My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Clava Cairns: Ancient Tombs and Pagan Magick

I went along to the Inverness Pagan Moot picnic at Clava Cairns

Inverness has a small but active Moot, and quite a few Pagans - something I was surprised by when I first moved here because I was led to believe that this far North in Scotland it was quite a conservative and Christian area. I guess the proximity to the Findhorn Foundation has helped with the cultivation of a varied alternative culture, including those who follow an alternative spiritual path, and the incredible landscapes around here are definitely awe-inspiring and probably draw a lot of nature-y folk. 

I decided to walk to Clava Cairns, as they are a good long-ish walk from where I live and the weather was warm and sunny. Perhaps I could have done with bringing along more to drink, as it was actually very warm indeed by the time I got there, and to avoid ticks I was wearing trousers tucked into my walking boots rather than shorts or a skirt. It was also my first time wearing my new purple contact lenses out and about, but they will get their own post. 

Nairn River and Viaduct
Along the way I stopped to take these photographs of the beautiful Victorian railway viaduct over the River Nairn and the valley in flows through. 

Again, the Nairn River
Clava Cairns is an ancient site with three large stone cairns and a small kerb cairn and a stone circle! These stone burials remind me of the ancient barrows in Southern England, near where I used to live, and at 4,000 years old, are from a similar period, perhaps slightly later. I don't know if they were ever covered with earth and grass like the barrows of England, but these are made mainly of hard stone, rather than soft chalk. Now, they are roofless and one can walk into them. Like the ancient monuments of Wiltshire and Southern England, Clava Cairns are associated with a waterway, in this case the Nairn River. There are several other cairn burials locally, all referred to as Clava cairns after the site near Culloden - a little bit confusing for me initially when I tried to work out which particular cairns we were meeting at!

Inside the middle cairn

It was quite a busy day there, with a coach tour parked up and quite a few families and tourists. I, with my micro-braid hair and Gothic attire (not to mention purple eyes) attracted a bit of attention and one polite person asked to take my photograph in a cairn, and I know some of the other tourists seemed to think their photography more surreptitious, but I am more alert than they thought! 

A beautiful sunny day

I am not sure how open the others are to being openly and publicly Pagan on the internet as it can still get you a pile of problems in this modern world, so I have not taken any photos of the picnic itself, only of the Cairns. 

Part of one of the stone circles, with interesting swirls.

The Picnic itself was nice, and the organiser's partner treated us to some delicious vegetarian Eastern European cooking, and I would love to list what I ate here, but I cannot remember the names. I know I had something akin to a quiche or savoury tart, with squash, and lots of fresh vegetables, and a delicious and sticky desert, but sadly I don't know what it was! Not much help to any of my readers! We had some interesting discussions about psychedelic experiences (something I have never had), Pagan books and faeries, among other things. 

All photographs in today's blog were taken by me on my smartphone. It's a bit of an old one, so the camera quality isn't that amazing. Sorry if it looks like it was photographed on a potato! 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Sewing, D.I.Y And Alternative Fashion

I think one of the key skills any lover of alternative fashion should posses is a basic ability to sew.

However brilliant one's bargain hunting skills, thrifting abilities, and eye for style when shopping, you are ultimately limited by what other people produce. 

Even thrift, secondhand, and vintage shopping has its limitations. Someone, somewhere, bought all those secondhand clothes originally, often from a mass-producing retailer. Yes, buying secondhand clothes helps reduce waste by re-homing perfectly good, or slightly damaged clothes so they don't end up in landfill, or being recycled (the process of which consumes energy, remember), and so there is plenty of good in buying secondhand, but it does have its limitations, especially if you are trying to get hold of a specific type of item in a specific size; sewing broadens these limitations - you can buy a shirt in nice material that is too small, but with puffy sleeves, re-shape the sleeves and use the extra material to put side-panels into the shirt, and thus have something that fits nicely, or buy a skirt that is too long and take it up, or something that is very cheap because it is damaged, and mend it, etc. Being able to mend your own clothes is a good skill in general; if you have something you love, and a seam is torn, that should not be its death, or reason to pay someone else to fix it when it can be easily repaired at home.

