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..

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Motive Behind The Frills

It all started with a question common to many Goths: "Why are you dressed like that?"
That question got me thinking. My stock reply is "because I like it" which is true, but doesn't really go into why I like it and why I chose that sort of fashion in the first place. Usually, when I get asked "why are you dressed like that?" it is when I am wearing one of the more ostentatious and flamboyant variations of Goth fashion, and that got me thinking about why it is that I dress that way. Of course, this is only my personal reasoning and I am sure other Goths (and Lolitas and New Romantics, etc.) have their own reasoning - this is something I'd really love to hear about, actually, so if you have blogged/written about this, please link me to it in the comments, or if this post inspires you to write about why you have chosen your fashion, please have a go and send me a link to the results! 

The picture below is about a year old, but it pretty aptly describes how I often dress. I feel it is important to mention this is by no means how I always dress, though, as I alternate between opulence and practicality depending on mood and task, and that it is important to reinforce that however I am dressed, I am the same person as the clothes are just a shell; they cannot change who I am. (This sentiment is further explored in ::this:: post from last year.)

Photograph by Raven of Chance Photography
(see link in side bar for his website)

It is an outfit channeling an anachronistic aristocratic aesthetic, with ruffles, petticoats, flock and tulle - white stockings echoing the silk stockings of 18th C. gentlemen and my loose flowing silver wig that is simultaneously a nod to the far more ornate up-do wigs of that same century and the very modern platinum blonde hair-pieces/wigs of Lady GaGa. I have decorative corset lacing, and petticoats on a short skirt, and a cane that only occasionally gets used to prop me vertical. It's a nod to the past, but it is also very modern, and very much a playful mix-up of anachronistic elements, many of which are from very different time periods. It fits the mainstream of no period or culture, not even the British present, and yet sits quite well within the broad category of "Romantic Goth". 

In terms of anachronism, I think my clothes aptly describe me in visual form; on the one hand many of my hobbies and skills (such as playing the piano, singing, embroidery, drawing and speaking French) would be considered suitable "accomplishments" for one of the female characters of a Jane Austen characters, but I also associate myself with a Romantic attitude to life, and am equally inspired by the works of Keats, Wordsworth and Clare as I am by the much later works of the Rosettis, Holman-Hunt, Millais and Morris, and to add to that mix that I am very much a modern woman; a Feminist, a believer that I am equal to my male counterparts and that my role in life is that which I choose, not one to be arbitrarily assigned to me on the basis of my sex, and certainly not demure, let alone submissive, and when it comes to sex and sexuality, I'm relatively liberal even by modern standards. My political views may have their roots in the workers' movements of times past, but they address contemporary issues. I have roots in many times, but belong to none, not even conforming to my own present. 

Certainly I dress to reflect my personality, but there's more to it than anachronism. Many of the clothes I wear are seen by society as decidedly feminine in a modern context (even when frilly shirts, wigs, make-up and even heeled shoes were often associated with men in past times), but a lot of my interests, and even a lot of how I think, is seen as tomboyish, and my practical wardrobe involves a bit of cross-dressing as I buy my combat trousers and boots from the men's section, and many of my more traditional Goth accessories such as spiked bracelets are pretty un-gendered. Fashion is my only traditionally feminine interest, and often my clothes are seen as a stark contrast to my personality. 

My practical wardrobe seems to suit a lot of my personality; I'm often seen  stomping about in New Rocks and army boots, hair cut short, spikes on my wrists, combats (cargo pants, to Americans) with their pockets stuffed full of useful bits and bobs, wooly fingerless gloves to keep my hands warm, and turtleneck jumper to keep the rest warm - things that are practical rather than feminine, snug rather than sexy, and with enough pockets to keep all my possessions safe. Certainly, clothes like that suit my lifestyle; throughout the winter I wear a men's coat, an endless supply of neat "office" trousers, and some silver New Rocks that look like studded Dr. Martens to work and most of the rest  of the time. 

I guess the frills are a partly an escape; there is so little room in my working life and practical life for things that can easily get caught, torn, damaged or simply get in the way, so wearing frills on the occasions when I have time to myself helps delineate that time as my own and gives me an opportunity to indulge in all the sorts of clothes that most of the time would just be a hinderance, and I guess that part of the reason I am SO fancy is that it is a reaction to just how plainly practical I am the rest of the time; some of it is a feeling of making up for lost time by trying to cram as much ostentatious fashion as possible into the tine where I can wear it.

