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..

Saturday, 23 July 2016

My Reaction and Analysis of Lisa Ladouceur's 40 Years of Goth Style Video

This is a response to ::this:: video by Liisa Ladouceur, author of 'Encylopedia Gothica' and 'How To Kill A Vampire'. It is entitled '40 Years of Goth Style (in under 4 minutes).

Originally I had a (not much) shorter version of this as a comment on YouTube, but it was still pretty long for a YouTube comment, and I don't anyone wants to read a miniature essay as a YouTube comment, so I am posting my full critique here.

Personally, I didn't really feel like the video fulfilled its own purpose. I think for the most-part it's a good show of different sub-styles, but it's not very chronological and doesn't really seem to show 40 years of Goth fashion. It's vaguely chronological about when the various sub-styles came in, or peaked in popularity, but that's about it. Part of the problem is that Goth fashion is not a linear procession, but a complex 'family tree' of interrelated and divergent styles, so it will not fit easily to the format, so I feel like the video is trying to force it into a sense of linearity, of one thing following on from the other, rather than concurrence, that was never going to work. I am certainly not first to notice this.

I understand the decision to include Punk as the progenitor of Goth, but I can't really comment on its accuracy because it's outside my knowledge base. I would like to have seen some sort of information on screen informing non-subcultural types about Goth and Punk being separate, but related.

The Batcave look is definitely more Batcave than general 1980's Goth - when I see picture of 1980's Goths outside the specifically London club scene, I see mostly thrifted or DIY outfits which definitely share aesthetic inspiration, but which aren't sourced the same way. That DIY creative spirit is something I hear 'Eldergoths' mention so much, and which is still an important part of the scene, and I would loved to have seen this video honour that personal creativity, that 'if you can't buy it, make it' ethos. Personally, while I understand why the PVC-and-bondage gear sort of Goth look would be chosen as both being a leading edge in fashion at the time, very reminiscent of what musicians of the period were wearing, and in being more easily replicable in the age of Goth-specific clothing retailers, it just does not seem really reflective of the period as a whole, more of those who had the money and the means to access things like PVC skirts and bondage harnesses, instead of wearing pet-shop dog collars and thrifted clothes dyed black. As far as the wigs go, I think the foofy back-combed effect wig doesn't look too bad, and I think the make-up is definitely good. I would love to have seen a few chunky bangles and thrifted silver necklaces on the model, too.

The Deathrock look was more a hybrid of Deathrock Revival and Nina Hagen's hair than Deathrock to me. The hair style is definitely Nina Hagen inspired, but doesn't quite seem right even for that. It's certainly not a style that comes to mind when I think of what was happening in the US at the time, and the braid wrapped around the cone seems more 'Madonna' than Nina Hagen. The make-up, however, looks about right to me. The clothes seem far too recent and made-for-Goth, which is what makes me think 'Deathrock Revival', although I'd say that usually involves far more layering than this style. I certainly wasn't around for the original Deathrock era or its parallel evolution before it began to cross over with Goth, and unlike with British Trad Goth, I don't have the option of asking to look through the archives of various 'Eldergoths' to have a view of photographs of the style, but from what I have managed to research online and in a few books, the fashion at the time seemed to owe more to punk, and the outfit shown in the video looks more like what I'd see in a UK Goth club 5-10 years ago. The inverse cross print skirt, especially, seems just too recent. I think the bat necklace is from the '90s, too. It is an Alchemy Gothic piece, and one of the most ubiquitous of their designs (I have one), but I think it's too late to be Deathrock, and perhaps would have been suitable for the next outfit instead.

The Romantic Goth look has the perfect sort of dress - initially I thought it was a skirt and top, but it's clearly a gown now I've seen it the second time. I know how coveted the corsets were in the '90s (and how expensive...), but I do wonder if the gown without it would have been enough? However I think it's still pretty representative with the corset, and would be either way. My main criticism is that Romantic Goth is pretty broad and long lived category, and this isn't communicated or displayed in the video. Romantic Goth certainly existed before that, although I think it probably was most popular in the '90s. I'd have loved to have seen an evolution of the Romantic Goth look from the Morticia Addams inspiration and medieval/fantasy-inspired to the elaborate baroque and Victorian stuff that is seen now at Whitby or WGT or Me'ra Luna. There's been a definite evolution and diversification of Romantic Goth, something I would partly attribute to the more and more professional seamstresses/tailors/people making the elaborate historical and fantasy inspired dresses/clothing, and the headdresses, accessories etc. I'd also love to have seen some of the directly New-Romantics inspired Romantic Goths. Romantic Goth has evolved as much as any other Goth style, perhaps as much as the every other Goth style combined. I do the whole goblet and vampire novel thing... I definitely do that!