A lot of retailers, for mostly economic reasons, tend to stock only a certain range of sizes based around average shapes that will fit the maximum number of people each, but will not fit everyone. I have the problem that I have quite dramatic curves, and if I find a top that fits my waist, it will often not fit over my bust, but if I find a top that fits my bust, it will rarely be anything other than baggy at the waist; with actually fairly basic sewing skills, I have learnt to take things in so that they have a more flattering fit. There are many things, that because of my height, I have trouble shopping for - especially skirts! Getting things at a suitable length is hard, and finding things that are actually floor-lenghth on me, especially from deliberately Goth/Alternative retailers, nigh on impossible unless I order made-to-order and custom sizes. Other people of statistical outlier sizes (the very petite, the larger, the very tall, the very short, etc.) have similar issues - if you can sew you can make alterations to improve fit; from adding inserts to taking things in, from adding ruffles to the bottom of a skirt to raising the hem, there are a lot of possibilities. 

Once you get confident, you can start making things from patterns, either bought or self-drafted and designing your own clothes! That there is the start of limitless possibilities bounded only by your imagination.

A lot of people are daunted by the prospect of sewing; it looks like a difficult art-form, and one that is quite dull to practice. First of all, sewing is primarily a set of practical skills; it is an understanding of fabric and thread, and the various ways these can be combined. I think for those who are less artistic it might be better to think of it as a form of practical problem solving rather than as a craft, because the artistic part is secondary to making or mending in a functional way. Secondly, basic sewing isn't actually very difficult, especially if you have a sewing machine (although learning how to hand-stitch neatly is pretty useful). Sewing can become difficult and challenging as you set yourself ever more ambitious projects (sleeves and attaching them straight...), but the basic skills are actually quite simple. 

There are a LOT of very good and easy-to-follow sewing and dress-making tutorials and lessons on the internet, starting with some very basic skills, and going all the way through into detailed and elaborate projects (make your own period-accurate Victorian ensemble, including underwear!). Evening classes are available in many towns and cities, most libraries have instructional and project books. The learning material is out there. Yes, it takes time and some patience, but even the basic projects can look very effective, or be vital to saving your favourite garments. Start with simple things to learn and practice skills, and then apply those skills to more ambitious projects, and then acquire more skills and attempt even more ambitious projects, and so on... it's a lot less daunting when done in small steps. 

If you don't want to pursue sewing as a hobby, that is fine, but it is still a useful skill for the repair of the garments you buy, and can save you the cost of taking it to someone else to be repaired. 

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Confidence And Being Visibly Alternative In Public

I am more confident in my full Romantic Goth gear than I would be in jeans & t-shirt. 

I actually feel really uncomfortable when I'm not dressed Goth; I feel like I am wearing the costume of being somebody else. I am certainly comfortable with being alternative in public, even as obviously so as to wear long skirts, corsets, frock-coats and wigs in town.

I have seen several video and read several articles about this sort of thing, and here is my take on it.

I dress for only myself, and wear what I think is beautiful, and my tastes in clothes are far more layered, detailed, extravagant and anachronistic than most people's, and this to me is too eclectic to be formal-wear, even if the materials (like the jacquard and lace) are often thought of as too luxurious for everyday wear. For formal wear, I would wear either a dress, or a matching set.

The trick to being confident is realising that you are the ultimate judge of your own beauty, not some random stranger. You don't know the strangers by default of definition - you can't know the motivations for a passing comment; they could be complimenting you, but really think what your wearing is hideous (perfect example of this in the film 'Mean Girls') and be insulting you despite actually liking what you wear because they want to show off to their friends (<sarcasm> because insulting strangers really demonstrates how macho you are! </sarcasm>) so there's no point in taking stead in their opinions; although I think genuine compliments are fairly easily identified, and most people who make mean comments about Halloween or vampires or just shout "GOTH!" or whatever at us in the streets are doing so for the sake of being mean (because they are insecure, afraid of anything different, want to show off to the rest of their group, want to get attention etc.). Yes, some people just don't like the Goth (or other subcultural) aesthetic, but they generally don't feel the need to be publicly rude to a stranger about it, but on the other side of that, those who like your outfit may not want to publicly complement you.

