This is a guest post by my friend Valtinen, who has badass Goth style. Enjoy!
Alternative Fashion Philosophy: Representation and Availability
For me, running out of black lipstick in April is a desperate situation. The last time I did, I ran around to every cosmetic booth within a forty mile radius of my home looking for a replacement. The assistants kept telling me to wait until October when they had their Halloween supplies stocked… which is the problem. I dress like it’s Halloween every day.
I wish I could say that I have always been brave enough to wear what I wanted but I haven’t been. Even my teen phase of gothic gear was unhappily brief. I felt judged for my macabre tastes which had begun in earliest childhood. I could never find what I wanted to wear. Given the classification of Freak throughout my formative years for the few things I did manage to scrounge up did nothing to further my hopes of being taken seriously. I started hiding my alternativeness beneath windbreakers, baseball caps, and khakis, a phase of “normal” that makes me now cringe with greater regret than any other garment choice ever has.
I have since been able to shed the constraints of mainstream fashion which govern the masses. I know that sounds like a judgment, but judgment only enters clothing and style when you depart from fads. It’s the spoon-fed marketing, “if you’re not wearing what’s fashionable, then you have a problem,” etc. The very fact that what I wanted to wear was not just condemned by the people of my environment but by every company that sold clothing made me think that something was wrong with me, “Why don’t I like the spring colours of puce and mauve? Why don’t I want to wear pink and green plaid pants?? If I don’t wear distressed blue jeans, will I never get laid again?!?! Oh no!!!” Eventually, I called bullshit.
Fashion and style are tools for expressing personality and boosting self-confidence. And whatever else they may be, they’re always personal. If you don’t like puce, it’s okay. If you don’t want to wear pink and green plaid anything, there’s nothing wrong with you. I am going to let you in on a little secret that took me a long time to figure out and which companies work their hardest to prevent you from realising on your own: you are perfect no matter what you want to wear. Let me say that again. You are PERFECT when you are perfectly you. And if you are getting laid because of your jeans (distressed or not), then you may have larger problems to address than style.
Fashion trends are designed to make you buy clothing to fit in, to fund the companies coming out with the clothing, to NOT be yourself. The moment any advertisement, any company, or any person tells you what you should be wearing (apart from when you ask questions, e.g. what colour most compliments my eyes? which shirt flatters me most? <—because that’s seeking someone’s judgment to inform personal decision), then they are immediately wrong. Only you know what makes you feel most like you.
It sounds like I’m beating on the fashion industry, and I’m not. If you like what’s out there, power to you. Personal expression, personal confidence, and personal satisfaction become concepts much more easily accessible when the rest of the world is saying “what you’re wearing is what you should be wearing” and ensures that it is available for consumership. It’s extremely validating. But what about when your style cannot be found in magazines, in outlets, in chain clothiers, in malls? What about when people in the spotlight who on occasion sport your look get called out for it? What about when the only people who truly embrace your look are only marginally represented in the indie world? The lack of representation and availability is damaging to personal expression and confidence in that expression.
Style-validation is often non-existent for us alternative stylers. For me, finding decently priced, decently made clothing to comprise my wardrobe is practically an Olympic sport. I cannot speak to the trials and tribulations of all alternative fashions, but being goth, I well know what difficulty comes with alternative fashion discovery and cost (without even getting into the consequences of wearing such items out among people whose tolerance levels are the square root of the their ages plus the inverse sum of their IQs). Most times in the absence of any clothing remotely considered gothic, I settle for basic black which, although keeping within the comfortable monotone scheme of garments, makes for an incredibly boring wardrobe and usually elicits encouragement from well-meaning strangers that I would look so much nicer in colours.