There needed to be a late '90s Goth with the big Tripp trousers or those layered miniskirts, New Rock boots, lots of chains, mesh or striped gloves and a Marilyn Manson t-shirt! That was such a big shift in the subculture, the whole shock-rock and Gothic Metal addition, at least as big as the influence of industrial/EBM and cybergoth. It might not have been something that all Goths are proud about, because I know some of the teens, especially, at the time were seen as 'mall-Goth, as pretentious teenagers trying to shock their parents and society, divorced from the origins of the subculture, especially as Manson's music isn't Goth (I'd say that he's a Goth, but his music is shock-rock/metal), but they included other hybrids such as Cybergoth, Gothic Lolita and Steampunk, which arguably could be said to have just as little, if not less in common with the '80s origins, but a lot more of that style, in terms of fashion, has become more ubiquitous as to how the average Goth dresses now than any of the more niche hybrids.

The Cybergoth definitely looks like the sort I'd have seen at clubs in the middle '00s onwards. Good job on that one, but no explanation on how it evolved from a mixture of the industrial/EBM scene, Goth and rave - it is its own branch, not just a time-specific look. The wig/falls look a little on the cheap side, however, and I don't quite get the dots above the eyebrows; I would think gluing down and obscuring her real eyebrows and putting dots over them would have been more accurate. Combining two accent colours is definitely not unheard of, but my personal preference would have been for more black and to pick either green or pink as an accent colour, but that is probably more my personal tastes than historical accuracy. Years before I ran this blog, I had a Cybergoth phase, but I found it very expensive, and also too futuristic for my tastes - it was fun for the odd club night, and I got into some of the music but it's not something I could wear regularly or the branch that was really for me. My partner Raven on the other hand...

The Steampunk look is pretty good, but it's own subculture, and although there's a lot of Goths who also like steampunk, there's a lot of people in Steampunk who have nothing to do with Goth - especially people who've come to it through geek/sci-fi/LARP culture rather than spooky Victoriana. Personally, I think it is too distantly related to Goth to be in the video. It's a bit like Emo, or certain genres of Metal; definitely plenty of people interested in both Goth and that subculture, but still a separate subculture.

The 'pin-up' is a Gothabilly/Psychobilly. Looks correct to me, but again, it isn't a branch that I am familiar with to be certain. Not entirely sure if that's considered Goth, however. The whole vintage thing is something I am not very knowledgeable about, as I'm not generally particularly interested in it, so whether it's Goth or not is something I can really say.

Lolita is a separate subculture - Gothic Lolita is where Goth and Lolita overlap, but the other styles of Lolita are quite different from Goth; Sweet Lolita for example, is probably the most popular Lolita style and is pretty much the polar opposite of Goth. A lot of Goths did get into Gothic Lolita, and there's a lot of influence in both directions, so I feel it does have a place in this video, just perhaps with more explanation. What really irritated me, however is that the version shown has utterly wrong make-up; even Mana didn't do anything like that. The eye-makeup should be more subtle and smokey, and definitely NO KISSY DOLL LIPS. I get what they were going for with the wig, and it's the right style, but either the lighting is too harsh and making it look awful, or it's a cheap wig. The bow on the head is the right idea, but the wrong design. The co-ord (Lolita term for outfit) is approximately there; if it was posted to Closet of Frills it would get constructive criticism. It certainly looks like it was done by someone only relatively new to the aesthetic rather than a Lolita; the dress and shoes were right, but the socks would have done better with ruffles at the top, and the gloves swapped with lace wrist-cuffs, and the red contrasting petticoat is not something often done in Lolita; petticoats are usually discrete, hidden under the skirt and only there to give shape. 

Pastel Goth looked right (I'd have added a pastel strapped spiked necklace, but that's nit-picking), I am a little surprised at there not being anything galaxy print involved. Personally I would have swapped the leggings for either galaxy print or those ones with the cats or bats at the bottom. The glittery hair-clips were perfect.