Diamonds, clubs and the Ace of Hearts
Phone-cam selfie.
The only people you should listen to about your appearance are those who genuinely want to help you with it, for example friends and family and even then, you are allowed to disagree with them. My Dad is accepting of me being Goth, but actually prefers it when I wear black trousers, Doc Martens or New Rocks, a black turtle-neck, studded cuffs, etc. because he prefers a more practical aesthetic and thinks my "frilly stuff" is too busy for his tastes. I happen to disagree, and continue to wear frills when they won't get in the way. (See ::this:: post for my more practical aesthetic). Of course, sometimes friends will have a valid point and will try and broach any fashion advice politely. It's a tricky subject, and a tact minefield.

The second trick is being comfortable with your own appearance. If you feel pretty and feel comfortable, others will be more relaxed about it. The more self-conscious you are, the more you will subconsciously project that. If you really like your own appearance, then your own self-belief will shine through and you will carry yourself better and look pretty. 

If, when I look in the mirror before I go out, I look just how I want to, then I am confident to wear it in public. If something doesn't look quite right, then I will either try it and see (perhaps later in the day I will like it) if it is something minor, or simply change whatever it is that doesn't work. My reference point is my own aesthetic taste, and yes, that is inspired by other things I have seen, as nobody is truly original (only innovative). My tastes are influenced by photographs I've seen of other Goths, and people into Aristocrat, New Romantic, Lolita and other fashions, as well as high-fashion garments, costuming for stage and screen productions, works of art, historical fashions, works of fantasy etc. 

An important thing is being able to distinguish art from reality - high-concept fashion shoots are art, an inspiration, not a reflection of real life, and even a lot of other photographs have been improved with the aid of a computer, even if it is only to tweak the lighting, colour-balance, contrast, etc. and models tend to try and pose in flattering ways. Nobody looks like a perfect photograph all the time, not even professional models. Some people are highly photogenic, but even they have their 'derpy' moments and their off-days. 

I pay attention to the small details; for example having makeup-swirls that compliment the designs on my clothes, keeping strictly to a limited colour palette, carefully coordinating glove length to sleeve length and hosiery to skirt/trousers and making sure that the shoes and handbag compliment each other. I am picky about which jewellery I am wearing, which hair accessories, how I have styled my hair, and my wig. Once I know I have every small detail just how I like them, I feel pretty - but I am a perfectionist, and not everyone cares about that level of detail. Personally, I feel that it is an important part of being stylish and well coordinated, but some people revel in the deliberately clashing, or wear things that don't go simply because one of the items is of too much sentimental value to take off, or it just simply is not their priority.

If such ways of paying attention to detail make you feel more confident in your appearance, then do them, but don't agonise too much, though - you shouldn't end feeling like you just can't get close enough to perfection to go out, however many times you re-tie your bows, whatever necklace you wear, however many times you re-do your makeup, or whatever you do your hair or whatever. Remember, nobody is perfect, and it isn't perfection you should be aiming at. If you see a photograph that looks perfect, chances are it is a) a studio set up and b) a digitally altered image - and if you get too flawless, it can actually be uncanny and inhuman (which is fine if you want to look like a living doll, a vampire or a robot, but not so good if that is not your thing). Also, some of my prettiest outfits have come together out of whatever wasn't in the laundry. Sometimes over-planning can make me, and therefore probably others, look fussy and too much like I'm in a costume or going to a specific event or in a costume.

Also remember that really fancy wardrobes take time to assemble; I mentioned this in ::this:: previous post. Sometimes it can be a while before you have a whole outfit to wear - just be patient, keep saving/sewing/thrifting, and you will have all the parts. It doesn't mean you look ugly without the whole outfit, just that you haven't got what you want yet. Of course, some things just don't work without the rest matching; for example a fancy Victorian blouse can look a bit out of place with ordinary skirts and trousers, but  if you buy things in stages you can look quite nice, and gradually become more ornate/unusual.

