sepia-colored glasses

in fashion, all that is old is new again
current trends in alternative fashion

by W.H. Muse
photograph Sequoia Emmanuelle
Black Lotus Clothing

A dust-storm is gathering in subcultural fashion, and it’s covering all that was black in a flickering layer of grit, sand, and scratches. The clean-cut, forward looking minimalism of futuristic fashion is stepping aside for a new generation… a generation that looks to the past for inspiration. The result?  A vintage inspired fashion approach, sometimes chaotic and cobbled together, sometimes cohesive and composed, but always nostalgically fashion-forward.

Med’Devi Ink . Black Lotus Clothing . Kathleen Crowley Costume Couture . Rachel Brice

Alternative fashion has enjoyed a long-standing affair with the mystique of bellydance. Sensuous, body-positive, and creative, the appeal of Middle Eastern dance, culture, and fashion in the Gothic subculture is a natural one. The interplay between the two even spawned “Raks Gothique”, or Gothic Bellydance, a style that fuses Gothic sensibility with traditional Middle Eastern dance.

The history and culture of bellydance is a complex and varied one, too dense to summarize in a short article. The curious reader can discover more about the special facet of dark bellydance at Med’Devi’s The Gothic Bellydance Resource ( An abundance of information about traditional bellydance is available on many sources throughout the internet.

Those of us studying bellydance for its aesthetic appeal will find much to celebrate about in the recently-launched Black Lotus Clothing label. Designer Christina Molcillo’s hand-sewn line of bellydance performance tops, belts, and accessories are an inspired take on typical performance costuming; she embellishes midriff-bearing tops and hip-brushing belts with black sequins, lace, striped fabric, and even original screen-printed artwork. The palette of rich blacks, ivory whites, and dusky grays would be equally at home in a dark dance club as on a stage, so don’t be afraid to appropriate a touch of bellydance fashion for your personal wardrobe. Also of note is Kathleen Crowley Costume Couture, designer of one-of-a-kind, customized fashion as well as a range of stylish and beautiful bellydance practice and performance gear. You can find her wares on Etsy, including Sampants, her capri-length stretch pants embellished with sweeping bias-cut ruffles.

Designer and performer Med’Devi Ink offers a very different take on this fusion-fashion approach. Her “Corset Belts” and “Skorsets” start with bellydance belts and scarves as an inspiration and blend it with the iconic Gothic fashion accessory, the corset. The result is a piece with cross-over appeal, with tassels and silken lengths that will flutter along with you on the dance floor. The ambitious can even create their own design using Med’Devi’s pattern for the patented design.

Interested in bringing a touch of bellydance style to your wardrobe? Since bellydance pieces are created with the needs of performers in mind, performance tops (cholis, halters, etc) will keep you comfortable and cool dancing all night long. Many pieces are made out of stretch fabrics and cottons that will move as you move, a beautiful answer to the oft-restrictive world of corsets and high heels. Prefer something a bit more modest? Full skirts and circle-skirts with scarves or belts draped around your hips allow for a full range of motion while still adding a touch of Middle Eastern flavor to your look.
Those more interested in accessories, hair, and makeup may prefer to adopt the dramatic makeup and adornments frequently associated with the tribal style of bellydance. Visit the website of the exceedingly popular Rachel Brice for more examples of this look. Kohl-lined eyes will be familiar for those who incorporate the gothic aesthetic into their style, but also consider purchasing some elaborate bindis or buying/creating some headpieces or hair adornments. The astute shopper will find many ready-to-wear pieces available, or you can craft your own out of old jewelry parts, fake flowers, chain, beading, and trim. Remember, personal style and taste is key, don’t limit yourself to the colors, styles and interpretations of the look created by others… as with anything creative, endeavor to inspire and innovate!


The Dresden Dolls . Coney Island . Lucent Dossier . Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School

With a focus on artistry, performance, sensuality and good old-fashioned showmanship, the appeal of the “variety show” has wormed its way into the alternative fashion scene, bringing with it a blast of much-needed color, humor, and energy.

As early as 2001 The Dresden Dolls were wowing audiences with their wry blend of “punk cabaret” music, first in the gritty atmosphere of Boston’s The Middle East and finally to audiences of thousands on tour with Nine Inch Nails. As appealing as their music was, equally so was the band’s distinct sense of style, which combined starkly painted “mime”-style faces and somber colors with 20’s-style lingerie and slips, often imitated by fans of the band. Nowadays, frontwoman Amanda Palmer favors a more eclectic look (she donned an original Skingraft dress in the Doll’s most recent tour), yet the band’s aesthetic remains firmly rooted in their vaudevillian past.

Circus troupe Lucent Dossier brings the look and sensibility of old-school Coney Island to audiences across the country while on tour with bands like Panic! At the Disco and flame-haired songstress Emilie Autumn. Attractions include fire-dancers, contortionists, jugglers, and even burlesque dancers. The look varies widely from performer to performer, but often combines elements of traditional circus costuming with gritty or dark references. Gender-bending dress and references are not uncommon, nor are irreverent combinations like sneakers and elaborate dresses, or Vegas-meets-Native-American style headdresses paired with skimpy outfits.

Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, originally founded in New York by Molly Crabapple in 2005, has spread to form branches worldwide, with events running across the US, Europe, and even Japan. Founder Molly Crabapple created the first event in Brooklyn as an answer to the typical “life drawing” format; she asked, “Why can’t drawing naked people be sexy?”. The result is 3-hour weekly drawing session featuring unusual and often elaborately-costumed models and burlesque performers, interspersed with offbeat comedy sketches and light-hearted drawing contests. Though the styles of weekly models may vary according to theme, many models pay homage to the classic elements of burlesque fashion, this means absolute decadence, glittering rhinestones, high heels, and perfectly matching apparel.

“Vaudeville” or cabaret-inspired influences are so diverse it’s easy to add a sprinkle of it to your look. Chances are you may already own some of the things you need,  just try to look at them in a new way. Do you have a bustled overskirt, perhaps a mini top-hat? Consider wearing the overskirt over a pair of pantaloons or ruffled shorts instead of a long skirt. Decorate your mini top-hat with feathers, gems and ribbons… you can even mount these on clips so you can remove the embellishments later to return to a simpler look. Scour vintage or secondhand shops for slips, especially those from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, and wear them with opulent accessories of your choice. Striped stockings can be obtained at most shops, but look for vertical stripes for an especially figure-flattering look (horizontal stripes can widen curvy legs). Perhaps the menswear-inspired aesthetic is more your forte? Suspenders, bowler hats, and menswear inspired pieces like heeled oxford or button boots make for delightfully irreverent selections. Consider pairing them with otherwise “feminine” pieces (corsets, frilled skirts, garter belts) for textural contrast, or style your look completely after sideshow circus dandies. For additional suggestions, refer to vintage photos of circus performers or burlesque stars, easily found through online archives. Take a look at traditional circus costumes… are there design influences there you can borrow from?  Remember, while made-to-match and perfectly coordinating pieces can be attractive, they are not necessary for a successful look. A combination of colors, materials, and fabrics can lend that punch to your outfits that makes them more interesting.

Skingraft . Ernte Fashion Systems . Vecona

The whirlwind of press regarding “the steampunk question” makes another explanation seem redudant. Put simply, steampunk is fundamentally anachronistic in nature; it is the future as envisioned by inhabitants of previous eras. For many, this means Victorian aesthetic with old-style technology touches, but you needn’t stop your exploration of the genre there. Though this style is now associated with the cliché of top hats adorned with welding goggles, there are many more original and compelling images to be explored in steampunk style and many designers breaking through the mold.

Enter apocalyptic-glam outfitters Skingraft. Skingraft Designs makes leather and twill pieces, ranging from heavily studded, laced, and silk lined jackets and gowns running into the thousands of dollars, to a ready-to-wear leather and twill pieces that are more accessible to the average shopper. Skingraft’s approach to design is part “Mad Max”, part western-wear, part retro-futuristic, capturing silhouettes of bygone eras in decidedly modern materials with a contemporary cut. In the same vein is Ernte Fashion Systems, creators of mostly heavily embellished jackets and gowns as well as primitive jewelry cast in silver and adorned with gems. Ernte’s pieces betray a high level of detail in a couture presentation whether it is hundreds of interlocking chains, intricate embroidery sweeping across fine leather, screen printed art, or brocades, furs, and jean material pieced together. The look? Deconstructed style that is highly cohesive and intentional, unity of presentation in chaos.

Representing the other end of the spectrum is the elegant avante-garde styling of Vecona. Not to be couched in the “steampunk” genre solely, Vecona’s inspiration runs the gamut from aristocratic styling of eras gone by to playful alternative wear. However, many of her pieces (from black and brown striped dresses to accessories featuring baby doll eyes and keyholes) would be at home in any steampunk inspired wardrobe. Her accessories evoke a “wearable collage” feel for the wrist, head, or neck, exploding with pearls, tattered lace, burnished brass, and one-of-a-kind antiques.

The key to infusing steampunk in your attire is to reject clichés and integrate what you find personally inspiring… steampunk doesn’t need to end in 19th century Europe! If you love Asian decor or prefer black to brown bring these things into your look. Perhaps you identify with the “punk” side of steampunk, this can come out in brass chains, tattered and torn “collage-style” garments, or antiquated technology. Maybe you’d like to wear a full Victorian dress and accessorize with taxidermy jewelry and aging bronze pieces. Some even prefer to merge technology, science, and fashion, creating pneumatic wings that expand with a touch of a button or vials filled with ambiguous fluids. Whatever your approach, try to infuse an element of the personal and the hand-made in it. Steampunk ensembles become “richer” when a hand-crafted necklace, a laboratory creation, or an original design is part of the total look.

Auxiliary Magazine
The Magazine for Alternative Fashion, Music, and Lifestyle. Available in Print and Digital Editions with weekly website content!
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