Like many recovering sullen teens, I have a weak spot for goth style. I wasn't actually a goth in high school; while my friend Scout wore black lipstick, velvet, and listened to Peter Murphy on purpose, I found Bauhaus boring and stuck to my rock t-shirt/cardigan/jeans combo that was easy to put on when half-asleep, in the dark, which, along with the last ten minutes of the local morning news, is how I began every weekday.
As a fashion choice, goth makes the most sense for teens because so much of teen fashion is wearing your personality like a billboard; like many youths before and after me, I wore those band t-shirts because it was more subtle than just always wearing a shirt that said, "I LIKE OBSCURE MUSIC PLEASE TALK TO ME ABOUT IT." For teens, dressing goth means not just dressing as your personality, but your mood; Scout was more intense than I, so so were her knee-high Doc boots, and they were seen by many as a neon sign saying, "LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE."
As an adult, the two ways you can truly commit to goth are ultra-high or ultra-low fashion; either very loose or hyper-constructed high-end separates in neutral colors, like Ann Demeulemeester and Rick Owens, and quasi-Victorian garb like Vivienne Westwood (think Helene Bonham Carter set to medium-crazy), or stick with Hot Topic bondage pants and Wet Seal sweaters with extra-long sleeves and basically look like you raided a teen's closet and/or still have an active MySpace account. Either way, you're in for a challenge to your wallet or your ability to avoid ending up on What Not To Wear or Intervention.
While I still don't get Sisters of Mercy, have never gone the Mallternative route, and can't afford a Rick Owens shoelace, I have grown to appreciate the romantic aspect of goth, like velvet, especially in vintage dresses that are more pre-WWII era country club than grunge-era Courtney Love. Plus, the color black is the friend of lazy people everywhere, and if you think about it, if you're willing to sometimes substitute black with purple, you can convince yourself that you're less goth, more an homage to '80s Prince.
In all my goth confusion, however, I've found myself in a love-hate relationship with AllSaints Spitalfields, the UK retailer who opened their flagship on lower Broadway in 2010. While they don't so do on a consistent basis, many of their clothes are grown-up goth, black and sulky without looking like a costume from a renaissance faire, more Rick Owens than Siouxsie Sioux reject. There's lots of fitted leather and well-made coats, and the brightest color in the house is a deep maroon that, were this goth J. Crew, would be called "Dried Blood."
Then again, almost all of their clothes are overpriced and sized down, and many of their designs seem overwrought in a way that, as my friend Heather would say, you don't end up wearing the clothes, they wear you. There's a lot of heavy beading, bat-sleeves, and so many uneven hems and odd construction choices that some of the clothes either seem clever or like the sewing machine had a seizure.
I've gotten a few cool things there on sale, but they're drape-y, cowl neck sweaters involving buttons and safety pins that I probably can't get away with but wear anyway in a sweet, Morrissey-induced denial. I can't decide whether I should get over my goth nostalgia or just get over my complex. As for my friend Scout, it's worth noting that she's now a responsible adult who wore white lace and red lipstick at her wedding a few years ago, but walked down the aisle to the Cure. She feels my pain.