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Dressing Goth at Work (and Not Getting Fired)

October 8, 2011 by kitty  · 34 Comments  · 15463 Views

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I often read or hear younger Goths talking about how they will have to (or recently had to) stop dressing Goth in order to be successful in the workplace. While that may be the case in some jobs (or some smaller towns), don’t assume it’s a hopeless cause until you know for sure.

Goths Can Excel in ANY Career
You don’t necessarily have to totally stop dressing Goth to get or keep a job. With the rise in popularity of tattoos, body piercings and other forms of self-expression, employers are becoming a bit more tolerant. These days you can usually get away with at least some unique flair in your look… maybe not tattoos and piercings, but there are so many other ways to express yourself!

I work in a very corporate environment in a very conservative town, yet despite it being fairly common knowledge that I am Goth, I am highly valued in my workplace and have been extremely successful in my career. This is because I’ve played my cards right: I’ve worked very hard, been patient, and used discretion in what I wear and when I wear it. Over the years, I’ve seen many other Goths I know excel in awesome careers without totally sacrificing their personal style. I’ve even seen them achieve management roles, become doctors and lawyers, and even teachers!

Start Slow

The first thing to keep in mind is that most dress codes still allow for at least a bit of self-expression.  Even a strict suit dress code will likely allow for dark colors, satin or velvet trim, one piece of quirky jewelry and a bit of liquid eyeliner on the top lid. You just have to learn to be Goth to different degrees in different environments. I often go all-out on the weekends (especially for clubs) but my look is subtle for work. For interviews, of course you have to be even more careful…  Sometimes you have to go for impressing people first, and then show them that Goths are just as good than any other employee (or better; but that’s another post altogether).

Once you have secured the job you have to ease into it gradually, so you don’t shock your boss and co-workers by pushing it too far too soon. Whenever I was starting a new job, I always called it “Going incognito so I could infiltrate and cause positive change from within.” Get the job, give them time to see what an exceptional worker you are, then try wearing a velvet choker one day. If that goes over well, try really dark nail polish one day, and so on! Try wearing your Dr. Martens to work on Casual Friday (if your office has one) and if no one says anything negative, work up to your New Rocks. If you ever have to go to a work-related social event on the weekend, try pushing it just a little more and see how people react.

Taking it slow eliminates the option for people to apply negative stereotypes to you based solely on your appearance. No one can say, “That girl is probably irresponsible and immature because she can’t conform” once they already know that you are responsible and mature!

Dress it Up

Another approach that I’ve alluded to before on this blog is to dress it up a bit. Going to a little extra effort to dress just one notch “nicer” than everyone else not only raises people’s estimation of you, it also automatically gives you a unique look. Don’t overdo it, or some will feel that you are putting them to shame. But if you wear a blazer from time to time, wear your hair in classy styles, and generally add just a touch of glamor to your look you will feel like you are still an individual despite the dress code restrictions. And you can get away with a bit more “dark” if it’s an elegant kind of dark. A lovely side-effect is that people around you will start to associate Goth with classiness rather than rebellion. Yay for that!  :)

Also remember that when you do have to make some compromises, it’s an opportunity for you to challenge your creativity and try new things.  You just might discover some new looks that you really love, and wouldn’t have tried if you weren’t exploring new options. You get to have more variety in your wardrobe, and you will enjoy your weekend look even more because you’ll appreciate those days when you can fully be yourself.

Be Professional and Beyond Reproach

Once you’ve proven yourself the star employee in your workplace, you might be surprised what you can get away with if you ease into it gradually.  However, we all get a little too comfortable sometimes and it is possible to push the boundaries too far.  If your boss ever indicates to you that something you tried at the office wasn’t appropriate, PLEASE do not argue!  Politely apologize and explain that you didn’t mean to offend anyone or break the rules, but that you just didn’t realize it would be frowned upon.  And then don’t do it again.  You can always save that skull necklace for the weekend!  :)

One of my readers, Bane of “GIY: Goth it Yourself”, recently commented, “I love it when the most professional person in the room is Goth.”  So true!  There is no better way to break down negative stereotypes in the workplace than by being the person with the best judgement and the best work ethic.

Below is a retrospective of some of my favorite work looks from this blog so far:





34 Responses

  1. Snowhyte says:

    Good thoughts here, I've struggled for years with expressing/finding my own style and you are the closest I've ever seen to already representing what it is I am searching for (I admire that to no end btw). The workplace has always been challenging but you have totally succeeded and give great advice! Thanks!