On an aesthetic level, I love things with ornate patterns, interesting textures and lots of attention to detail - this shows in my love of everything from Gothic architecture to the Arts and Crafts movement and William Morris creations - it is unsurprising that if given the opportunity, I will apply that sort of aesthetic to myself. I choose richly textured fabrics like velvet, flocked fabrics, lace and chiffon, and intricate damascene and baroque patterns; I layer and contrast pieces and accessories to build up what is quite a complex arrangement by the time I am finished, but the monochrome colour-scheme of almost all black allows me to have great complexity without it becoming visually busy. 

I also love things that relate to the macabre and various horror archetypes (one of the many reasons why I'm part of the Goth subculture) so, again, it is unsurprising that I choose to apply that to my fashion choices - I consciously draw inspiration from the aesthetic of the evil witches, vampires, dark queens and spooky women of horror and fantasy - I never directly copy, though, as that would not be a representation of me, but a form of cosplay. I am not dressing up, I am just mining the aesthetic and its symbolism. All of the characters that draw me in are complex, dark and powerful, and I think the Gothic has a rich supply of interesting and powerful women, both in Gothic literature and fantasy and in the subculture itself - it's a subculture that draws in a lot of strong women. The Gothic allows for an aesthetic that is feminine yet powerful within the constraints of modern western society. 

I accept that there's something inherently a bit pretentious in dressing like something from a vampire movie, but it is not a case of pretending to be anyone (or anything) other than who I am. It is very much a reflection of who I am in a more genuine sense than any mundane clothes clothes could ever be because mundane clothes just do not reflect my personality, aesthetic, or connection to the Gothic subculture and my many historical influences. Yes, it sets me apart visually from the mainstream, but as so much of interests and way of viewing the world diverge from the mainstream anyway, at least this way I am visible to those who share at least an aesthetic with me. In some ways, as looking weird means that when people notice that I am eccentric it is accepted as what is expected form someone that looks like me rather than being more jarring and unnerving when it comes from someone that looks relatively normal. 

An interesting question would be "How do you feel when dressed like that?"

When I am clad in my ruffles and lace, I feel confident. My tightly-bound corsets feel like armour in the face of life. I feel powerful, I feel beautiful, I feel like I can take on the world. I feel like I am dressed like a queen or, on the fanciest days, an empress and can carry that feeling of regality with me into the world. It's not a secondary persona, but it is an extra boost when facing a world that can often seem hostile; after all, even the most fearsome warrior maiden does not begrudge good armour.

A lot of newer Goth and newer Lolitas struggle with garnering the confidence to be seen in public in such obviously different clothes, and plenty of bloggers have addressed the issue of gaining that confidence (including myself ::here::). This leads me to believe that the common assumption that Goths (and other visibly alternative folk) dress for attention is in most cases false. We accept that being different means we will get attention, but for many of us this is something we struggle with, not welcome. I personally feel much happier in the company of lots more equally fancy and alternative people than I do standing out from the crowd, even if I feel quite a bit more confident for my attire. If I had to be obviously different in clothes that didn't make me feel like my Romantic Goth attire does, I would be incredibly self-conscious, more than a little embarrassed and probably hide. 

As dressing the way I do is my just my clothes, rather than a costume, I feel pretty natural and comfortable in even very unusual clothes, to the point where I sometimes forget what it must be like coming across me at what seems like random for somebody that is not part of the subculture at all and has very little contact with such eccentric looking people, and so when I get many of the more direct responses I look at it with bemusement - such as when people stare or start asking lots of questions, complimenting me or want my photograph. I keep forgetting to them I look like I just walked out of a play or a convention and I am something of a curiosity. It makes me a bit uncomfortable - I'd often rather be left alone - but I accept that it will happen and try my best to answer questions politely and take compliments gracefully. 