If you are wanting to wear something particularly fancy out (like corsets, petticoats under skirts, hooped skirts, really high platform boots, trailing skirts, wigs, fancy headdresses, etc.) then wear them at home first; some of these things are going to feel strange, perhaps slightly uncomfortable, when you first wear them, and you will, with some, need to adapt to moving slightly differently because of restricted movement, altered balance, or increased size (large skirts catching on things, knocking things over, catching antlers or headdresses on door-frames, being taller in really high boots, etc.). Until you feel 'naturalised' and comfortable in those garments. If you are doing something that radically alters your appearance, then it might take some time for you to get used to your own new appearance! This has happened when I have had radically different hair-cuts or bought wigs; re-framing my face can make it look so different that I hardly recognise myself. Again, getting used to yourself looking different in your own home can help build confidence for wearing it outside.

Once you are used to wearing things at home, wearing unusual clothes with other eccentrically dressed people can be a good stepping point. Some people are never confident to be the only unusually dressed person. I am confident enough to be different in public but on my own, yet I still feel more comfortable when there's at least one more Gothy or frilly type person with me. You might actually stand out more as a group, but you are also not having to take all the attention on your own.

Most of all, remember that there is nothing immoral about choosing to go outside looking different. There IS something immoral about trying to make others feel bad.

Yes, you WILL garner attention if you look very differently, and some people will want to ask curious questions or even photographs. If you are too busy to answer, stop for photographs, or suchlike, you are allowed to politely decline. If people are rude to you, more than likely they are looking to get a reaction, either out of some kind of sadism or because they want attention; just don't give that to them. If you are upset (and sometimes even I get upset when people are rude, especially if I am having a bad day anyway) don't show it to them. Go somewhere else, somewhere you feel comfortable, talk to someone about the negative experience (I personally rant to my other Gothy friends, who have had similar experiences), and do something that cheers you up (for me, I like sitting quietly somewhere green, so I will go sit in the park, or the meadow, or take a walk in the woods if I am really upset about anything.). 

Also, if you get a proper compliment (at least one that's not obviously a backhanded insult, sarcastic, or a patronising attempt to humour you - yes, I'm a suspicious person.), take note of it. I get more compliments than insults. It's a really nice feeling to get a genuine (or at least hopefully genuine compliment) from a stranger, and sometimes I get more lengthy positive interactions based initially on my outfits. Personally, if another alternative type compliments me, I am especially happy, because I think it is more likely that they're genuinely being nice or curious and less likely to be treating me like an interactive zoo animal, and because I like getting a compliment from people who share my tastes to some degree; I feel that it means I am doing a good job of working within that style.

With more neutral responses, I notice that sometimes people stare and do more discrete things like mutter to their friends, but as I can't tell whether that is positive or negative, and isn't really impacting on me, I ignore it. I am also not the best at reading people unless I am paying very good attention to them, and still have trouble even then, so I am also oblivious to a lot of more subtle and private reactions.

The public reaction to you will be different depending on the local demographics. Since I moved to Scotland, my compliment to insult ratio has been pretty good - I get a lot more people telling me I look nice, especially older people! I think because I prefer an anachronistic style that is inspired by funereal elegance rather than a punky style with ripped fishnets and revealing clothes (although I do wear those on occasion) that older women of a more conservative background like what I am wearing as it is feminine, modest, elegant, detailed, etc. If I am wearing fishnets and platform boots and a really short skirt or hotpants, with lots of spikes, I generally get more advances from men (and sometimes women), but fewer compliments that aren't the opening to flirtation. Oddly enough, when I have been in major cities in southern English cities, the number of insults (usually from gangs of teenage boys, young men and drunks) was much higher than the number of compliments, despite Goths being far more prevalent. There are some places where it can be downright dangerous to stand out too much, and especially to wear certain clothes - take care in areas you know to be less than safe, and tone it down if you have to. Yes, bad things can happen anywhere, but some places do harbour greater risks than others.