  2. Hellcat says:

    I was recently handed majority rule control of a company that has been successful for several years and was wondering how to keep my gothiness while still being taken seriously. in my new role as I will have more leniency in how i dress and you have become an inspiration on how to do that. I even showed this blog to the owner of the company and he said that this would be acceptable. Thank you for being here for all of us.

  3. I loved and learned a lot from this article. One large questions looms at me, and that is the future and jobs. I probably shouldn't worry about this, but my wardrobe doesn't look too promising. But thankfully, I'm looking out for fancier stuff at thrift stores and garage sales: scoring slacks and blazers, especially! I would love to be a teacher (art, biology, or reading?) or a vet (still undecided) later on, so ..I love the pictures in the article, too. Your story gives me hope ^^

  4. Luna says:

    At both school and my job, I have uniforms. Which are all black. I have a bit more wiggle-room at my current place of business, but everyone still wears black. On the odd occasion we're allowed to wear street clothes, everyone just assumes I didn't get the memo. :P

  5. Sal Kaye says:

    "…A lovely side-effect is that people around you will start to associate Goth with classiness rather than rebellion. Yay for that! :) …"Absolutely! I so agree with you.Thanks for this great post!I also enjoy the outfit-overview which I find – as always – very chic and inspiring.At my work-place, dressing gothic/black is frowned upon and I have even received so-so comments on my coffee mug (white with black and grey roses).You suggest easing into it gradually.That's what I did, too, but at a certain point it was just an unsaid "stop here". So I'm experimenting a lot, too.Yesterday, I wore a black shirt with a somewhat gothy print and added a turquois cardigan and turquois nail polish. That worked pretty well and one of my female co-workers even commented on my "cool" shirt and nail polish.So yes: there's always a way to express yourself in one way or another.

  6. Julianne says:

    This is the best article on this subject I've read. I think your advice is spot on.

  7. This is a great post ^_^ You have really good suggestions, and of course your outfits reflect them perfectly. One thing I try to do is balance what I wear throughout the week- if I wear something that seems a little over the top one day, I'll try to wear more toned down looks the other days.

  8. Le Professeur Gothique says:

    This is a fantastic post! Very informative with a healthy dose of good and sound advice. I agree with the statements above: the best article on this subject yet!When I started grad school and my career as an academic I really thought the administration was passing me up for opportunities because I am Goth. I honestly toned down to the point of dressing normal. When they were still passing me up it dawned on me that there was something more going on; so I returned to "normal." However, I am keeping normal more pulled together, more elegant, more "artsy professor" than I did before. My students, especially my Parsons students, respond quite positively to my look. And the various administrations at the two colleges where I teach told me that I dress beautifully and artsy. I like the term artsy — Sabayon uses it when she comments on my outfit a lot — it makes sense for me, what I'm trying to achieve, and the field that I'm in.This is such a good lesson for all alternative folks. We absolutely must change what people think by being classy, professional, and by doing good work well. And we need to remember that nice matters. When your nice to people and gain their respect and trust they recalculate their internal definition of Goth, which is a good thing. HUZZAH for Ms. Kitty!!!

  9. Bane says:

    Outstanding post! I agree 110% with everything you've written. It's excellent advice that really works.Using this approach, I have held jobs in the legal field (possibly the most "suit and tie" profession there is) in a conservative southern state and in the corporate world at a large public relations company in Washington, DC (a rather conservative town in terms of dress). I was successful at both jobs, receiving merit raises and promotions – evidence that my style of dress was not holding me back. In my current position, I work for the highest levels of management and for HR. Because I have established myself as a dependable employee who exercises good judgment, my employers trust me to maintain confidentiality of sensitive information, including personnel records. Their trust in me is based on my professionalism and my actions, and is not diminished when I wear black lace and bat jewelry. It's worth a little clothing compromise to hold a job you can enjoy and take pride in. And every goth who goes against the negative stereotype by being classy, polite and professional is a plus for the whole goth community. One final note – In addition to success, there may be other rewards for the effort you put into your career. With solid work experience and a good professional reputation, you become a valuable resource. You may have more job options, allowing you to consider an employer's dress code as a criterion for working there.