As to the Nu-Goth look, it seemed more like it was 'Strega' or whatever they're currently calling 'witchy' fashion on Tumblr - Nu-Goth would have plain black leggings or perhaps the kind that look like they're wrapped up your legs, but the boots with spikes on the heels look right, and the top's about right with the hood, but the big 'Lydia from Beetlejuice' hat might have been more appropriate. Those big felt hats were SO popular last year; even I got one! Nu-Goth is more minimalist than that. Also one of those chokers with the heart at the front or an o-ring connector would have looked good. Also, a lot of actual witches, myself included aren't very happy with the 'witch' concept being used as fashion statement when that uses our religious symbols inappropriately and with 'edginess' as a primary concern. Prancing around with the black salt circle and red candle really grated on me as an actual witch.

Something that It's Black Friday mentioned in her reaction video (::here::) is that there's quite a few styles that were left out - I would definitely say that 'CorpGoth' was one of them, and that the hippie/Goth hybrid also.

I think perhaps the styling errors were more about what was available at the making of the video than Liisa not knowing how to do it; perhaps this is another fault of following the format set by Buzzfeed. Liisa's a very knowledgeable person, and I really enjoyed 'Encyopedia Gothica'. Personally, I think it would have been better to find people who were willing to model for the video who wear each of the styles regularly rather than make-over one model, or at least find people from each sub-style to style her. The wigs didn't look right at several points. The V-fringe on the Romantic Goth one, for example, looked frizzy at the edges rather than crisp, and the Lolita wig looked VERY Hallow'en and not suitable for the fashion at all. However, I also know that good quality wigs are expensive.

I understood what was meant to be conveyed, but I just don't feel like the video fulfilled its brief, and that in places there were errors in the styling. The Romantic Goth, Pastel Goth and Steampunk styles were pretty accurate, and the 'Nu Goth' and 'Pin-Up' styles were very good representation of 'Strega' and 'Gothabilly/Psychobilly' even if misnamed, but I think it did also have its flaws.

The usual response to these sort of critiques is that I should do it myself if I think it's so wrong - firstly, I don't think it's awful by any means, and secondly, I am planning to do my own 40 years of Goth fashion, but to avoid the practical issues that come with trying to style a model, I will instead illustrate each style, and probably produce eventually a blog entry, and perhaps an infographic. I know the sub-styles have already been explored in illustration by Black Waterfall as the 'Goth (stereo)Types' ::here:: but I plan on both a more realistic and detailed illustration style, and adding more information both on history and on the fashion.

Obviously, to do the best possible version of this is, I am going to be doing a lot of research. I've been talking to a lot of Goths who have been around in the subculture longer than I have, looking through archives of photos from the scene (I recommend 'Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace' by Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje, and the associated Tumblr ::NOWTHISISGOTHIC:: run by Marloes Bontje as a starting point).

I'd love to hear other people's responses to the video, and if Liisa Ladoceur's reading this, feel free to rebuff my critique! I'd love to discuss the history of Goth fashion in the comments, and I especially want to hear from '80s and '90s Goths who were actually there. If you think I'm wrong, feel free to correct me, too.

[edit: fixed for improper accreditation for NOWTHISISGOTHIC ]

11 comments:

  1. I think you critique is fair assessment of the video. I personally felt the video should have been executed better. It came across as though the people who'd organised it had to knowledge of Goth or the alternative community. As you stated, they were being far linear and wanted to create the 100 years of fashion. Again as you stated, the evolution of goth is far from straight forward. I look forward to you post and personal take on Goth.

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    1. I know that Liisa definitely DOES know her stuff, but that the execution was limited - probably by resources. This is the sort of thing I'd love to see crowd-funded so it can be done more broadly and accurate.

      It is going to take a while to do my own take; it requires a lot of research, even for someone who has lived through 15 years of it as an active member.

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  2. The first 80s look or punk rock look was pretty close. But we would have torn those stockings, added multiple studded belts, and the jacket would have tons of band pins. I was disappointed there wasn't a nice Victorian goth. I think it should have been represented instead of steampunk. But I know Liisa and she knows her stuff. I think she did the best she could with what she had on hand. Kuddos to her for even taking it on. :)

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    1. I think it's good that somebody's actually even tried - definitely! Goth history is something that seems pretty murky to me, especially from the latter half of the '80s to the '00s - and I was alive during those years! I'd love some more bloggers and vloggers to take on the history and memoirs of the subculture - I know Angela Benedict on YouTube's been tackling that.

      A Victorian Goth instead of a Steampunk would have been amazing - could have had a very Medieval/fantasy Romantic Goth and a corseted Victorian Goth with bustle-skirt and high-necked blouses. It would have been a good show of how Romantic Goth had evolved into different sub-styles, too.