Lastly, in the case of extended interaction, some people have certain prejudices about various subcultures - I am talking about "Goth girls are easy sluts" and "Goths are all Satanists and devil-worshippers" and "Goths are suicidal or homicidal lunatics" and "Goths think they are vampires" other misinformed and dangerous rubbish. If you join a subculture and wear that subculture's signifiers in public, be aware that there are prejudices, and people may act on them. Try to politely correct misinformation, don't play into the negative stereotypes, and generally, be polite and sensible. Sadly, there will be times when even if you are the nicest person, others will react badly on the grounds of things they think they know about 'your kind'. That sort of thing is highly situational, but read through the experiences of others, sites like Gothic Charm School, and try to handle things in as calm and rational a manner as possible, but I know that this can be hard when people are being really horrible and irrational to you. 

Generally though, if you are a polite and sensible person, people will judge you on your actions rather than your appearances, although they may still be a tad nervous and scrutinise you more closely. Often, if you give a good impression and are polite and friendly, they will realise that their misgivings were unfounded.

Basically, there are four main points to being confident in alternative clothes in public

✯You are the ultimate judge of whether or not you look nice, not others. 

✯If you feel comfortable in your clothes, you will come over better. Get used to things in your own space if you need to first. 

✯Reactions vary between places - a good indication of how they are more about the person reacting than the person being reacted to!

✯There is nothing immoral or wrong about different. 

Go out there beautiful! Wear whatever you want to wear - whether you want to be a Sweet Lolita or the darkest Goth, do it. Sometimes confidence takes time to build, but it is worth it.

Friday, 5 July 2013

A Foray Into Lolita With Friends

I'm no Lolita, but I must admit I have a fondness for the subculture. 

Two of my friends, however are. Today I went to meet my friend K. in Inverness city, and her friend M. I hadn't actually met M. before today, but she's a Sweet Lolita and a sweet person.

I very nearly didn't make it out today because of a wardrobe crisis. I bought a beautiful skirt off the internet, marked size M (12), but although it is marked 12, it was actually a lot smaller than that, probably closer to an 8. It was what I ordered, so I have no complaint with the company, and I know that sizes vary, and I guess that the sizes of the brand Banned run small. Another customer had left a review to this end, so I should have taken heed. I felt that I had no issue with the seller, so instead of sending it back, I decided to insert some panels near the back to widen it out a bit, which worked out nicely in the end, but was nearly a disaster as my lovely little Mini Stitch travel sewing machine (the one I have up here in Scotland as my fancy one with half a galaxy's worth of stitch types and a vast array of feet and suchlike is in storage in England) broke after I'd sewn the first seam. Oops. After much frantic hand-stitching (not as neat as I would have liked, but I will re-sew it later) and help from my beloved Raven, I was ready to wear it out - an hour late. Oops.

I bought K. and M. delicious local ice-creams by way of an apology, and we went exploring. We went to Heroes for Sale, the local comic book and geekery shop, and then headed off towards the cathedral... by way of everywhere inbetween! The lovely shop assistant at Caledonian Gifts mended K's choker for her - she really is a lovely lady and a good friend of mine (with a spooky streak of her own). I bumped into so many people I knew in town, so kept pausing for chats.

K. My Gothic Lolita friend, photo on phone-cam, at Eden Court.

We also kept pausing for photographs. I don't mind it, and neither did the other two, if people asked nicely and politely to photograph us - we are certainly an unusual sight in Inverness, even if I do often wander around the city in full Romantic Goth gear - but people who just assume that we are happy to be photographed and interrupt and accost us and try and get us to pose without asking politely and without even so much as a please seem very rude indeed. The tourist who just asked us to look in his direction while we were having a rather involved conversation in the Cathedral (I was discussing various bits of Christian iconography on the pulpit) really annoyed me. If he had approached us with "Excuse me, but would you mind being photographed" or even an approximation of that if his English wasn't so good, would have sufficed.