  10. Electrobat says:

    Very well said and I couldn't agree more! My last job I started out very conservative and added my Gothy style little by little. At my new job I toned it down at first, but not as much. I still wore my petticoats and dramatic makeup, but cut out skulls, bats, spiders, and black lipstick for a few months. I added them in slowly and made sure there were no negative reactions. I actually get a lot of compliments on my skirts with skull patterns, and no one blinks an eye when I indulge in black lipstick.It helps tremendously to work hard and establish a good reputation. I also admit that I am very lucky that I can wear what I do, it is most definitely not the normal sort of business casual. Especially since I work at a large corporation. One thing a supervisor said about my dress is that I am very different but I always look well groomed and I follow the dress code.The one thing I haven't had the courage to wear is my pair of skelly docs. Ha! Maybe someday…

  11. I think this is very sound advice for -anyone-, honestly. When it comes to work, professionalism should come first. Now I feel I have to confess that I haven't dressed obviously Goth in the last few years. This is mostly due to not wanting to deal with people's preconceived notions about me and having to prove and explain myself; and partly because I grew tired of the sartorial restrictions I placed on myself in my teens and early twenties with regards to color. Of course now that I work in a corporate environment, tho' our dress code is business casual, I daydream about unnaturally colored hair and stompy boots! In general, I prefer to keep my outfits clean and simple and to express myself with my jewelry and shoes (and, yes, love of blazers!). I love big rings! Brooches! Moon everything! I just bought a pair of skull earring studs that I plan on never taking off and another pair of sugar skulls that dangle from a rose–both of which are cute and sparkly… and will remain mostly unseen behind my hair.Thanks for this post and for being a great inspiration. You remind me that I should accessorize more and that I -can- push my outfits further into Gothdom by making small alterations to my clothes here and there and yet still look professional.

  12. And not just for Gothic, but for any style that isn't mainstream business professional default. Words of wisdom to 'work' by~!Fortunately, my workplace is mostly casual, and I'm hardly ever seen by my bosses [or if I am, it's mostly only mid-chest up, haha]. But there are plenty of days, especially when it's cooler, where I'll be the best dressed of my peers many times over, and no one thinks twice about it. I get complemented on nail work and jewelry mostly, by patrons most fequently. The crowning moment is wearing a long silver wig on or around Halloween. All in all, for alternative styles that are more lavish, I'm pretty lucky to work where I work.I enlarged all your work photos because they're all so memorable~! Looking back, I think that nice grey dress number was one of my favorites.

  13. RubyAlison says:

    I very much appreciated this post.It is so true that being very well put together and dressed nicely goes a long way to balancing the image of goth in the workplace.

  14. GothBarbie says:

    Great post! Well written and very true!Easing into it is the method I've used to continue to be able to have Pink, Purple or whatever color hair in a business office. And, like you, I'm usually more dressed "up" than all the non-goths in the office so people are impressed more often than disturbed by my style!

  15. Wow, ladies! I am deeply moved by all of the wonderful, supportive comments on this article! I had a very full weekend and wasn't able to check into the blog much, but what a delightful surprise I had this morning. I've enjoyed reading these comments very much, and I'm glad to see so much of the Goth community dedicated to professionalism and work ethic. You are the ones who will help us gain/maintain a good reputation!

  16. Pale Lady says:

    "Going incognito so I could infiltrate and cause positive change from within."Hear, hear…Wonderful advice, the entire post!!

  17. Well written! I esp. agree with the emphasis on being 'professional beyond reproach.' This is good advice, no matter the field, when you're starting out or trying to advance.

  18. Rachel says:

    I couldn't agree more! As you know, I am not goth, but I do have a quirky style. When I first started working in the corporate world, I thought I had to conform and bought a whole bunch of unfeminine looking button down shirts. I ended up looking like a blah version of Pam Beesley from "The Office."It wasn't my style, but I thought I "had to wear" this stuff because it would make me successful.Instead, I felt lost and sad–like I was pretending to be someone. Now, I still have to wear certain things, like dress pants–and from time to time–a suit. However, now I own my style, and, often, when I have to wear a suit, I'll rock a fierce piece of jewelry (I just recently purchased a rockin' leopard ring).

  19. Sunduri Das says:

    I love all of these looks and would wear them to work. You look elegant, classy, and totally office appropriate.

  20. Ms. Lou says:

    I agree completely with easing goth touches into your work look. I did, and now no one bats an eye at me. They just take it as part of my look. It also helps that I've worked there for years and do my best to always be professional and polite at all times.

  21. Johanna says:

    I'm just wondering why you phrased "(…) and even teachers!" the way you did. Do you feel that being a teacher is a particularly unusual or difficult career-choice for someone who is darkly inclined? I'm just wondering because I am about to become a teacher myself… And I must admit that I still feel myself struggle to combine personal taste and professional attire at times. But that must be a purely personal impression, since I have only received positive comment on my wardrobe so far. I guess being a teacher in grade-school helps. Younger kids are much more tolerant than one would assume… Anyways: Thank you for the good advice!

