Goth wedding etiquette from Gothic Charm School

June 16 2009 | Guest post by Jillian Venters

Allow me to introduce Jillian Venters, also known as The Lady of the Manners. Jillian is the pre-eminent expert on goth etiquette. She runs gothic-charm-school.com and is the author of the book Gothic Charm School: An Essential Guide for Goths and Those Who Love Them.

Today she joins us with a guest post with etiquette tips for goths who've been invited to weddings both gothy and more white-dress-frothy … but her book includes a whole section dedicated to goth wedding etiquette for both guests and hosts.


jillianventers01October is always filled with gothy (and even non-gothy) couples getting married. And before any of you start making off-hand remarks about what a cliché it is, goths getting married on Halloween, hee hee hee, oh how spooky; firstly, that's the Lady of the Manners' own wedding anniversary you're chortling at there, and secondly, it's no more of a cliché than other couples getting married in June (Midsummer anyone?). It really isn't — in fact; there isn't any month that doesn't have some sort of cliché stigma for weddings. The Lady of the Manners is going to stop herself before she wanders down that tangent much further, and get back to the topic at hand. Yes, there are weddings in October. Gothy and non-gothy themed weddings, each of which has its own set of unique etiquette concerns.

Attending a non-goth wedding

Oh, look — your oh-so-spooky self has been invited to a wedding! By a couple that aren't gothy in the slightest, but are still your friends. Of course you're going to attend, but there are just a few things you need to keep in mind:

  • Sure, you can wear black, but this is not the time to wear the PVC trousers or dress. Velvet, silk, a well-cut suit — anything that shows you put a little thought into how you looked, but doesn't sartorially scream "Hey! I'm a freak!" You also should avoid layers and layers of swirly eyeliner, overtly white face makeup, or black lipstick. Anything that's just a teensy bit too dressy or gothic to wear to a job interview would be your best bet.
  • Relatives of the bride and groom will ALWAYS come over to talk to you about how unusually you're dressed. Even if you think you aren't. Expect it to happen, and have some friendly and polite responses ready. That way, when great-grandma Smithers comes over to you and, in the tones of someone relaying an important secret, comments, "You're wearing black," you don't stand there blinking in surprised irritation.
  • For that matter, just be prepared to make polite chitchat with the other guests. You were invited because the couple wanted you there, so behave yourself out of respect for them. Don't bring up controversial subjects, don't get drunk because you're "so bored with these people," and don't think because you're the "token freak," that you need to act outrageously.

Attending a goth wedding

But wait! Morticia and Gomez are getting married, and you've been invited! No problem, it'll be just like a private party! Well, yes, kind of. Most wedding invites state a dress code: formal, black tie, dressy casual (which the Lady of the Manners feels is wussing out — make the guests dress up!), costumes, and so on. If the invitation isn't clear, then ASK the bride or groom. Who knows, maybe they'll answer "Oh, we were hoping you'd wear that one outfit of yours that…" and all your problems will be solved.

Now, even at super-gothy weddings, there will most likely be relatives who, while they love "the kids" and are happy to be attending the wedding, still don't quite get this whole black-clad, everyday-is-Halloween lifestyle. Don't tease them. Don't make fun of them, don't say things just to wind them up, and DO NOT ignore them and pretend they don't exist. Answer any questions they may ask you in (again) a polite and friendly manner, EVEN if they are questions or comments you've heard a billion times: "Are you a witch?" "So, you think you're a vampire?" "Your hair is purple." "Is that your natural color?" "Do you dress like this all the time?" Do not roll your eyes or be condescending, even if you HAVE heard it all before; the people asking you HAVEN'T, and they genuinely want to know. If they start asking you questions such as "But why is she getting married in a red velvet dress?" or "Why are there bats on everything?" then tactfully suggest they go ask the bride and groom.

Planning a goth wedding

What if you are the bride or groom, planning your Addams Family spooktacular wedding? It's Your Special Day darn it, and you should be allowed to do whatever makes you happy, right? Welllllll . . . within reason. Are you paying for everything involved with the wedding by yourself? If so, you're free to indulge every little black-glitter-embellished whim you can afford. If there are family members helping with the costs, thank them profusely, pay even MORE attention to the budget, and DO NOT try to wheedle more money out of them so you can do something even more elaborate.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while your respective immediate families may be used to your gothiness and won't even raise an eyebrow when you select a skeletal bridal couple as a wedding cake topper, you still may have to have The Conversation with them. The Conversation might cover subjects such as "Yes, we do think purple, black, and white are appropriate colors for our wedding," "No, we aren't going to ask Wednesday to dye her hair a 'natural' color for the wedding," "No, Grandma doesn't have to wear all black" . . . You get the idea. No matter how accepting your families are about the way you live your life, most parents (and grandparents, aunts and uncles) have been secretly clinging to the idea that you will have a "normal" wedding — in a church, the bride in white, everything straight out of a wedding magazine. You have to let them down gently about this idea without upsetting them. If you're lucky, the family members in question will jokingly refer to their cherished little hopes themselves, with a comment that they always knew you'd do things in your own unique way.

