The Gothic style is an eclectic mix of ideas and gathered memories, focusing on the Victorian, and Edwardian dress with references to Medieval dress. The Victorian and Edwardian silhouette had extremes at both ends of their eras, but for this discussion, I want to investigate particular parts of the dress both male and female that have been transported into the later parts of the twentieth-century and beyond.
For instance the corset, the concealed undergarment deemed to be so intimate that it was only to be viewed by a select few, a Lady, her dresser, her husband, and perhaps a lover. This challenging piece of underwear has in one form or another been in and out of fashion many times. It was revived again by the Regency 1816-1840 after the softer lines of the Directoire 1795-1815. The Victorians took up the challenge and once again employed the corset as an essential part of the ladies attire.
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The wearing of the corset continued to enclose figures into the most distorted shapes especially for the Edwardian ladies with the “S” shape shown to the extreme by the Gibson Girls; this contorted look held its position until the 1920’s. The corset then made a steady decline until the late 1970’s, and early 1980’s when the absolute reverse happened; the garment that was such an intimate part of a ladies dress now appeared as an outer garment.
From the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ (1975) we saw Timothy James Curry as the very camp Count Frank-N-Furter cavorting around in a very provocative black corset, fishnet stockings, black panties, high heel shoes, with his hair and makeup showing excess. Although it is suggested that this look was linked to Glam we see the presence of the Gothic aesthetic.
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The corset had undoubtedly come of age, now to be worn as an outer garment in almost theatrical defiance to the rest of society by snubbing social constructs. For the Goths, this became an accepted part of their wardrobe helping to define their place as part of the popular culture of the late twentieth-century.
As Punk slipped away into the mist of anonymity and the Gothic subculture emerged out of the darkness. Different aspects of a dying style associated with the Punk movement transferred over to the Gothic, we saw the adoption of some of the bondage wear, it could be suggested that a link could be made back to the hobble skirt of the early 1900’s. We do know however that leather, PVC, and rubber emerged from Punk and was adopted by the more theatrical style of the Gothic. This dramatic styling is evident in the long flowing gowns with equally long and smooth sleeves, a remembrance perhaps of the Renaissance 1485-1500 which included rich and sumptuous fabrics, soft velvets and defined laces. Reference to these fabrics and this styling can be shown in the dressing of Morticia A. Addams superbly acted by Angelica Huston in the film ‘The Addams Family’ (1991). In complete contrast but as equally important was the mini skirt in customary PVC or leather with the addition of leggings underneath to keep your legs warm.
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The basic component of a Gothic wardrobe is black everything, dresses, pants, and or tights, the darker, the better, but they are not adverse to bright splashes of colour. These vibrant outbursts are displayed to the general populous in the colouring of their hair, and or boots, as well as lipsticks in shades of dark red, hot pink, bright purple and of course black. The Gothic male tends to be an androgynous thing; accessories and makeup often considered to be the domain of females, has now been adopted by males. They have shown equal enthusiasm in both the male and female styles of dress as they too take part in the dressing of this dark subculture and show society that boys, as well as girls, can have fun.
To gain entry to the thoughts and feelings of why a group would adopt a particular style of clothing one must understand what the wearer is trying to convey. It is accepted that Goths feel at home in the darker regions of society, making references to the vampire like the behaviour of shunning daylight and preferring to come out at night. In truth Goths spend a great deal of their time like most of us going to work, school or university doing the normal mundane things of everyday life. But come the night time, and they come out to play enjoying long hours in clubs engaging in their love of costume and the theatrical. Although Goths do respect to the club, they can also be found on their own or in groups reading and discussing the works of Abraham Stoker or Anne Rice, or chatting online.
Once we start to understand how the ideas and styles have been adopted then worked into the aesthetic, and we continue to look into the past for styling and to identify the source. This can be seen in the fitted button through the coat for men borrowed from the late eighteenth-century and followed through into the nineteenth-century. The fitted cutaway jacket in basic black accompanied with high collared white shirts finished with a lace jabot or cravat, and frilled cuffs that hang below the jacket sleeves. On the other hand, the ladies coats are reminiscent of the fitted button through styles of the Victorian and Edwardian era, although the more contemporary version is mainly worn to the ankles.
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The other major contributors to the Gothic style are the accessories, jewellery and makeup, silver being the metal of choice, bracelets, earrings, necklaces and rings, either of a religious or pagan nature, chokers, and collars of velvet or leather. The pentacle a pagan symbol of fire, earth, air, water, and spirit, worn to shock as it is often looked at as part of Satan worship can be worn as earrings or a necklace.
The jewellery is worn in large amounts and is a significant part of the Gothic dress. Included in this display we can see lace gloves, opera styled capes, and buckled or laced up boots, these items having crept from one-time zone to another, to be worn in or out of context but still appearing to wow both the wearer and the observer. It could be said that Goths dress to shock, but the reality is that this close group who choose to follow their own path and continue to swerve mainstream dressing, I see the artistry in what others may term excess.
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Makeup is an essential accessory to Gothic dress, painstakingly applied it is treated as an art form, pale pancake face colour, dramatic black eyeliner coloured in with exciting shades of eyeshadow, lips painted from a limited palette always containing black, this is part of the ritual of dressing.
Hair is treated similarly, usually black but the alternative can be bright and in your face. Goths are seen not conform to the norm, they are considered strange or weird, but I see this as normal behaviour and what humankind has been doing since the beginning of time, decorating the skin and hair with paint.
It is interesting that the mainstream within the population performs the same rituals of painting their skin with makeup and colouring their hair, even engaging in the strange behaviour of sculpting the body surgically, we consider this quite reasonable. However, when we observe many subcultural groups who live on the edge of what is regarded as the normal society, they are often looked upon as being different and what they do as inappropriate.
The dress of the Gothic is at best a reflection of bygone extremes, mixed with present-day technology, and an insatiable quest to show society that the norm is there to be shunned and that even in the darkest regions of life there is style.
When you consider fashion, costume or dress, there is nothing new in style; it is a drawing together of what has gone before. Small snippets of past times are melded into new and exciting forms of dress, whether they are with within the bounds of mainstream society or inside popular culture. This is demonstrated by subcultures such as the Goths, Punks, and Glams these groups continue to flourish and grow then die away only to be reborn and reinvented in another time.