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. 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.

The Gothic subculture 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, and 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 (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice 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. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

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.


Me, on my way to the library.
I have a smart phone now!
Phone-cam selfie.

This is the outfit I wore the other day just to take a library book back to the library. To many, this might be over-the-top, but 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. 


Another phone-cam selfie.


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.

8 comments:

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    1. If you want, you can set me a budget and will root through the internet to find you some affordable options...

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  2. Hah, just before leaving for a 4th of July party my husband and I were having a similar conversation. He's doesn't dress alternatively, just khakis and t-shirts. Casual is such a relative term... and in our house it's quite evidently so.

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    1. Casual, for me, is probably in summer the kind of outfit I wore to handle the owls last weekend, and in winter a black turtle neck, combat trousers and stompy boots, with spiky accessories and my trenchcoat (and scarf, hat gloves, etc. depending on weather). This outfit I would call "smart everyday" rather than casual. I like making the effort, mostly because I just enjoy the process of getting ready as well as liking the end result.

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    2. Indeed! I, too, enjoy primping.

      He's always hounding me about being "over dressed", hehe.

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    3. Be as overdressed as you want! :P

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  3. "The trick to being confident is realising that you are the ultimate judge of your own beauty, not some random stranger."

    I couldn't agree with you more. Life is too short to be spending it trying to appease other people's tastes.

    I do find it interesting though, that you are complimented more in Scotland and find more negative remarks in the southern cities. In my country, the United States, it seems quite the opposite. Here a gothy person is more likely to have negative encounters or even dangerous ones in rural areas.

    I'm glad to see that you're posting again, HouseCat.

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    1. People in the rural areas of Southern England I have lived in have often given a rather snooty reaction to my appearance, but that was around places like Henley-on-Thames; very much the abode of the very wealthy. I guess if I had been wearing Alexander McQueen's more Goth designs, they'd have had a different reaction to my wearing things I had thrifted, made myself, or were from cheaper specifically Goth brands.

      There are very religious areas of rural Scotland where I have been advised by folk from the Highlands that if I want to visit, I should look as much like an ordinary hiker or similar as possible, as the locals are apparently very 'conservatively' minded and I could get a very nasty reaction to appearing too witchy. How true this is, I don't know, having never been there. I get preached to a lot in Inverness, but it seems well meaning rather than harassing, so I just smile and nod politely and go on my way.

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