Ten days before Christmas, and I’m at a school carol concert in a London church, feeling overwhelmed by all the singing and the beauty. If you don’t start weeping at the first strains of Silent Night, can you even be said to be human? And then I spot her, in the front row of the north transept, her face a mask of concentration as she sings. No, not my daughter: a goth. A goth whose hair is so black, whose face is so white and whose eye make-up is so purple that I’m staggered that this extremely strict school, which issues detentions for the tiniest aberration from its uniform policy, has allowed her to sing carols in its name.
Perhaps, like Wednesday Addams in Tim Burton’s hit Netflix drama, she so intimidates the headmistress that giving her special dispensation to dress in black is preferable to the prospect of being cursed. Or perhaps schools across England have given up trying to control the spread of goth in their ranks, so virulent is the plague. If you are a parent wondering why your towels have acquired livid purple stains, or why your teen has started wearing pigtails and glowering even more than usual, it’s likely because her latest style crush is Wednesday, the seductively sullen anti-hero played by Jenna Ortega. An actress with a lot to answer for when it comes to the preservation of towels.
Even before Wednesday became the most popular show on Netflix (beating Stranger Things and a certain royal documentary), the goth trend was running rampant through the fashion world. While the death of the Queen prompted a slew of funereal looks at Richard Quinn, Erdem and Simone Rocha, the mood wasn’t merely confined to those designers showing at London Fashion Week.
In Paris, there was black lace, fishnet and a surfeit of buckles at Dior, while in Milan, Donatella Versace had an haute goth moment with a series of diaphanous black satin and lace gowns, worn by models sporting ink black hair, purple lips and kohl-rimmed eyes. When Ortega was scouting for a gown to wear to last month’s Wednesday premier, she didn’t have far to look: the 20-year-old former Disney star chose a black lingerie-inspired gown, complete with delicate black veil, that was the penultimate look in Versace’s spring-summer 2023 show. Christina Ricci – who played Wednesday in The Addams Family in 1991 and its sequel Addams Family Values in 1993 and is Ortega’s teacher in Burton’s Netflix reboot – looked equally glamorous in a black spiderweb gown by Rodarte, which further cemented the idea that gothic black is back.
Retailers would certainly agree. According to online personal styling service Stitch Fix, searches for “black dress” have increased by 91 per cent since the same time last year, while searches for “lace” have increased by 55 per cent, “tulle” by 20 per cent and “black velvet” by 17 per cent. Pinterest, meanwhile, reports that searches for “Wednesday Addams costume” are up 50 times year-on-year, while clothing resale app, Depop, claims searches for Wednesday-inspired looks have risen by 1000 per cent since the Netflix drama first aired in November.
This is hardly surprising, since Depop is the resale site of choice for Gen Z, and goth is their trend of choice this winter. Or for some teens, every winter, since the allure of goth long predates Burton’s reboot. I know: I was one.
’Tis a tale as old as time: girl rejects the forced pink plasticity that retailers foist on her, and finds an aesthetic that better suits her sarcastic personality. The 1980s might not have had Pinterest, but they did have Cockburn Street, an Edinburgh mecca for all things black, leather, lace, studded and fishnet. As my school forbade dyed black hair, I was what those more devoted to the cause disparagingly called a “Saturday Goth”, whose dalliances with the dark side were strictly confined to weekends. On Friday and Saturday nights, I’d give it my all, altering black thrift shop clothes, adding lace panels and painting my face with blue, pink and violet make-up sold by Miss Selfridge and Barry M. The look: 40 per cent Siouxsie Sioux, 30 per cent Susanna Hoffs from The Bangles, 30 per cent pop duo Strawberry Switchblade. Thank God social media was yet to be invented.