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For those that are interested in what I am wearing in the photograph, this is the outfit rundown:
Mini-hat: offbrand, from a fancy dress shop with cameo glued on by me;
Wig: offbrand from eBay ♛ Ruffled satin blouse: Zanzea ♛ High-waisted skirt: Banned, White stockings: offbrand ♛ Ruffled socks: Claire's ♛ Boots: Rogerson's, Gloves: Claire's ♛ Cane: offbrand, a gift!
I bought the skirt by Banned from Kate's Gothic Clothing. Banned's sizes tend to run small, so their M was more like an S. The cane was a Christmas/Solstice present from Raven. I was wearing ruffled socks because I don't find the boots very comfortable on my calves without thick tights or socks, and those weren't very high denier. 
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Anyone with any comments, or their own discussion of why they wear what they do, I'd really like to hear from you, so please comment below. Thank-you!

12 comments:

  1. I think for me, it's probably because of Anne Rice. She is the cause of my obsession with vampires and horror... I just wanted to wear stuff that made me think of vampires, opulence, decadence and just...anything that relates to "luxury". Of course, Underworld had a hand in it, as did Nightwish and Ai Yazawa's "Nana". I can't really remember how I first got introduced to ACTUAL Goth (I was an emo until I was 19, then I got into "punk") but I just kinda...gravitated towards it because of the air of decay and decadence combined. it was so super appealing.

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    1. I think the influence of various forms of Gothic fantasy - whether the classic Hammer Horror movies and Victorian novels or modern like Anne Rice's 'Vampire Chronicles' and its gloriously decadent vampires from past times, and Underworld with the atmospherics and the leather outfits that wouldn't be out of place at Wave Gothic Treffen, or anime and manga all have their place in how the Gothic aesthetic has translated into fashion. I'm pretty sure Sephiroth from Final Fantasy and The Undertaker from Black Butler are some of the many reasons I think long silver hair looks snazzy.

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  2. I know this is not a very in depth comment, for which I apologise, but I wanted to say:
    I know the feeling - but mine is normally make-up. You're walking around and suddenly you notice that there are a lot of people staring and you can't figure out why, and then some randomer pops up and says something about it - not always positive, not always a joke - and then it clicks.

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    1. I appreciate all comments whether long, short or middling!

      It's a frame of reference for us; what's normal to us isn't normal to them, and to me it highlights how silly the whole concept of "normal" is. Every time I hear about the rude and negative reactions other Goths get, it makes me sad to be reminded of how rude some people can be. I just don't get why people have to be obnoxious about stuff they don't like.

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  3. You're a true artist, HouseCat, as are many Goth ladies. In my opinion, you always look fabulous.

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  4. You really inspired me to do a post about this too. It probably won't be as well written as yours but I'll try anyway! This was really lovely to read!
    Much love,
    Lis

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    1. I look forwards to reading it! Send me the link when you are done :)

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  5. Well balanced as always and you always look amazing with bells and whistles. Birthday tea was a shining example. Also remember the first time i saw you business dressed i went straight past you!!

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    1. I was going for a job interview and wearing a suit - I look so very different with my real hair and no makeup and no finery!

      Birthday tea party will have its own post, probably this evening.

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  6. I love your anachronistic aesthetic! My "goth look" in the 90s in high school was styled mostly after early goth and New Romantic bands of the early 80s. It's what I grew-up listening to as a kid. My dad was a musician and I always had MTV on (it played videos then). I also really like Scandinavian metal- the female vocalists could wear beautiful gowns and rip your throat out as well. I loved grunge, punk and riot girl bands, too, so there was always and element of roughness in there- spikes and painted leather and combat boots.

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    1. You're lucky to have had an exposure to those sorts alternative music as a kid - my Dad's an ageing hippy and I got exposed more to those sorts of alternative music than the darker rock of metal, grunge, punk and riot girl. Some of the "hippy" stuff can actually be quite melancholy -I remember being deeply moved as a kid by songs about the passage of time, about the transience of things, and about what are, on adult reflection, probably bad acid trips. As I've become a more mature Goth I've probably got more of an influence from women like Siouxsie Sioux (a personal favourite of mine!) and Patricia Morrison. There's this old photograph of Patricia Morrison that has her hair teased wildly, wearing lots of jewellery, posing with her bass guitar, pendants hung down (presumably off the tuning pegs) over the strings, wearing this gorgeous lace choker that reminds me of Gothic arches; images like that certainly had an effect on me.

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