light enough not get runny, but doesn’t make me feel as awkward as if I didn’t have any on at all. For jewelry, I try to only wear stuff that can’t get in the way – no long necklaces or really fancy bracelets. But stuff that’s snug around my wrists ( like funky/geeky friendship bracelets or sweat bands) is ok, since it can’t get caught on anything.

  16. lacedanddangerous Says:

    There are days when I’m feeling lazy and can’t be bothered to lace up a corset or do any makeup at all. But it doesn’t bother me. On camping trips I forgo my dark wardrobe for hiking boots and flannel. My friends can tell you I look like completely different people, sometimes! But, I still have the same mentality that I always do about my Gothic nature. 🙂

  17. Angybat Says:

    Hello. My name is Angie. I am new to “Goth” and I honestly do not know what to do with my hair, clothing, nor do I know how to act. I am a bubbly, outgoing, and an extremely intelligent person. I have not spoken about it with my parents and most certainly not with my friends. They are a little unfamiliar why I want to look into being a Goth. I am very cryptic and dark minded. I am a little curious on how they would and will react when I tell them…i am a little frightened. But it is what I have been craving. Please give me some tips. I am a soon-to-be Goth and am only 13 turning 14.

  18. lori Says:

    I think that as long as you have a love for all things go thy and dark, you can show it no matter what time of day, or where you are. Its in your heart not on your body or what others tell you how it should be

  19. Calais Says:

    oh, i found a lovely compromise for PE when i was in middle school! I always went with black shorts, no matter what, but i had a small collection of T-shirts that i cycled through that while not necessarily goth (or even intentionally dark!) had a certain quirk to them that made my imaginative side sing~

    the most prominent one was the most straightforward, a plain white T-shirt with a picture of a blue skinned spider woman on it clutching a wine glass saying ‘I Bite. Hard.’. (others were far more subtle, but that was always my favorite)

    the two final things, (other than the obligatory touch of eyeliner that is mandatory to all middle school girls, especially the little gothling that wasn’t good at putting on eyeshadow yet)
    was 1, a pair of tennis shoes that were made of washed out gray and purple material that was promptly scrawled all over with pen and sharpies,
    and 2, (and this is the big one, the thing that gives the whole outfit its flavor)a pair of black-and-white-striped knee-high socks.

    all of this together with my bright purple hair made quite the picture, i was quite happy with it.

  20. katy Says:

    I love this site

  21. kelly bulanek Says:

    I agree actually to thaw shall not/never act up in our newest neatest generation of our famous charm classes of school no threatening emails from ghosts of blood valley love Kelly Bulanek.

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