Of Goth Fashion: DIY vs. Off-the-Rack

Hello Snarklings! The Lady of the Manners has decided to rise from her end-of-summer torpor and resume answering questions. (August is not a good month for the Lady of the Manners, what with the brilliant sunshine, the warm weather, and so on.)

What summoned the Lady of the Manners from her darkened lair in the Gothic Charm School library? A question about the fashion dilemma of DIY vs. buying pre-made goods:

Dear Lady of the Manners,

I had a bit of a question regarding fashion. I tend to buy nicer things from online stores and such, as I enjoy having my nonstandard wardrobe, and I tend to modify garments into something more consistently suitable to my tastes, but I have found that I sometimes garner flak for buying stuff from said online stores. I went through many of the relevant fashion articles you have here, and it looks like we should all ditch the “Gothier than thou” attitude some of us have, but when my retailer choices are pointed out, this sort of thing tends too get on my nerves, as well as provoke the Punk side of me into self-guilt over actually BUYING my gear as opposed to merely making it all.

I did actually have a friend say “oh, you bought from X? That’s a bit of lost respect” when she found out I had ordered from a particular large Industrial-based website. I personally feel that knowledge of the culture is more important than whether you buy clothes from Hot Topic or The Metro (yep, I’m from the Greater Seattle Area!), as long as you are as excited as I am when Joy Division or Siouxie Sioux starts playing, but the nagging thought still, well, nags, that I’ll be sneered at in Elitist snobbery. Do you have any advice on that subject?



P.S Seeing as i am following the Charm School on Tumblr and have seen all the rather nice images of the Lady there, would she have any problem with a bit of idle chit-chat should she be recognized around town (depending of course, on her plans that day; I’d rather not hold her up from an important appointment or event, of course, that would just be rude!)?

Another Seattle gothy type, hurrah! The Lady of the Manners is going to answer your queries in reverse order, as the reply to your postscript is very simple: If you see the Lady of the Manners gallivanting around town, of course you should come up and say hello! The Lady of the Manners promises to let you (or any other Snarklng who comes up to say hi) know if she’s out running errands, is heading to an appointment, or has other time constraints that would keep her from being able to chat. Dropping the third-person mannerism for a moment: I love it when readers of Gothic Charm School say hi! It makes me incredibly happy, and I love meeting you Snarklings! Just, y’know, ask before attempting hugs, please!

Now, as to Faust’s question about buying pre-made goth/punk/alternative goods vs. the do-it-yourself route: Firstly, your “friend” who said “oh, you bought from X? That’s a bit of lost respect” was being rude. Staggeringly so, actually, and the Lady of the Manners hopes that you gave them a chilly stare in response to that comment.

Way back at the start of the goth subculture, there weren’t a lot of off-the-rack alternative fashion options. Spooksters who wanted a fabulous wardrobe of darkness had to search for things that were vaguely close to what they wanted, and then spend long hours painstakingly altering their finds: painting designs, adding trim, buttons, or buckles, slashing, shredding, and stitching things together, and even then, after all that work? Often, the results weren’t quite what one hoped for.

But as the years crept on, some very clever and creative people started making a living by selling gothy goods to other people in our shadowy subculture. People who didn’t have the time, skills, or money to DIY the gear of their dreams were able to outfit themselves, and other goths/punks/rivetheads were able to pay their bills by making beautiful things. In other words, a wonderful spooky circle of commerce! As even more years blew past like fallen leaves, selling alternative fashion became (slightly) big business, which meant there were more options out there, a wider range of prices, and even more opportunities for goths in small towns to get their hands on a few pieces of spooky clothing without going into debt or risking mail-order from far-away countries.

There is NOTHING WRONG with buying ready-made items. Try to be an informed consumer, in terms of being aware of prices, construction quality, and the working conditions of the folks who made the garment, of course! But don’t let any misplaced notions of “scene cred” stop you. Not everyone wants to spend hours working on making their gear. Not everyone has the ability to! And some folks, sometimes including the Lady of the Manners, could DIY something, but decide it would be simpler to purchase a ready-made item.

Also, sometimes buying a ready-made item from a “big name” alternative manufacturer is a convenient starting point for a DIY project. The Lady of the Manners gleefully purchases garments from places like Retroscope Fashions and ChicStar, then spends a few evenings modifying that “basic” item into something custom-styled. Plus there is a lot of alternative fashion cred in taking a basic garment you found from a big-box store and transforming it into something special.