But there are places I check. I have found Kohl’s to carry a variety of shirts and jackets — usually drastically reduced in the men’s section — that, although not made for a goth of my Victorian sensibilities, work well with casual gothness. On rare occasion, Express will have a funky piece of clothing in black which nicely fits in among my things. Even more infrequent but nonetheless worthy of being checked out, Goodwill also carries some special pieces of gothic attire when some young adult goes through his/her closet and gives away all of his/her teen phase items. I’m also the person you will see going through Halloween stores the day after the holiday picking up all the goth/ 80s/ vampire costume pieces I can find at half-price to wear throughout the rest of the year. And then there’s Hot Topic….
Once upon a time ago, there was a land of concrete and neon lights known as Mall where overcrowding and fad-fashion-trends plagued the population and people stuffed themselves full of kiosk pretzels and Pepsi. Although Mall had once been a place for all people of all fashions to wander freely, those of alternative bent had been slowly relegated to places like Spencer’s and the boutique shop that was only in business for six months. And one other place. It was an oasis, a paradise that stocked really awesome things for people of alternative fashion needs. And in this oasis, clothing and accessories and desk toys catered to the grunge, the industrial, the punk, the goth, the pirate. It not only welcomed the unusual and the wild, but employed them, giving it an atmosphere of welcome and inclusiveness for all us societal misfits of the fashion world. It was a place of wonder. Even if one could not buy that corset or that poet shirt, going in just to feel like you belonged was enough. It was the closet we all wished we had, the place where our style, our fashion, our very selves felt validated. But then blight came to the land. Disney infiltrated. Nickelodeon snuck in the back door. Band t-shirts appropriated more shelf-space. The goth gear came down, one rack at a time.
I found myself going in with such hopes only to leave in despair moments later. And the situation hasn’t improved. I keep giving it Another Chance for nostalgia’s sake, to see if a vestige of my style has been retained, perhaps hidden beneath all the media-centric tops, but the last time, all I wanted to do was weep. My black lace-up shirts were now replaced with My Little Pony camisoles, my buckled monster boot display now sported something so pink and glittery, it would be more suited to the Disney Princess display, and my beloved corner of eccentric toys where I had once purchased my Crow action figures was now infested with so much Twilight merchandise, I nearly vomited sparkly rainbows.
The one sanctuary of gothic and alternative fashion has been taken over, my friends, perhaps not by the pale pastels and business casual mainstays of every other clothier in the land of Mall, but with a legion of t-shirts for every band and movie that appeals to the ages of thirteen to twenty-five. Hot Topic, last bastion of alternative style and alternative representation in the mainstream, has sold out, not with the upfront decency of saying “this is no longer your ideal closet, alternative stylers, but a place for teenyboppers to get their Twilight on,” but with a slow insidious betrayal akin to bringing glow sticks to a goth club.
So where does that leave us, really? Damned if I know. Of course, there are independent online retailers, overseas companies, Etsy stores for the alternative creators which are all well and good and completely awesome. The one serious setback of these however usually ends up being the cost. Now, if you’re like me, you have expensive tastes, but not enough money to fund them, so this is hardly conducive to adding all those incredible alternative pieces to your own personal look. So until some other company comes along and realises that there is still a vacancy in alternative fashion needs, or until we all decide to move to Soho London or NYC, it’s up to all of us to be resourceful, mix and match, ornament what we have, or create it ourselves. We have to be our own representation. We have to embrace our own styles no matter what the companies say we should wear, no matter when they tell us we should wear it.
I went into a restaurant the other day, and a dude behind the entrance counter saw my skeleton arm-warmers and told me Halloween was over. I smiled at this brilliantly observant asshole and told him that Halloween isn’t a holiday, it’s a lifestyle. It’s just as valid as anyone else’s. And it’s time for us to be trendsetters again. It’s time for us to be proud of who we are, wear our clothing with abandon, and show the mainstream that we’re here, we’re fabulous, and we’re not going to be simply dismissed as teen phases just because our clothing isn’t sold in mainstream stores. So stock up on black lipstick. Remember that you’re perfect. Be awesome. Be you.