Bergdorf Goodman Voice
If I’d grown up in some shiny, verdant suburb with rows of pastel Edward Scissorhands houses and overrun with lacrosse-stick-toting jocks, I surely would have been the goth girl. When you grow up in New York City, though, it’s such a melting pot of styles that there’s nothing to rebel against, nothing to vamp up for, no picture of perfection to puncture. Forget kaleidoscopic color wheel hues and a John Hughesian image of high school where cheerleaders tote pompoms and lettermen sport contrasting sleeved jackets.
In Manhattan, I wore neutral central. In other words, black. All the time. And so what? Everyone did! I mean for crying out loud, this is the city where people say things like “Charcoal gray is the new chocolate brown.” That’s how much we love our chic muted palettes.
And then…I left the city for a Connecticut boarding school where my image morphed into Angel of Death. My all-black ensembles and Schott leather motorcycle jacket gave me the aura of the Crypt Keeper. My skin, pale from years of SPF, contrasted alarmingly with the bikini-tanned cleaves of my buxom blonde classmates clad in red fleece zip-ups or varsity swish-swish suits. I remember looking out my dorm room window onto the crisp green quad filled with tanfastic preps playing Hacky Sack and flirting on spread-out tapestries. Holy moley, I was Wednesday Addams in Barbietown.
It was 1989 and Laura Ashley’s business was booming. Cabbage roses abounded. It was like a garden had overgrown my classmates. It was so them, so not me. I simply couldn’t deal with the homogeneous nature of my country clubby surroundings. The school was drop dead gorgeous and now it’s much more diverse than it was, but back then I was co-founder of TJC (Two Jew Club) and also the closest thing the ivy-covered walls had to the resident goth. Don’t get me wrong—I didn’t dye my hair Jet Black #1 (that came later) and I didn’t have my tattoos (those also were down the pike) but I definitely looked sickly and wan compared to my sun-kissed cohorts to whom I’d tout the valor of pallor into the late Indian Summer months.
To no avail. I looked on as girls who also came from New York City evolved, little by little, into long flow-y skirt territory, filing away their black minis in the back of a drawer. But returning home to the city for Christmas vaycay, reality awaited. I saw not a sign of that bright red pile. Hmmm. There was some serious style-schizophrenia going on and I wasn’t having any part of it. So I got used to being a semi-weirdo. I wasn’t some troll outcast hanging with my pet rat in the basement, blaring The Cure. I had friends and was part of the school community. I just always felt a little…off. Not like Canadian off, but outsider-y.
Later I learned that everyone feels that way in high school. But my uniform of onyx ensembles kept me linked to home and the city I loved. I took pride in it. I loved that somehow my black said “I ain’t like alla you sneakered peeps.” I was a black and white photograph of a girl, cut and pasted into a rainbow-hued teenage world. And it made me strong. Dressing the same as everyone in high school is the way it’s done, particularly in a small town where there are fashion “rules.” I made my own rules.
But then I left the green grass for my beloved gray streets and I knew I was back for life. I will never leave New York until it’s toe-tag time. I fit in here. But when I see kids who are actual Goths, even if it’s still a uniform like Dead Heads or hippies or preps or jocks any other group—I still feel a sympathetic twinge. I think it’s cooler, and somehow braver. It’s them against the world, and in small towns, crimes and misdemeanors get pinned on them because of their spook factor. I guess I’m an undercover goth.
Every time I see fashion mags tout the virtues of bright colors (“Orange is the new neon pink!”) I want to gag because naturally those colors would make me look exhumed from the grave. I don’t need to “rev it up!” a notch with a poppy-colored sweater, even if scientific studies show that people smile more when they see you in colors. I’m unapologetically boring, maybe even aggressively boring. My mom tells me I dress like “a Sicilian widow.” But there’s nothing wrong with wearing all black all the time.
We always hear about the fashion savvy of Best Dressed List celebs, most of whom pay stylists to select just the right daring color of the moment, and I can’t argue with that…for them. But for some of us, black rules and always will. It’s the color of New York and the color of night. I guess I’m now Wednesday Addams grown up into a modernist Morticia, an eternal Gothip Girl ready to give the rainbow gals a run for their sunscreen.
— Jill Kargman for Bergdorf Goodman