Aesthetically, Romantic Goth is my first and most constant love. Yes, my hair is a fantastical set of neon colours, but they owe more to the myth of mermaids drowning sailors than to the CyberGoth hybrid subculture – although I like that sort of more danceable industrial too!
This top from :Punk Rave: has inner mesh sleeves.The outer sleeves are velvet and split all the way to the elbow
The first time I saw a Goth was probably 1993; my family had gone to Reading – a town in Berkshire – for some shopping, but this happened to coincide with the Reading Festival, one of the UK’s largest rock festivals. I think The Cure were playing that year, and a lot of Goths turned up. The one I remember most clearly, was a woman in a deep red crushed velvet fantasy dress with bleached platinum hair back-combed; a more colourful variant on the usually black version of this look. I thought this was beautiful, the prettiest lady I had seen, and unfortunately, being a small child with no appreciation for – or understanding of -what was taboo in my household, I think I said something excited about this, and got sharply chastised by my mother who dragged me away and gave me a lecture on how these were bad and dangerous people I shouldn’t associate with… but I think the seed was sown, and that aesthetic imprint stayed with me. Me in my study: my aesthetics aren’t limited to my clothes.The velvet top I am wearing the Saphira top from :Punk Rave:
I’ve been a fan of the Romantic Gothic aesthetic ever since – that wonderful mix of the macabre, fantastical and historical, and this post is something of a paean to that.
The Romantic Gothic aesthetic is certainly one that is enjoyed outside of the Goth musical subculture, and one that pre-dates it; it’s that Hammer Horror, Elvira, and ‘vampire’ aesthetic of villains and supernatural creatures that has existed for centuries. It’s not surprising that is has been adopted by fans of the Gothic in general as well as Goth, and being visually striking, it’s also not surprising that a lot of people come to the aesthetic before the music (same with all Goth and Gothic styles). I was one of those people, and although I came to the Goth subculture eventually, it was a path that went via lots of Symphonic Metal and bands like Evanesence, Nightwish, and Within Temptation where that aesthetic was prominent. There were plenty of films with gorgeous costumes, too, especially older horror films and a good few fantasy films with more ‘Gothic’ looking villains and villainesses. I saw all that and I wanted to look like them. It was magical, romantic, otherworldly, and while I knew it was a costume, but every now and again I would see someone, maybe online, maybe walking through the Queensgate shopping mall in Peterborough or past some Oxford colleges, or maybe in Shrinking Violets in Bristol, who dressed that way, in ordinary life, and I knew it was possible. The first Goth shop I went into was actually a Hippie shop called Rod & Maureen’s in Peterborough, that had a Gothic section in its upstairs. I was more into fantasy-inspired hippie clothes at the time, but I saw some gorgeous purple velvet dresses in there… The second was probably Mystic Rose in the Harris Arcade in Reading, where I wanted everything Raven and Alchemy Gothic made, but could barely afford a pair of earrings, then I went to the indoor market – St. Nick’s – in Bristol – while I was in my Steampunk phase, and I bought my first ever made-for-Goth item, a black frock-coat, to wear with a white frilly shirt from a mainstream store, and green velvet trousers, and whatever brocade waistcoat I could find, a monocle and a cheap costume-shop ‘top-hat’, or with a high-necked blouse, and a floor-length purple velvet skirt from a hippie shop… I still have that coat, although I’m a now a bit too busty to fit it. I wasn’t allowed on eBay as a teen, and I didn’t have PayPal, so I mostly relied on charity shops; mail-order catalogs and Goth shops were generally more than I could afford, and while my Dad didn’t openly disapprove, he was hardly going to let me spend money on that sort of fashion. I rapidly learned that I wasn’t going to find exactly what I wanted in Oxfam, and that I would have to learn to modify things, and rapidly learned to apply lace and better buttons to things, and how to do other simple modifications. With a limited budget, basic sewing skills, and a general lack of time and resources, I was a long way from looking like an evil sorceress-queen or a vampire lord, or really looking like anything that was vaguely put-together, but with patience, improving my sewing skills, and finally getting access to the great secondhand resources of eBay and the like, well as becoming an adult and having a full-time job, I could finally start to build a wardrobe that I really like.
New hair-do required matching make-up
A decade and a half later and it literally is enough clothes for two wardrobes and several boxes, because I’m something of a clothes collector now. I’m slowly scouring the internet for all the beautiful dresses I pined over as a teen but which were then far out of my price-range, and finding them secondhand on the internet for about £15 -£20, and then customising them with lace and trims. There’s a meme on the internet ‘be the Goth queen your 12 year old self dreamed of’ and while ‘queen’ isn’t always the aesthetic I’m going for (‘prince’, ‘pirate’, and ‘terrifying bog-witch’ sometimes), it’s something I feel strongly about; it might have taken many years to get there, but I’ve actually achieved a (fairly minor) goal; I look like the kind of person my younger self admired.
I went through a lot of style switches and hopped subcultures as a teen, but even when I was dabbling in Steampunk or a more ‘Hippie’ aesthetic, things with lace-up details, big bell sleeves, lots of lace, full skirts, brocade waistcoats, velvet trousers, etc. always ended up in my wardrobe. It appealed to my love of history and also to my love of fantasy – whether that was the graceful elves of Lord of the Rings or the decadent vampires of ‘Interview with a Vampire’ – it also always felt luxurious to be wearing this rich fabrics and fancy lace, and growing up very poor, I’d had very little luxury. At some point I would like to do an article on class dynamics and the ‘fantasy aristocrat’ aesthetic, but this isn’t going to be it.