M. the Sweet Lolita I met for the first time today!
Another phone-cam picture at Eden Court

Before we got as far as the Cathedral, we met up with S., a friend of K.'s who was a bit wired after ingesting particularly strong coffee, and headed down past the statues of Faith, Hope and Charity (placed in the wrong order on their podium; they have Charity, Faith and Hope in that order, over the wrong words...) and across the beautiful old Victorian footbridge to by Eden Court, where we stopped for a toilet break and a nice sit down indoors. I had fun playing on the oversized xylophone in the grounds, and a family from abroad asked us nicely if their children could pose for photographs with us - nice to see being Goth and Gothic Lolita being perceived as a family-friendly! 

The Cathedral in Inverness is St. Andrew's Cathedral, and is next to Eden Court as that used to be the Bishop's Palace. The Cathedral building is a nice example of Victorian-era Gothic Revival, but it was meant to have two tall spires, and instead has two towers as the tall pointed roofs were never built. I'm not sure why, whether it is the ground it was built on being unsuitable for such a weight or whether they ran out of funds, or whether it was an aesthetic choice or some other reason. There are quite a few church spires and suchlike along the riverside, and another two would have been quite wonderful. The Cathedral has charming stained glass windows and a beautifully carved rood screen and choir. The altar is most amazing. M. had to go after we visited the Cathedral.

An aside:
I was once a Catholic, and quite faithful in my own eccentric way (I always found it quite hard to be a good Catholic - it turned out I was meant for a different path) and I sang in church choirs for a long time. As such, despite not currently having any personal belief in the faith presented, I always feel I should at least be respectful in chapels, churches, cathedrals and other ecclesiastical buildings, regardless of denomination - one of the reasons I tend not to use flash photography indoors when I visit - and I do think that others, whatever the religious persuasion, should acknowledge that these are houses of worship with active congregations as well as places for a bit of architectural tourism, and refrain from talking too loudly (let alone shouting!), swearing, using flash photography and generally doing anything profane and disturbing within the building. I think graveyards should be treated with respect too. I was quite sad to hear people swearing, taking God's name in vain (it might not mean anything to you to say "goddamn!" but be mindful of others around you; it's breaking the Second Commandment and the "hallowed be thy name" in the Lord's Prayer), walking up near the altar, etc. I'm not a Catholic, nor a Christian, and my personal beliefs don't include any of that kind of theology (I'm a pantheist, not a monotheist, for a start), but that doesn't mean I can't respect something. You might think someone is wrong, even believing in fairytales, but you can at least be respectful out of politeness. 

 We then went to sit down by the river, where we saw a little fish amongst the weeds, and had a nice chat down by the river and tried very hard not to fall off the concrete steps and into the water despite not particularly practical footwear! I noticed a chap over in the Castle grounds (yes, quite far away...) photographing us with a long lens, so we waved - his body language seemed to indicate he was disappointed in being spotted! We then headed into town and went to the Mall - Claire's Accessories had a surprisingly nice things (I don't usually head in there, but some annoying people who had some sort of petty argument with S. were following him around the mall and annoying him, so I suggested we hide out in the girliest store imaginable; they somehow took entering it as an affront to their masculinity, spent all of 10 seconds there and left - my plan worked!) and I bought myself dinner (macaroni cheese).

K. realised she had missed an appointment with a friend, and went off for her bus, and I stayed in town, talking to another S., the barmaid at Karma Lounge, before being picked up by Raven, who had been shopping for suitable clothes for Capoeira - he's decided he wants to come to classes with me, which is fun. Now we do archery AND martial arts together!

Me, looking Lolita-ish!
The puff to the side is how the skirt is supposed to be,
 the flatness on the right is what the weight of my bag did!
Phone-cam photo by K. on my phone, at Eden Court.

As you can see my outfit is decidedly Lolita inspired, but not actually Lolita. The 'granny boots' are definitely more Romantic Goth, the skirt far too high above the knee to qualify as Lolita (although I am sure it would be suitable on someone much shorter than me; I am between 5'9 and 5'10!) and the shiny fabrics more associated with Romantic Goth and Aristocrat fashion than Lolita, and the makeup definitely more Romantic Goth. I am not a Lolita, but I wanted to put together an outfit that was both "me" in terms of what I like to wear, and of a suitable sort of silhouette to go well with the outfits of the two friends I was with.