Article-Staying True to your (alternative) Style part 1

When I was a teenager, Like all teenagers I swore when I got older I would not be one of those style-less fuddy-duddy people that conform to become part of the evil corporate machine. Even as I reached my early 20’s I had managed to get jobs that were OK with my waist-length purple synth-dreads and snakebite lip piercings. I maintained that I would not take out my piercings or change my hair for a job. If they didn’t want me the way that I was and wanted to be, then they couldn’t have me at all.

Last year at age 26 I finally did the unthinkable. I took out all my facial piercings (by this time I had four) and dyed my hair black. It wasn’t even for a specific job! I had been looking for work unsuccessfully for over a month and everyplace I applied mentioned my appearance. I shook it off and swore I would find something that worked with the way I looked. Reality eventually set in of course and money dwindled to the point that just finding work, any work became the top priority. I felt as though I was losing a little piece of myself. I really liked the way my piercings went with my face. I loved changing my hair monthly, trying the most fun and outlandish styles I could achieve. Most of all, I liked being able to say that I always stayed true to my self and my sense of style. Now I became  that old sellout I swore I’d never be.

Or was I?  I had decided that finding work and supporting myself was more important to me. I didn’t change anything because anyone told me to but because I knew that at the point I was at that I either had to change something to move on, or not change and be stuck in place, broke and unhappy. I wasn’t changing because I was being greedy and wanted more money or to move up- just make any money and move forward at all.

What I would like most of all is to have a profession I can be successful at and also look however I want. That is a goal I have set for myself. That will take some moving through the ranks of work and life and putting in my dues in this case requires me to tone my appearance down while in the workplace. There are professions besides being a tattoo artist where you can dictate how you look and not the other way around. I’ll be writing another article about that soon.

Within any subculture there are visual clues, stylistic representations that alert people to what we are trying to express, possibly even what music we like, what our attitudes may be like and overall what cultural group we align ourselves with. When we have to change our style to fit the requirements of a job, we worry that we will no longer express ourselves correctly though our looks,will no longer be recognizable as part of our chosen subculture to others, especially members of that particular subculture.

There are ways to alter your appearance to help you keep your style whether it’s dressing up to go out to a show or club, or trying to look like yourself in a uniform for work. Clothing is the most obvious way to express yourself. Not only do I like to find clothing that I love to wear but I am starting to make and up-cycle my own creations to express myself even further. Fake hair is our friend. Wigs, extensions,falls and all kinds of crazy additions to those things are a fun way to help dress up. Makeup is a big one. I think part of the reason why I am more interested in makeup now than I ever was is because I rely on it  more heavily to express what my piercings (hair,etc) cannot. Tattoos in non-visible places are another thing that is all yours and will help solidify your sense of style. I have designs on my thighs that show when I wear miniskirts and one on my shoulder blade that shows when I wear tanks but neither are visible in typical work clothing or uniforms. Maybe you can’t get away with waist length purple dreads at work but find out if you can have purple streaks. If not a funky color try highlights of black on auburn, or strawberry blonde on red, something that looks neat in natural colors. Haircuts can go a long way to helping you look the way you want when stuck in a uniform so keep this in mind when going to the hairdresser. A uniform-length bob that stops at chin-length will make you look conservative with no other visual clues as to your style. An asymmetrical bob however will look more edgy. Short and spiky with long pieces in the front will look cute and punky on a girl and sexy and cutting-edge on a guy. Angled cuts (shorter in back, longer in front like a V-cut) always look good too. Some workplaces are ok with retainers (clear plastic pieces) worn at work in place of facial piercings. They are nearly invisible and keep the holes open. This wouldn’t work with large gauges, unfortunately.

As much as we may want to tell our future boss off when they tell us we have to change XXX if we want the job, sometimes it’s just not feasible. Sometimes just making a living becomes our highest priority. I truly hope eventually the children of today (or their grandchildren) live in a world where how you look has no impact on how you choose to make your living.  No one wants to be a sell-out  but not being able to roll with life’s changes is equally undesirable. For now, we must learn to practice balance.

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  1. In the UK there are, as you might expect, a lot of the surviving goths (we’ve also talked about the ups and downs of this subculture) are corporate or weekend goths. At work, the look is toned down.

    There do appear to be professional jobs where you can do the whole look and no-one will bat an eyelid. Perhaps ironically, on this side of the Atlantic the public sector (what’s left of it) seems to be such an area because of the fairly wide-ranging non-discrimination laws. It’s not actually the case in a strict sense that they can’t discriminate based on personal style but managers feel they’re out on a limb if they do.

    I know a goth who’s a lawyer; that works pretty well because legal work style for women is typically black, black and more black…

    Beyond that it’s maybe a case of finding your own self-employed niche, or a media- or academic-type job where standing out from the norm is not only tolerated but sometimes almost demanded.

    Personally I will admit I’ve never tagged myself as goth in any serious way. I’m way too old, too individualist, too cranky, too lazy to do the dressing-up thing beyond deciding what shade of black I’ll wear on any given day, and too eclectic to stick with any one label (on the old thing, though, I’ve seen goths aged 70 and over at Whitby Goth Weekend – so they would have adopted the style when they were already in their 40s?). If pushed I just say I’m a fellow-traveller…

    • It’s funny you posted this when you did. I was just finishing up a post about places that are usually alright with having employees with body mods and the like.
      It makes sense to me that in the UK managers at some jobs would worry about discriminating against someone’s style because I don’t understand why people don’t worry about that here. I guess there’s two main schools of thought on that in the U.S- There’s people saying things along the line that possibly equal opportunity should encompass personal expression and the thought that “Hey, you did this to yourself, you must have known the consequences.” I know that personally it almost bothers me the way it’s O.K for girls with nostril, tongue and ear piercings to work in most chain restaurants but if you walk in with a lip piercing or large gauged ears you have no chance. Nostril piercings are favored by the mainstream, trendy set while someone with large plugs in their ears or a ring in their lip is easily recognizable as someone from a subculture, even though it feels to me like everybody and their granddads are doing it these days.
      I actually know a goth who’s a lawyer too, heh! Male, but his style seems to blend in as well.
      That’s impressive about the 70-year-old goths, good for them! Also, I actually don’t usually call myself a goth either. I know that so many people who are obviously goth say that about themselves but I really do not adhere to the style almost at all. Because of my family and growing up with very little money I was used to going to school dressed like a mix between a bag-lady and a manic art student. My style has evolved, of course, but I’ve never fit neatly into any particular stylistic niche.
      Lastly, I think my fiancee also just wonders what shade of black to wear on any given day. He truly owns not a stitch of non-black clothing! Not even socks or shoes. Yet only people who know little about the culture would tag him as a goth.

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