This book arrived from Amazon, appropriately enough, in the depths of Autumn. Deliciously thick with lustrous photographic illustrations and visual references that are gilded frame-worthy, if it weren't such blasphemy to pull it apart, I'd do just that (I want some of these images on my walls, dammit). Not surprisingly, the book often reads more like an academic textbook than a style guide, and thank heaven and hell below it for that. As it is, there are enough "Like, OMG, Cheerleader-to-Gothgirl" how-to manuals out there already. The primary author of this book, Valerie Steele, has written numerous fashion-related books, many of which deal with how popular, as well not-so-mainstream and otherwise underground fashion, relate to both individual and cultural identity. She also happens to have her Ph.D. from Yale University and is currently Director and Chief Curator at The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology. In other words, she understands not only the Art of Fashion but the Theory behind it.
Steele references everything from the etymology of the word "gothic" to the early, cultural influences (everything from art, music, theatre and film to literature and architecture) that have shaped what we consider Gothic today. I'd like to think I'm an unofficial expert on this subculture (or, at the very least, an Old-School Goth turned Glamourous Eccentric...who also happens to be a costume history & fashion nerd), but Steele cites so many obscure and influences that I started to question whether or not I was a novice myself. Or a clueless, like, OMG!...cheerleader. I never would have considered, for example, Horace Walpole's part--which pre-dates Byron, The Shelleys, Poe, Stoker, Wilde and Baudelaire--as being so significant in the influence of literature on the Gothic aesthetic. Nor did I really think about how the collaborations between photographer Sean Ellis, and the incomparable stylist, Isabella Blow, in the mid-90s (who were both inspired by the disturbingly beautiful collections of Alexander McQueen & Hussein Chalayan) helped spark yet another Gothic Revival in the world of fashion in years to come. Remember when Gucci did Goth?
In addition to sourcing some of the more obvious figures in fashion, the book takes an in-depth look at many of the important underground and independent players who have been responsible for molding and shaping Gothic Fashion over the years. If you don't already know who Kambriel, Lip Service and Plastik Wrap were before, or if you've never heard of The Batcave, the Gothic & Lolita Bibles or Propaganda Magazine, you will by the time you finish this book. However, it should go without saying that about Gothic Fashion would hardly be complete (or valid, for that matter) without giving some serious attention to its inseparable partner, Gothic Music. Steele does indeed write in some length about the role of music in gothic subculture, but it's the latter part of the book which pays serious tribute to the subject.
"Melancholy and The Macabre: Gothic Rock and Fashion," by Jennifer Park, is really a little book within a book. It is essentially a short history of Gothic Rock. From its early, pre-punk influences, such as Velvet Underground and Bowie, to its post-punk revolutionaries, like Joy Division, Siouxsie and The Banshees, The Smiths, Bauhaus and The Cure (still four of my favorite bands), who paved the way for the uber-goth bands of the late 1980s and '90s. While I do think this serves as only a primer on what can be broadly defined as "Gothic Rock", the featured album covers and select discography made me nostalgic for my cape-wearing, gother-than-thou days of olde.
In any case, it is certain that Valerie Steele's expertise and passion for subculture and lesser-known fashion makes for an extensively researched, incredibly thorough read on the subject, appropriate for fashion enthusiasts, costume historians and more erudite goths, alike. Nevertheless, anyone looking for pseudo-morbid, pre-fab, darkity-dark fashion fluff should stick to the plethora of glossy goth-mags (no offense, Gothic Beauty) and cheesy goth-sites and clubs (we know you are...alas, you do not). You could always look at the pretty pictures, though.