Ultimately, weddings should be about two people making a commitment to one another and celebrating that commitment with their loved ones. A big elaborate dress, a huge reception, eight velvet-clad bridesmaids — those are perks, and fun ones at that, but they aren't the important thing. If you (as someone planning the wedding or just attending) can keep that firmly in mind, everything should go smoothly.

To get more of Jillian's impeccable goth etiquette wisdom, snag a copy of her book, Gothic Charm School: An Essential Guide for Goths and Those Who Love Them.

gothic-charm-school

  1. I love this! Such good suggestions for mingling with diverse crowds of *any* sort. I'm pagan (and have had many an unnatural hair color) and have answered many many many of the questions recapped here. Politeness really does make a difference.

  2. Goth Weddings Rock! I would love nothing more than to wear black and purple and have my bridesmaids in black velvet gowns! My mothers reaction?….. ''I thought you'd grown out of that freakiness'' Looks like 'The Conversation' will have to be had. Thanks for a great post!

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  3. I'm having a gothy Halloween wedding! My parents have been great…his aren't quite as understanding, unfortunately.

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  4. Although I don't do the goth thing so much any more, I'm still in love with the idea of Halloween weddings. This sounds like a fantastic book.

  5. This post is so thoughtfully well written. These are things that every person in every role can take from and use.

    I would be delighted to be in the running for the book.

  6. We are also having our own darkly inclined Halloween wedding !
    So far we have had nothing but positive response from our families which has surprised us completely.
    They might just be glad we are finally making it legal after 5 yrs of living together though…LOL

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    • Oh, I've gotten that one! My favorite is "There's something in your nose." My godmother's husband felt the need to whip that one out recently. It's my nose ring, and it's been there for going on 6 years now. He's seen it a million times before….

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  7. Thanks for the awesome guest post.

    I've been thoroughly enjoying Jill's Gothic Charm School video presentations over the last few weeks, and am eagerly awaiting her book. My beloved and I are arranging out wedding at the moment, and have so far been able to manage my parents expectations relatively well. His very open-minded and accepting mum is making my outfit (except the corset, which I'm hoping will be made by Starkers!), which thankfully removes my mother from the picture on that delicate issue (it will be pewter, not black, but she'll still want to argue about the style, and the corset, if she gets a chance.)

    I'm debating whether to give a copy of the book to my parents before or after the wedding. It appears that they think that I'm not really "goth" any more, (despite having worn almost exclusively black for the last 12 years), and I'm afraid that giving it to them before hand will just cause tensions, rather than relieve them. After, however, they're definitely getting a copy.
    , however, will be getting one as soon as possible. : )

  8. I'm a "reformed goth." i was a real goth in high school but have smoothed out my attitude and wardrobe a bit since i've grown up. i still have "gothic tendencies" that break out once in a while when i break out my PVC mini skirt and black make-up. i've found that most people don't take me seriously if i dress gothic. not to mention the fact that i still look like i'm 16.

    my sis is punk and my dad refused to pay for her wedding unless she dyed her hot pink hair a normal color and took out her nose ring.

    fortunately for me this is a vow renewal and i'm paying for everything. so i can do whatever i want! Bite me, dad!!

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  9. yay! this post made me smile. i'm wiccan, and trying to combine a handfasting and other wiccan rituals with "traditional" wedding stuff is becoming a nightmare. 🙂 i especially love the skeletal cake topper comment. 🙂

    i would love to be entered!

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  10. What a fabulous post! Great ideas not only for the wedding world, but for being a goth or punk or whatever in everyday life. There is no excuse for being rude to people who are just genuinely interested in your choice of appearance. Be a good goth/punk/whatever and show that you can look the way you do and still have manners and class.

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  11. I LOVED this post! Planning a goth wedding myself, I am not looking forward to having The Conversation with those in my wedding party, but now I think I'll be able to handle it MUCH better! I'd love to be entered to win this book! 😀 Thanks!!

  12. I completely agree — I love Jillian's philosophy that basically you are an ambassador of your culture, and being rude and snitty doesn't help anyone. If you dress differently, people are going to ask questions! It's a great opportunity to educate and enlighten people who are reaching out.

