I know that 3am probably isn’t the most auspicious time to be writing a blog, but I’ve been meaning to scribble something down this week and have only managed an article on why buying furniture at auction can be a good idea. I’m half awake and have had the need to write something, so I thought I would put some ideas down.
So I wanted to ask whether I can still call myself a Goth? I’ve already come to the conclusion that I can’t, but it has been too big a part of my identity in my early adult years to entirely shrug off the label. That’s why I refer to myself as a “retired” goth. I don’t want to go into the whys and wherefores of how I came to call myself a goth in the first place – that’s a very subjective academic definition for me (I’ll try to put up some of my old essays at some point to prove a point). Suffice to say that I ran / managed a successful Goth club in Leeds in the late 1990s and went to all the goth nights as a student and the Whitby Goth Weekends every November for about 5 years.
In that capacity, I was also interviewed by Paul Hodkinson for his PhD thesis (later edited and published as Goth: Identity Style and Subculture), but my experience as a club manager and views seemed to be at odds to his pre-designated ideas. At some point I’ll scribble a critique of his thesis, but now isn’t the time for that. Anyway, he recently returned to some of his interviewees from his thesis (probably about ten years on) in order to gain a bit more understanding on the subculture. I suppose I’ve been thinking about my own identity as a retired goth and what it means to me (I’ll come to why I use that term to describe myself in a little while).
So I suppose the next two questions which I want to ask are: “In what ways can I still describe myself as a Goth” and it’s reverse: “In what ways can I no longer describe myself as a Goth?”. Those will lead to further questions which I will answer along the way.
To begin to answer the first question, “In what ways can I still describe myself as a Goth?”, I turn immediately to my enduring taste in Goth music. My formative years (from about the age of 14-15) where when I began listening to Goth and alternative music. Band such as The Sisters of Mercy, The Cure and Fields of the Nephilim were among the first that i began to explore. I was by no means an identikit Goth – there were certain “accepted” bands which were apparently de rigeur, but I was discerning. I never did “Goth-by-numbers” which is an accusation which could be levelled at some of my less critically aware peers. But as usual, I’m getting away from the subject at hand. I still listen to, and love, all of the old music. And I would say that it still forms part of my identity as an adult. You only need to look at the endurance of Radio 4’s “Desert Island Discs” to gauge how important music is to people’s identities. That’s probably a blog post in itself…
The second most important aspect of my identity as a retired Goth is related to my continued love of the music, and that is a rejection of mainstream / mass / popular culture. This is quite a difficult concept to adequately quantify without going into a separate academic essay in itself. I am aware that my patterns of consumption of mainstream culture are markedly different to those of my Goth peer group. I no longer have a television, a conscious choice rather than one of financial or any other criteria. I am a prolific user of Facebook & YouTube and a recent convert to twitter. I am also a loyal listener to radio 4, from the Today Program through to Front Row and occasionally beyond (yes, that includes The Archers and You & Yours!)… This is just a broad picture of my consumption patterns of contemporary media, and is not intended to give an exhaustive description. While certain aspects fit the usual patterns for some of my peers, others are markedly different.
The last major point in which I can still call myself a Goth is in the maintenance of friendships and relationships with my Goth peers. Although my social circles have expanded since my young adult years (as one would expect), I still maintain good friendships with long-standing friends in the subculture. This is perhaps a less definable aspect of my identity as a Goth, but relationships and friendships within the subculture formed an important part of my inclusion in the social group and should not be discounted. I suspect that this idae is one which could do with a bit more thought, reflection and investigation…
So, those are the ways in which I would say I am still a Goth. The ways in which I am no longer a Goth are a bit more obvious and tend to relate more to activities than to ideas of personal identity. The most obvious is that, although I still listen to the same music, I no longer attend Goth nightclubs or gigs. This is a major part of the subculture, as clubs and gigs are the main social gatherings for Goths. This also should give a clue as to the nature of the subculture, but I’m not going to go into that today.
The other major way in which I can no longer call myself a Goth is the fact that I no longer adopt the dress conventions of the subculture. While I am happy to acknowledge the ways in which Goth styles of dress rupture the conventions of mainstream / mass / popular cultural styles, I don’t feel comfortable making those sort of cultural statements through my style. I still like to take care in my appearance and put thought into what I wear, but I try to distinguish myself in other, more subtle ways. An emphasis on quality and an elegant style is one of the ways in which I try to set myself apart from the conventions of my more closely age-related peers these days. After all, who wants to see a middle-aged man desperately trying to cling on to the fading light of his youth? It’s just not a pretty sight!
The reasons for my particular choice in consigning active participation in the subculture to history range from a boredom of the music (which I perceive as derivative and cliché-ridden), to finding the subculture somewhat limiting to my maturing identity. Having said that, I still feel that my time as a Goth moulded my identity and is something which played a formative role in creating the person I am today. To say that I am a “former Goth” would be to deny this role. Equally, to label myself an “Old Goth” places too much emphasis on a continuing active participation in all the subculture’s streams. So I use the term “retired Goth”. I feel that this adequately describes my current position and relationship with the subculture, and it is one which I am proud to use.
Since moving to the outskirts of London, on the borders of Surrey, I have been blessed with some of the finest charity shops in the country. Before I moved two years ago, I lived in the rugged county of Yorkshire, which was sadly bereft of any quality charity shops selling menswear.
For those of you who may not be familiar with the idea of charity shops (which I believe are a specific UK phenomenon), these are shops which are run by charities, selling donated clothes, bric-a-brac and basically anything that people no longer want or use but which still have a useful life in them. Items are donated to the shops by the public and then resold, bringing income for the charity. The prices of items sold in charity shops barely compare to the original retail price, the only issue being that you’re buying second hand items. That’s occasionally a cause of snobbery, but when you think about the second-hand market in clothes on eBay, there’s not much difference.
Since moving away from Yorkshire, I have had the good fortune to furnish my wardrobe with designer labels, mainly from charity shops and at a fraction of the original retail price. A Barbour Northumbria coat with lining and separate hood would set you back about £280 in one of their retail outlets. I found one for £35. Armani jeans (£5), Dolce & Gabanna wool jacket (barely worn, £25), Ralph Lauren hoodie (last season, £12); these are just a few of the items I have found in charity shops in the local area.
My crowning glory was a handbag for my wife. I found an unused, genuine (it still had the tags and certificate of authenticity) Balenciaga handbag. The exact same bag was still on sale in the Balenciaga online store for £1240. It had all the right bits & pieces with it, still had the little plastic covers on the leather zipper bits, the only thing I could see was that the plastic cover from one of the handles had been removed. I paid £195 for it. That’s a difference of over £900!
I’ve yet to find anything to beat the Balenciaga handbag. That really was a one-in-a-million find. I think that since I’ve been living down here, the only thing that I’ve paid full price for was a black Barbour International biker jacket (produced to celebrate the brand’s 75 year anniversary), for £220. I felt guilty paying full price for it; before I moved I would never have been able to justify paying that much for a coat. When I consider the savings I have made on all the other clothes in my wardrobe though, I don’t feel so bad. Although I seem to be becoming a label slave, there’s no way I could ever justify paying full price for a new item from, say, Dolce & Gabanna, when I have so much choice in the charity shops.
A note of caution should also be struck; while I can find all sorts of designer labels in the charity shops, they’re rarely current season. This doesn’t bother me at all, as I’m less interested in following fashion than I am in creating a sense of style. Whereas fashion changes from week-to-week, style has a more enduring quality. And if vintage clothing is your thing, there’s no better place to start filling your wardrobe than charity shops.