It is well-known that the Lady of the Manners is a fervent fan of the fashion side of goth: having a closet (well, multiple closets) crammed full of sweeping velvet skirts, lace-trimmed frock coats, and flocks of bat-themed jewelry makes her giddy. But fashion isn’t the only part of the subculture, and people who get elitist about it make the Lady of the Manners very cranky. For you’re completely right, Faust: knowing about the music, the literature, and the movies that are part of our morbidly romantic scene is just as important. Anyone who tries to be snippy about someone else’s choice in wardrobe, or who insinuates that you aren’t a Real Goth if you didn’t hand-weave your tattered fishnets from spiderwebs dyed with candle smoke and tears is trying to set themselves up as a Gother-Than-Thou gatekeeper of the scene. And do you know what we do to those types of people, Snarklings? We ignore them. We also perhaps pity them just a bit, because if they think they need to police the scene then they must be insecure, but mostly, we ignore them.

With that, the Lady of the Manners is going to go back to sorting through her button box so she can find the perfect set to replace the boring plain black buttons on the latest black velvet blazer she found at the thrift store. But! In case some of you are in the mood for window shopping, or have the budget to indulge in gothy goodies: here! Have a list of links!

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22 Responses to Of Goth Fashion: DIY vs. Off-the-Rack

  1. Mary Rose says:

    Why wouldn’t you want to support Goth businesses? Even “”large”” online Goth retailers have a limited market. Selling to a market as small as Goths is tough, especially if it’s your only income, and I’d rather support the workers, artists, and designers behind those brands than knock off their design in a DIY.

  2. Carmen Beaudry says:

    “…insinuates that you aren’t a Real Goth if you didn’t hand-weave your tattered fishnets from spiderwebs dyed with candle smoke and tears…”

    This. Took me a good 2 minutes to stop laughing long enough to write this.

  3. Beca says:

    And, if I may be so bold, La Vie Macabre on etsy has lovely spooky sparklies. Should such things be of interest.

  4. Sylvie says:

    I agree, you don’t always need to DIY to be a goth proper. I buy big name brands, I DIY some of my clothing AND I love going to my local goth shop and buying clothing made from local designers. What better way to keep the goth community alive and thriving!

  5. Sara Raztresen says:

    Hahaha, I literally have about 0 DIY skill and no sewing machine or anything so I have to buy simple black things from Walmart (like tanks and jeans) and match them with my fancy things that I buy online or in catalogs. I wish I had the Lady of the Manner’s talent!

  6. ~.Xer0.~ says:

    I majorly agree! I live in a small town in Alabama…where goth things…just don’t exist. I pretty much HAVE to buy from Hot Topic or learn to do everything myself. I have absolutely no experience in that kind of thing…and I have no gothy friends in this area who are able to teach me. I admit, it seems to have become a lot easier to find things with time. Maybe because I somewhat know what to look for now? I have attempted DIY before, nothing great…yet. I am planning on going to college for fashion so I can learn how to do this properly.

  7. Faust says:

    Goodness, one simple question a few hours after discovering the Charm School and it gets an entire post? I’m honored.

    In any case, this did help me out quite a bit. I am actually going into Seattle Central’s Apparel Construction and Design program (A quick nod to Xero, who seems to want to do the same) just so that I can make this stuff for others, so I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on myself for liking off the rack gear.

    I do actually own a copy of the Windrow-Ravenswood Deck from Tormented Artifacts (The game shop Otherworlds, in Edmonds, Washington, sells LOTS of Tormented Artifacts gear)

    In any case, I’ll direct my angst to other places, in that case, and transfer it to the canvas of garments and other more useful things (not to say that I am always angsty, that just wouldn’t do!).

    Thank you for the advice, and hope to see you on one side of the scene or another! (I’m sure I’ll have something to submit eventually!)

  8. Violet Fier says:

    Being someone who makes gothic items to sell, I completely agree with Sylvie. A lot of time and effort goes into businesses, especially small ones that sell out of home, over Etsy, ect. If anything, buying premade goth items only supports those hardworking businesses. Who would have a problem with that?

  9. Salem says:

    I totally support buying from goth shops! Buying stuff off of vampire freaks is not going to turn you into a “lesser goth”. I personally enjoy buying black skirts, cutting them to bits, and sewing them right back together with colored thread. Truth is, some stuff just won’t turn out well when you make it. Also, you can help out your fellow goths by buying from thier stores! Have no fear.

  10. Amber says:

    “…who insinuates that you aren’t a Real Goth if you didn’t hand-weave your tattered fishnets from spiderwebs dyed with candle smoke and tears…”
    I have a very vivid imagination and this had me in stitches for a minute.

    As a Gothy DIYer, I must say that I, for one, have no issue with those that buy off the rack. Actually, there are quite a lot of pre-made fashions this little Goth would just LOVE to have but I can’t afford them. So I save money here and there and hit the thrift shops.
    I also get sales flyers in the mail from Hancock Fabrics and JoAnn’s Fabrics so that I can buy my sewing supplies when they go on sale.

