Camden Street Markets. This was the part of town known as a vast well of ready-made gothic clothing goods. There were stalls filled with flowing velvet & lace dresses, PVC coats, & pointy boots. Remember, this was in the nascent days of Hot Topic in the U.S., so the idea of buying goth-off-the-rack was pretty freakin' amazing. I was still maintaining the alt.gothic.fashion.faq, which listed a mere handful of stores, for which we had to mail-order paper catalogs (go ahead, shake your cane at the kiddos, ElderGoths).
Anyway, Camden set my eyes agog, but
alas, I was a struggling tech writer & had spent my savings just to
take the trip (& was already saving up to head to grad school). I
recall splurging on one or two velvet dresses & a little bit
of jewelry. On one of our next trips to the U.K., I bought a few pairs
of boots in the Camden shops, including the black suede granny boots
that I wore at my wedding & have since worn with every Victorian
costume I have.
During my most recent trip to London, last summer, my husband went to see a friend, & I decided to visit ye olde Camden Town for some shopping.
Well. I don't know if it's that times have changed or I have changed.
At first, I was charmed & amused by seeing the
brocade coats & military-esque jackets & faux-bustled skirts
& steampunk pocket watches. Except they were EVERYWHERE. The exact
same things. In every single stall. The only variation was how much one hustler
could be bargained to sell it for.
And some of them (OK, a lot of them)
were really crap quality -- acrylic fleece masquerading as wool, terribly shiny
brocades, thin flocked "velvets," plastic faux-metal buttons, flimsy poly baroque
satin, scratchy laces, no linings in anything, lots of elastic waists &
back lacings to simulate fit, & stiff cotton ruffled shirts that
would take a million washings to get a decent drape & the stitching
probably wouldn't hold up to that.
Yes, sewing my own costumes has totally
turned me into a snob, & sure, if you pay 35 pounds sterling, you can't
expect a custom fit or silk velvet. It's all mass produced in Asia, so the
price & quality reflect that.
A few of the short jackets
didn't look so bad in quality (basic black twill, spiffy military
styling), & I was tempted. Except, again, I saw the same ones
everywhere. While I wouldn't see it at home (especially not when I'd be
wearing it at work!), I was still irritated by the goth-in-a-box aspect.
I'd rather invent my own goth style from stuff I buy at Target than
buy a premade "gothic" item that 80 zillion people are wearing whilst
sitting around Whitby or Wave-Gotik-Treffen or whatever. I just
gotta be me! Even if someone judges me as looking less goth. I don't
want the cookie-cutter clothing.
Instead, what appealed to me was
a 1950s-ish black & red cocktail dress (cheap quality but also
inexpensive) because I'm woefully low in stock on cocktail dresses, a peasanty long burgundy cotton skirt, & a plum-colored open-weave waterfall/wrap sweater. All rather colorful, appealing to my inner
peacock. And all things that didn't seem too samey. The later two were
specifically from an artist who hand-dyes her stuff (the colors were rich
& amazing). The first one was some prefab knockoff, but I didn't
see others exactly like it. Quirky items that fit into my aesthetic, whether officially "gothic" or not.
And since bringing them all home, I've gotten good use out of each one. They've held up fairly well; not the best quality, but reasonable for the modest prices I paid. Best of all, I feel good about wearing them. I don't feel like a pre-fab goth nor a cliche marketed to or being ripped off. I still have my edge & my own style.
There are a few traditional gothic businesses I'll still support -- like the lovely Kambriel, of course -- & I even pop into Hot Topic if I'm at the mall & looking for new fishnets. But if I'm craving a ruffly shirt, I'll just as soon scour eBay, a thrift store, or Old Navy for something suitable, then combine into an ensemble that suits me.
What I'm wearing: Black & white stripe knit sleeveless dress, Nordstrom | Black & white stripe knit double-breasted jacket, Marshalls | Black tights, Calvin Klein | Silver-grey wedge pumps, Anne Klein | Black & white stripe bead earrings, Kohls