|Me circa 1988|
If you're old enough to remember a time before Hot Topic stores were in every U.S. mall, you know how gothic fashion used to be a signifier of a weird little group of outcasts, kids who were picked on at school because we didn't like the same stuff as the popular kids, we listened to strange music from the U.K., we probably read a lot of odd books (maybe science-fiction & fantasy & horror, maybe Victorian novels too), some of us were queer, some of us were as misunderstood at home as at school. We wore black on the outside because we felt black on the inside (TM). And we had to work pretty hard to get that black -- we scoured thrift stores & clearance racks for velvet & lace, we safety-pinned patches on our jackets, we even sewed our own clothes, & if we saved up the cash, we ordered pointy boots from England, & we could only get black nail polish & lipstick at Halloween.
OK, enough nostalgia! My point is that subcultures start somewhere in the distant past & are slowly brought into the mainstream (that would be cultural assimilation, for the non-academics still reading). Today, you can hop to the mall or jump online & buy everything from dark makeup not intended for goths but that looks incredibly gothic to hardcore PVC & chains oh-my-goth gothic clothes. All you need is a credit card.
And how do we, who claim to be goth in some respect, feel about that?
The studded cockring on my left wrist is a signifier of where I've been, what I've experienced, the pain, the joy, the people, the memories, it carries a little bit of everything that being goth means to me. I wear it with every single outfit I wear, every day, aside from historical costumes (& only then because I'm a stickler for accuracy; yeah, I take off my glasses too).
Of course, someone else could wear this stuff & look entirely not goth, not even try, not even want to. It's when someone puts the black dress & the black boots & the black nail polish together & says "I'm going goth today, hee hee!" that I roll my eyes. As if our history, outlook, & culture are merely a costume that you can play dress-up with. Thanks for the dehumanization.
How do you feel? Do you care one way or the other?
- What Do Clothes Mean? Do Clothes Matter? -- For anyone who says "it's just fashion, it doesn't matter," this is a nice, simple reminder that, duh, of course what you wear has meaning.
- What Subcultures & Fashion Teach Business -- A brief, yet highly relevant essay about how the business world (not just fashion) uses & assimilates subcultures.
- The Death & Life of Punk: The Last Subculture -- From The Post-Subcultures Reader, a fascinating, disturbing thesis that commodification killed the whole concept of an authentic subculture.
- But Why Can't I Wear Hipster Headdresses? -- From Native Appropriations, about feathered & beaded headdresses being worn as "fashion." Fantastic Q&A about why ethnic garb should be treated respectfully & not just considered cool, hip, or ironic.
- Some Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation -- From The Vintage Traveler, a look at the history of cultural appropriation & assimilation.