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  3. Very constructive critic of yours! I did enjoy quite a lot reading it.
    However, I must admit I personally hated the video. As you mentioned, some of the looks were very halloweenish (and not in a good way). I specially disliked the Lolita and Romantic Goth recreations, as I consider both styles to be more about detail and delicate fabrics, and people wearing them work truly hard in making their outfits smart.

    I think people behind this project should have tried a bit harder, and spend some money on making an accurate representation. Also, they could have simply look for dark fellows to advice them a bit. My general impression is they tried, but just scratched a bit of the story...

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    1. The Lolita outfit looked basic - not very detailed, but the dress was fine - but the wig and make-up ruined it and made it look like a costume. The accessorising for it seemed too minimal. I understand that a one piece dress is simpler than matching a 'jumper skirt ' (pinafore dress) with a blouse, or a skirt with a blouse, but it still needs accessorising properly, and this seemed to miss that. Lolita is very much about balance, harmony and detail in an outfit, and the one presented seemed disjointed - I'd have added some cheap Bodyline ruffled socks and wrist cuffs - whichever ones they have that have reasonable lace and come in black and match, to make the leg wear and wrists more interesting without being too fancy as I think they were going for an older Mana inspired sort of thing. I think perhaps the petticoat was flashed in order to emphasise that there is one, but if that was the plan, I'd have chosen a black one with lace edging, and also had the model wear bloomers. The bow in the wig didn't match the outfit, either, and I felt she could have done with some hair clips, or maybe an old-school rectangle headdress with a straight wig and fringe... I'm going into full con-crit mode!

      I think the Romantic Goth outfit partially suffered from bad lighting. There were details on the dress I could only just make out, and it did make the velvet look a bit cheap, but I think the most costume-y thing was the wig; it looked like someone had cut a V-fringe into a Hallow'en wig. I also felt like there was a lack of accessories and details. I'm a Romantic Goth and I'm always dripping in jewellery.

      I think part of the problem may be that they tried to buy the outfit instead of borrow them. The Lolita outfit, especially, strikes me as on a par with my first Lolita outfits when I was still accumulating a wardrobe of Lolita things and didn't have enough matching and quality things to put together a good outfit. However, when I've seen non-Lolita people dressed in Lolita by their more experienced Lolita friends, they often look a lot more polished simply because they've immediately had access to a complete outfit, with accessories. The same with Romantic Goth; if I found another tall UK size 10/12 lady, I could quite easily lend them an entire outfit, accessories and all, and dress them up as an instant Romantic Goth. The more recent styles of Romantic Goth often include matching garment sets, the way historical outfits did, so it would then be a case of just accessorising them properly.

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  4. I saw this video a while back. I thought it was okay, but nothing special. I didn't particularly like how they promoted steam punk as a form of goth; it's not, even though some goths are into steam punk.

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    1. I agree- they're related, but different subcultures.

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  5. I first saw the video on Facebook and, while it was cool to watch, I couldn't really relate to any of it. The punk link I got as that's an era I like a lot (Siouxsie, Bauhaus, Joy Division, Dave Vanian) but beyond that I would agree with you that it's not a linear subculture. I also don't see much link with emo or metal other than in a visual sense and that's not how I see goth. I think it's far more than just a fashion and a look, I love the literature, music, décor and architecture.

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    1. In terms of aesthetic, I think there's certainly cross over with Emo and Metal, and they are also subcultures that appreciate the macabre; I would say that Emo is more inward, about one's personal darkness, as the name suggests, and that while certain genres of metal certainly have overlap in thematic material to that of some Goth songs, there's also significant difference, plus musically, they are often very different sounds. However, I think there is an undercurrent of Romanticism in Goth - not just in those that express that through dressing as a Romantic Goth - that sets it apart from the other three major musically-centred dark alternative subcultures. I know there's a lot of overlap in who takes part; I know plenty of people who love Black Sabbath as much as they love Bauhaus, or Cradle of Filth as well as Clan of Xymox. Industrial is probably more closely tied to Goth in terms of participation.

      When it comes to the Gothic architecture, Gothic novels and Gothic Revival stuff from the Victorian era, appreciating them is certainly part of the subculture, and deliberately reviving that aesthetic in a deliberately macabre manner is part of the subculture, but the original material we draw inspiration from is part of the European (and, for the later things like Gothic Revival architecture and design, more globally as it spread through the colonies and through Christianity).

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