I think there’s an element of escapism, in that Romantic Goth clothes let you dress like something apart from the regular world, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a pretense; there’s a little of that when it starts getting into painting yourself an undead grey/white, wearing contact lenses and fangs, latex ear prosthetics etc. deliberately looking like a fantasy creature, but that tends to be reserved for the sorts of festivals where taking on a persona is part of the fun, or for photoshoots – one step down from LARPing, but for most people involved, we don’t think we’re literally vampires, demons, sorceresses and fae, nor are we LARPing – what we’re doing is expressing our fandom, our enjoyment of literature, film, comics and art depicting fantastical themes. I can’t speak for others, but I’m not trying to take on a persona (sometimes I do as a bit of a joke, but it’s several layers deep in irony and campiness), I’m expressing what I love in those things.It’s not about being the villain, it’s about having their wardrobe; it’s not about being someone else, it’s about being enthusiastically and outrageously myself.
My decor is stereotypically Goth in black and silver
To me, Romantic Goth embracing all the decadence, drama and fanciful things that many people only allow to be expressed in the realms of fantasy; there is no reason other than social acceptability to NOT to dress like that. Building my identity positionally to ‘the mainstream’ is something I think is pretty pointless, and I don’t dress differently as some act of defiance, but it’s not like I’m oblivious to the fact I stand out, that even many other Goths dress a lot more casually than I do, especially with the popularity of the more minimalist Nu-Goth aesthetic at the moment. I turn heads, and not always in a good way; I don’t like attention even if it’s positive, and while I disregard the negative opinions of strangers as irrelevant, it’s a lot harder (and stupider) to ignore when that escalates to outright aggression. However, as I’ve written about before, I will never trade expressing myself for blending in.
While a lot of Romantic Goth takes historical inspiration, primarily Medieval Europe, Baroque and Victorian, and more recently there’s an increasing interest in the Norse cultures of the 8thC to 11thC, there’s a wide variation from those who are interested in getting the historical attire correct for the period, with the right shoes, undergarments, and maybe some actual elements of antique dress, to those who are less interested in recreating history and more interested in being creative with the inspiration – I am certainly the latter; I love history (hence my second degree studies being in history & archaeology), and I also know how much time, effort and research it takes to do historical garb justice, and I don’t have that time, sewing skill, or money to pay someone who does. I also love the creativity and aesthetics of the more fantasy orientated designs. I do like to borrow elements from historical dress, especially Edwardian and Victorian, sometimes a little 18thC stuff, but I don’t want to recreate history, just use it for inspiration. I’ve noticed a slight decline in the Romantic Goth aesthetic – I think it was pretty popular in the ’90s, and then with the explosion of Goth-specific manufacturers, became a lot more accessible in the ’00s, but in recent years the Pastel Goth and Nu-Goth aesthetics have dominated, although the ‘witchy’ aesthetic that was previously characterised by white-on-black occult prints seems to be shifting to something involving more black dresses, with the same big black hats popularised by American Horror Story: Coven. There’s also a lot of people into a Norse aesthetic at the moment – ‘Vikings’ ‘Norsemen’ ‘Vinland Saga’ and ‘The Last Kingdom’ probably contributing strongly to that! I think there’s something perennial about Romantic Goth, and while which particular fantasy/supernatural icon or historical period dominate, it will continue. A lot of the older Romantic Goth brands seem to have dwindled, although some like Sinister and Dark*Star are still going strong, but new ones – like the sponsor of this post, ::Punk Rave:: are filling that niche. I accepted the ::Punk Rave:: sponsorship because I’ve bought quite a few clothes from them in the past, and I’ve always been impressed by both the attention to detail and the quality. They’re at the pricier end of the scale, so I tend to buy new clothes from them once in a while, but even secondhand they are well worth checking out because the clothes are durable enough that they’ll still be in good repair. These are definitely clothes worth the money. I really love their take on the Romantic Goth aesthetic, as there’s a lot of influence from Gothic Lolita and Visual Kei aesthetics, which is refreshing compared the usual Western fare. Unlike many Goth brands, Punk Rave actually show their factory on their website and have their clothes made within the company rather than outsourced to a supplier; this allows for a lot more oversight in quality, and my guess is that the better fabric choices came when they opened their own factory, as their very early garments had lace that really wasn’t as nice as it is now. Punk Rave’s lace is often FAR nicer than I see on many other brands – no scratch raschel lace! A $50 coupon is wonderful, and I will be putting it towards ::a lovely cloak:: from them, but my opinion isn’t bought – I will only ever recommend brands I genuinely trust.
What is that expression I’ve got??
As a bonus for reading this far, have a ‘blooper reel’ picture of me in an awkwardly imperious pose – it’s an out of context image from me trying to film a room decor tour, but at least you get to see the whole outfit with faux-leather cincher and mesh insert skirt. I will try again at filming a tour of my study decor, which is just as Romantic Goth as my clothes are – my love for the aesthetic goes far beyond just fashion. Check out my Instagram account of @domesticatedgoth for more decor pictures. I’m wearing a corset in the photo; those elasticated cinchers don’t give an hourglass figure.