I don’t know how many of you have read Gothic Charm School before (either the book or the blog), but I’m going to review the book for you all today. I can’t remember where I got the impression, but I feel like this is one of those books lolitas think they can appropriate by mentally replacing “goth” with “lolita.” How true is that? Well, I’ll go into detail below.
General Book Review:
If you’re looking for an etiquette manual, this book is not it. It calls itself a guidebook, and Gothic Charm School does have some practical, goth-specific advice in it, but that is interspersed between lots of general “common sense, be polite” advice.
Also, I really don’t think that this book was really intended to be read cover to cover. This might be a remnant of its original blog format, but the book is incredibly repetitive. This is actually pretty nice if you just plan on reading just the couple of chapters that you think are pertinent because you’ll get everything the book has to say just in that selection. If you read a majority of the book, or the whole thing, be prepared to be frustrated.
Speaking of being frustrated, I really should comment on the “Lady of the Manners” persona that Venters puts on during this book: it’s excessive. Whether or not its persistence and silliness makes it endearing or aggravating is going to change based on the reader. For my part, I was mostly ambivalent towards it, but leaning towards annoyed. Then again, “The Lady of the Manners” thing may not be a big deal if you only read selected chapters instead of the whole book. For me, the saving grace was that she addresses the whole persona thing at the beginning, which at least makes it explicit that it’s meant to be lighthearted and fun.
The intended audience for this book is a mixed bag, with some passages explicitly targeted at high schoolers (maybe middle schoolers, as well), and some passages about professional job interviews. In general, this seems to be aimed at “young” goths, as in people who are new to the goth subculture. (There’s no advice here for Eldergoths, but there’s a lot of explanations about typical Eldergoth behavior towards newbies.) If anyone picked up this book specifically to learn about goths and what weird phase their devil-child is going through, there’s an entire chapter specifically for that (and it explains that goth might not be a phase and that devil-worship is not part of being goth). In general, though, the depiction of the goth subculture in this book is that of a bunch of silly, happy people spending half their energy on loving what they love and the other half on convincing everyone that “this is serious, guys.” It’s a sympathetic portrayal, which I suppose you could expect since Venters is a goth herself.
My main critiques for the content is that it all comes from Venters’s personal bubble. There’s only so much advice you can give outside of your personal experience, but I wish more of an effort had been made to talk to/about goths and not just similar-to-her goths. In the debate about music or fashion being most essential to gothness, she comes down on the side of fashion, and that’s very obvious throughout. Even in the fashion section, there is no mention of simple band T-shirts as wardrobe basics. Also, though she mentions in her wardrobe building guide that she’s trying to include men, the advise for men is quite watery and insubstantial. (She further insists that women have at least two blazers, which is obviously coming from her own fashion style. It rubbed me the wrong way.) Her advice is mostly meant for suburban and urban (American) goths and gothlings, and there is no special attention given to goths in rural areas or small towns. However, what I find most upsetting is that she really perpetuates the “all goths have very pale skin” stereotype, which is problematic and exclusionary.
Content and structure aside, I really love this book as a material object. The watermark on all the pages is a nice touch, and the illustrations are fantastic. They visually represent a lot of the goth diversity that the text homogenizes, although everyone is still paper white. Here are a few of my favorites:
Lolita Book Review:
While Gothic Charm School doesn’t talk about lolita fashion, I’ve gone through and figured out which sections work for the replacing “goth” with “lolita” trick. As far as I know, there’s only one edition of this book, so I’ll reference page numbers to hopefully make looking things up easier.
If you’re a lolita in high school, some particular sections that might apply to you are pages 79-86.
Chapter 1: Am I a Goth?
- Why you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet, including those silly quizzes (25-29)
Chapter 2: I’m Not a Goth, But I Have Some Questions About Them
- Can I comment on their clothing or makeup and ask if they make their own clothes? (39-46)
- This is meant to be read by non-goths (or non-lolitas, in our reading), but I think it’s comforting to see that other alternative fashions deal with a lot of the same reactions that lolita provokes (mainly the unwanted touching or picture-taking). In this case, read it, but don’t substitute lolita in.
- A few words for the Goths reading this chapter (46-48)
- Go back to filling in “lolita” here, but some of the examples are really goth-specific and might not make the most sense in the reread here.
Chapter 4: Help! I’m a Goth and My Parent/Friend/Significant Other/Coworker Doesn’t Understand Me!
- How to reassure people you aren’t a Satanist, drug fiend, or psycho killer (75-79)
- This is another section that you should read for solidarity without trying to apply it to lolita. If this was written for lolitas, it would probably be called “How to reassure people you aren’t a delusional doll/princess trying to have sex with pedophiles.” There are some general strategies in this section for explaining away misconceptions, though.
- Dealing with roommates (86-91)
- This is a pretty solid section all around.
Chapter 6: Goths and Romance
- The whole chapter (115-143)
- This was probably my favorite chapter. It does a good job of filtering general relationship advice and questions through the particular concerns that someone in a subculture or alternative community might have. It also offers some suggestions for your behavior towards friends’ relationships or relationships you aren’t involved in. There are obviously some things that won’t apply to lolitas in general or to you specifically, but I think that those are few-and-far-between enough to suggest the whole chapter.
Chapter 7: Socializing, Cliques, and Gossip
- Mostly the whole chapter (145-157, 165-167)
- The two sections I don’t recommend are about the blurring and overlap between the goth and fetish subcultures, which seemed too specific to speak to general subculture crossovers, and the section about internet behavior, which read as very old and out-of-date. (This book was published in 2009, after all.)
- There are obviously a lot of lolita-specific things that you can think about while reading this chapter, including /cgl/ and secrets/behind the bows, when Venters talks about gossip in general.
- The little illustration of a gothic lolita appears in this chapter, right next to the sections that talk about self-absorption, exclusivity, and snobbishness. Coincidence? Probably, but I found it amusing.
Chapter 8: Fashion – One of the Great Goth Obsessions
- Dress codes (both spoken and unspoken) (182-185)
- The section is super short, and it’s basically just meant to convey the idea that sometimes you just can’t dress how you want, and you must get over it. There’s a brief talk about “goth costumes” that I think lolitas can relate to well.
- What to do when people ask you why you’re dressed like that (186-189)
- If you replace “goth” with “lolita” here, it’s the same advice that the community has handed down since it began, but sometimes it’s nice to see things written down.
Is it worth it to add to your lolita library? Maybe. Get it if you like a lighthearted take on the goth subculture or if you’re a fan of the blog Gothic Charm School. Otherwise, no, I don’t think it’s worth buying to read about 1/3 of the book. Get it from your local library if you can, like I did.