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    • I learned a long time ago that if you're different from the mainstream, then people are going to be curious….it's a natural reaction, and as tiring as it can be, I always try to be nice and friendly, 'cause what most people think of as normal, I'm completely baffled by!

      I'm planning an October steampunk wedding, and so far, no one has had anything negative to say about our plans….we're pretty outgoing and outrageous and I think all our friends and family are excited to see how creative and original and different our day is going to be…thank god I won't have to have The Conversation with anyone!

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    • I was always bothered when I was younger by the asshole punks who gave us all a bad name. You are totally an ambassador of your culture and if you want to change stereotypes then you have to behave as such. xo

  13. I love this post! I thought Jillian was the coolest thing when I saw her fashion interview in Bust. We wanted to get married on Halloween but we settled for the summer solstice.

  14. Hi! I'm posting in the right place this time! I would like to enter the contest, please.:)

  15. Ace post! So ace, in fact, that I seem to have spent the last few hours on the Gothic Charm School site when I really should have been working. Oops…

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  16. I'd very much like to be entered into the running for the book. It looks like a fantastic read.

  17. The book looks like fun. We're decideing between a gothic wedding or a large gothic elopement. Either way, my family will be fine, the groom's family will not. I need all the help I can get 😉

  18. omg ive been reading the lady of the manners for some time and i squeed with delight when i saw she had a book coming out!

  19. This is great! It can definitely be hard to mix diverse friend and family groups, especially at an event like a wedding (where lots of people have very specific expectations of how it will look).

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  20. I'll put my hat in the ring for the book.

    I have a decided tendency toward goth, but I lean more "artsy" than anything else, and while I'm not married or engaged, I think if it ever happens I'd prefer to go the goth route.

  21. Toss my name in for the book please, because this is a GREAT post! I have trouble getting my family on board with my ideas for my wedding (no I will not wear all white, yes my hair will be neon orange, and I'm 4'11" so yes I will wear insane black knee-high platform boots under my gown thank-you-very-much). 🙂

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  22. *throws her lace-trimmed funeral hat into the ring for the book*

    I think some relatives that are hoping for a big white church wedding might be swayed by the idea of big gothic victorian wedding – all the ingredients are the same – gorgeous gown, lots of flowers (black and red roses?), pointy arches, pretty music (organ music is just SO gothy :P) and one of those cakes that looks more like architecture than baking – it's mainly a change of colour-scheme.

    I myself want to get married in this lovely summerhouse woven out of living willow and done up as a temporary Pagan temple, but churches, especially Victorian one if you are in the US, and then Medieval and Victorian ones if you're in Europe, can be gloriously Gothic in the original sense of the word.

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  23. This is great! Living in a small, rural town means there's no counterculture–i AM the counterculture. It's nice to see someone encouraging open dialogue about life choices.

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  24. I had kind of purged all thoughts of a gothic wedding from my mind, considering the less-than-offbeat nature of our families, but after reading this, I'm starting to reconsider. This was a fabulous post, and I'd love to read more from Jillian (be it through her site or her book)!

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  25. Yes, Jilli's posts are often insightful and fun. I'm also glad that this site was pointed out to me as I'm planning a wedding myself. And it would be cool to get a free copy of Jilli's book.

  26. I'm loving the post, i love 'The Conversation' and answering questions, all you have to do then is answer the question in advance so you can answer coherently! The book looks great, i'll have to start planning my next wedding to my beloved. One beloved may be enough but one wedding is just not going to suffice….. good job he agree's! x

  27. This was a wonderful post! I will definitely be looking in to Jillian's site more! Thanks to OBB for introducing me!

    And gotta give love to the other Jillians out there 🙂

  28. This. Is. Awesome. Such a good reminder, for all of us who look/act a little different!

    I'm embarassed to admit that I was once really snotty and put-out by questions about my appearance (colorful hair, tattoos, brands…). It took me a long time to figure out that you'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar!

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  29. WOW!! how awesome to see all this information!! I would personally love to have a tim burton or steampunk-styled gothic wedding. my parens are more than open minded about the whole idea (have been since I was 17) esp. since they got married in vegas at the age of 18 when my mom was preggers th my oldest brother. my boyfriend, on the other hand, would love to do that, but is intimadated by his family. Oh well, I guess time will tell on that mark. *wink*

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  30. So very very true. At least nobody was really surprised when I chose a red Victorian dress, though my mother kept complaining that it was becoming too 'theatrical'. Umm… it's a WEDDING.