    That’s something I advise any DIY Goths to do: get on the mailing list for the fabric and craft stores in your area, if they have a mailing list, so you can keep an eye out for the really big sales. As far as I know, they’re always free. Or, at least, the ones I receive are.
    If there is a Walmart in your area, keep an eye on the Halloween fabric. Generally, they start to put Halloween (and other holiday prints) on sale about a week before the holiday. And the fabrics are often even more heavily discounted AFTER said holiday.
    Two years ago, I got seven yards of black velveteen for $3/yard and a whole eight yard bolt of black/white striped costume satin for $1/yard. I’ve yet to use them (haven’t decided what to make yet!) but it’s there for when I need it.

    And for those who are looking to get into DIY, remember that YouTube is your friend.

  11. Carol says:

    Wondering how said “friend” recognized the source of the garment… could it be that they, too, shop there???
    Another source for online window-shopping is Recollections.biz and its sister-site Steampunk Threads. Not strictly Goth, but a good source for basics Victorian-1950s, outfits and separates, most with choice of color, length. Made to order in Michigan. Pricey, but sign up for their emails and they do discounts every few months. I like to check the Clearance items regularly as well. And, well, looking is free.

  12. Ashley says:

    Can anyone recommend or explain gothic literature to me please? i would like to know more about it but the websites I’ve looked at I’m not to sure i can trust. I want to start learning more about the culture.

  13. Libby Fox says:

    I call Goth Hipster. D:

  14. LacedandDangerous says:

    So silly…why wouldn’t you want to support your gothy merchants? While I have very limited access to designer goth fashion, I love it all the same. Heavy Red is my favorite brand. ^_^

  15. faerygirl says:

    @ Ashley:

    While not a goth myself, I can tell you a bit about gothic literature!

    Gothic lit reference specifically to a subgenre of romantic literature. Romanticism was a movement against scientific reasoning in literature during the early to mid 19th century in Europe. It celebrated the untamable qualities nature, unbridled emotion, and vivid imagery. Gothic also celebrated these things, and focused specifically on the heightened passions and terrors, the macabre and mysterious, supernatural elements, and frequently featured vivid settings with decaying castles and landscapes. They almost always feature disturbing love stories, and you’ll probably encounter vampires, ghosts, and other monsters in the text. You’d be familiar with Dracula, Frankenstein, the stories of Edgar Allen Poe and perhaps Wuthering Heights. As you might guess, the modern gothic aesthetic has borrowed a lot from these types of novels.

    A quick google search will give you a great list of truly gothic novels (ie those written during the Gothic period) but plenty of contemporary books featuring these elements. The great thing about most gothic novels is that they are in the public domain, so you can find most of them for free online. The Lady of the Manners has a semi frequent book club she calls the Nocturnal House that has these sorts of books too.

    Happy reading! Hope you like what you find.

  16. Lis says:

    I have to say, disregard your friend and her comment. Buy what you want and what makes you happy. If you can DIY it, that is great, I am envious of your talent.

    I’m middle-aged, working mom and I just stick with anything black, soft and cotton. I am always in a rush and love that everything in my closet will go together. I am immensely happy that I can get black and gray stripe things in almost any store I walk in to right now and am taking advantage of it. I do have a closet full of vintage jewelry but am often in such a hurry that I neglect to accessorize.

    Given my age – a bit of advice – As you get older, you tend to care less what people think and enjoy being yourself more than you ever will. Always dreaded getting older, I miss my youth – skin, hair, body of my twenties that I wish I had forever – but I am very happy just being me.

    Those people that are judging, well, there is a good chance you will not even be in touch with them when you are older. People come and go and those friends that are true friends stick around forever.

    Wear what you want, buy it where you like, and enjoy every day.

  17. Ashley says:


    Thank you that really helped a lot! I’m off to add books to my reading list! 🙂

  18. battie belle says:

    Try pintrest for DIY goth idea. Search punk or goth tutroials. Lota of cool stuff comes up with good instrutructions. The punk stuff is the easy to make goth and the two get mixed up ablot as the words punk and steampunk turn up more results then goth. But Diy goth has a large number of results to. Also tty a web search. Plenty of Diy goth blogs out there!

  19. Raven says:

    Check out http://www.clanluna.com, they have some cool stuff

  20. Pingback: Retroscope Fashions

  21. How do you find black velvet blazers at thrift stores? I wish the thrift stores near me had stuff like that more often!

    Personally, I am terrified of DIY. I wish I wasn’t, but I’m afraid of ruining a perfectly good garment by making a mistake, or deciding I don’t like how it looks. I just don’t trust myself with it. I’m especially wary of fabric paint because of previous bad experiences. Off-the-rack tends to work better for me because I usually like the things I find, and romantic/Victorian clothing can be harder to DIY anyway.

  22. AelwynKitty says:


    I’m in Canada and shop at Value Village (also called Savers over seas). They get in lots of velvet blazers, but you have to look often as they sell really quickly. Another place to get them is at smaller church run thrift stores where older ladies would donate. I find them in those shops often. I hope you find some!

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