    I'd love a copy of the book 🙂

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  31. OOO I've been following the Lady of the Manners for YEARS! This is a wonderful contest and I hope that whoever gets the prize *coughcoughmecoughcough* enjoys it!

  32. Great post – seriously! One of my friends is at the beginning stages of her wedding planning. She asked for my help if I would give it and I'm all kinds of excited but definitely got nervous! I like the whole goth thing – but I must admit – I'm not in the least bit gothy … as much as I'd like to pretend I'd look good in all black and stuff … not so much. I err more on the punk side. This post eased my mind a little bit – I don't think it will be too bad/hard to explain/daunting as it seemed at first.
    Thanks!

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  33. I love the idea of "The Conversation", actually actively bringing it to them when they don't bring it too you. I know with the other half's family I hide my head and hope they will disapear (while not gothy, I am also not the good catholic girl they want, lack of church wedding is about to be a giant issue), and I know that just isn't happening, they just aren't going to disapear. But it also ins't fair on them to discover just what I have planned on the day, shocks cause heart attacks after all.

  34. I have straddled the goth/punk/burner aesthetics for years, and even though I've had to clean up for the corporate world, I still only wear stripy knee socks on my feet!! These recommendations are spot-on for ANYONE who lives outside the box. I'm queer, and can see "the conversation" happening with my ultra conservative catholic family when I bring up my civil union.

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  35. this was great…. and i just watched her vids….. jillian, you're my new spooky heroine!!

    sign me up for the contest, please!

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  36. Add another to the pile. 😀

    I've been looking for some goth ideas for my wedding.

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  37. Love this post & advice! I'd love to have this book. I will probably get it even if I don't win it.

    Our Halloween wedding isn't a shock to anyone in our families. Neither is my black dress, although my conventional sister DETESTS the style it's going to be (but that means IT ROCKS). I have already had THE CONVERSATION with my stepfather about 9402830 times. He's still convinced I want him in black head to toe and nail polish and the works. :shrugs: You'd think "just a plain black suit, that's all" would do the trick. And I've had a lot of "Do I need to wear a costume?" questions from random family. It makes me laugh, honestly.

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  38. What a great post! I'm all about the politeness factor. I'm not goth, I'm formerly punk, but still different enough from the rest of my family members that I am sure my ideas for my wedding one day will be met with, "are you suuuure you want to do that?", "but that's not what is done!" I'm all for a challenge.
    anywho, I'd love to enter the running for the book 😀

  39. I love her website, absolutely spot on. I love goth weddings to.
    Although I'm not really planning a full on goth wedding myself (I'm a casual geeky-goth), I doubt my parents or my in-laws would object, since my parents are pretty laid back (their wedding was hardly conventional – my mum wore a purple suit!) and my mother in law is a collosal hippy, so she's hardly going to have a go about me not wanting a 'proper' wedding either!

  40. Luckily I have my sister getting married this year with a very traditional white dress, church ceremony and hotel reception. I keep telling her and my parents that I can get away with whatever I want. My father has agreed that he would give me some money with no strings attached, but I'm sure my mother would have something to say about that. Oh well. That's if I can get my boy to finally realize that marriage isn't so bad.

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  41. Haha I love it! I wore my black PVC vinyl gown for our engagement photos and when we show them to people I get the raised eyebrows and the "so are these really your engagement photos?" It just makes me giggle.

  42. Oooh, I remember "the conversation". Several "the conversations", in fact. But in the end everyone had so much fun and the whole wedding turned out perfect!

    I'm such a big fan of your site, Jillian. I'll definitely pick up a copy of your book, whatever the outcome of the competition!

  43. Thanks for a great post!

    We're having a Halloween wedding in New Orleans in a Voodoo ceremony …with the dress code being "Hallows Eve Chic" (no whites or pastels, please). We kept the guest list extremely small so we could do exactly what we want without all sorts of questions and such from extended family that doesn't really know us and certainly wouldn't get it. We not goths at all – I'm just a little bit "alt" – so our wedding idea still took his parents by surprise. Luckily they've been very supportive and seem to have just resigned to getting into the spirit of things and having fun with the oddity.

    I'd love a chance to win a copy of that book! It looks fantastic.

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  44. If it's not too late, enter me to win this book!

    I thought the post was wonderful and very diplomatic. I'm not a goth myself, but I do appreciate the aesthetic (went through a phase when I was younger where I showed off my inner goth). My one gripe is when anyone – goth or not – seems angry all the time! I completely agree with the The Lady of the Manners – rock the purple hair and black lipstick, and if someone asks about them, they're probably truly curious! If you think about, people want to know where you got that great blue dress or those orange heels, or what your tattoos mean. Curiosity is not necessarily disdain.

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