  22. Johanna, I guess it as just my assumption that school administrations would be stricter on dress codes for teachers to put parents at ease. No doubt, kids don't care as much about appearance as adults, but I would think that some closed-minded parents (especially in certain regions) might be concerned about alt.people teaching their kids, due to negative stereotypes adults tend to form against anything that is different. Again, that's just my assumption, not anything that I've directly discussed with the Gothically-inclined people I know in the field of education. I imagine the basic guidelines would be the same – tone it down in the beginning, get settled into a good position, then let feedback from your colleagues and supervisors guide you in how far you can push it. :)

  23. Anonymous says:

    Great post! Exactly ideas i was looking for :D It so important to be able to express your style and preferences everyday or life would be so plain.Love your blog and your look!Im def gonna check in here often and look forward to ur updates. Greetings from a snowy Sweden :)

  24. Marian says:

    Love these "office" looks. I work in a law office (and have for 32 years now), so my co-workers are used to seeing me in black and grey. Been wearing black since pre-school days in the '60s when I wanted to look like Carolyn Jones in The Addams Family. But these looks are "right up my alley" – the lovely darkness but still conservative enough that I could wear to work without the "what the…." from my coworkers and my bosses.

  25. Anon, thank you!! :) I'm glad you enjoy my posts.Marian, Carolyn Jones was one of my major fashion role models, too. She's the ONLY Morticia, in my book. ;-D I love to hear from other "mature" people who work in conservative environments and still maintain their dark identities. I'm delighted that you like my blog!

  26. Raddish says:

    This article is exactly how it works 9 out of 10 cases. I started off with a conservative suit and moved on to sporting Hell Bunny dresses on Fridays, and Spin Doctor shirts and skirts on regular days. In the exact process described. I have natural dreadlocks too! ;)

  27. Ella says:

    I love this post! That’s pretty much exactly how I’ve started out in grad school. I’m a Counseling major, so I wanted to let people get to know me first. I think it’s for the best that my class got to know me first since they will be potentially counseling Goths and baby bats. I wanted them to know that there’s a person behind the dark clothing and that Goths don’t need psychological help because they are Gothic.

    Thank you for this post!

  28. amethyst says:

    i love this! too bad there isn’t a ‘gothier’ (ohh i’m not sure if i like that word or love it..) way to wear my nursing scrubs. but i hear ya. i have black hair and full sleeves. but as a LPN and soon BSN, i find that i need to wear long sleeves to cover my arms..but alas, i just wish there were a set of scrubs that would be more me, than, say, the navy blue baggy ones i currently wear. every. single. day! i live outside of oslo, norway, and they really don’t even know what goth is.

  29. Sara says:

    This is something I struggle with daily, so I loved seeing this blog! It really gave me hope. I always felt like my fashion choice/music taste really conflicted with my career choice. Being a goth and being an elementary school teacher is hard. I’m currently in college so I don’t have to worry about it too much yet, but it still bothers me. I try to go for the elegant look– a lot of little black dresses. Occasionally I’ll throw in some dark jewelry and a pair of Demonia flats or something. Dark nail polish all of the time. No one has said anything about it yet, so hopefully I can continue this way!

  30. Amie says:

    While I don’t consider myself goth, I do love quirkiness and have my own style that I would hate to lose once I begin a “real” job. This article had so many helpful tips on injecting one’s personal style into a more conservative office environment, and I really feel like I can apply it in my own life. No more wild hair colors, perhaps, but all is not lost ^_^. Thanks so much :^)

  31. viktor boyan says:

    I’m a guy who stumbled upon this site looking to explore the Goth look in all its variety, and I have to say…I would LOVE to see my girlfriend wearing some of these marvelous outfits!!!! They are in equal measure very sexy, very classy, very sophisticated, and very mysterious! As well as quite practical. Too many self-identified Goths can’t distinguish between club-wear from work-wear from everyday wear. They look like cliches when they ought to be looking GOOD.

    I wish there were an equivalent site for MEN.

    • Thank you for your kind words! It took me a long time to distinguish the fine line between work, day and evening fashion as a Goth. There aren’t many resources out there that help us balance being true to ourselves while dressing appropriately for the situation. That’s why starting this blog was so important to me. :)

  32. Leia Amidala says:

    The question I always ask people who work in “restrictive environments” is why choose a restrictive environment to begin with? Why would you want to work for people that don’t respect who you really are as a person? This makes one feel they have to literally “apologize” for their existence. Why not instead find places, people, and locations respect who you really are so you will be happy? Maybe instead of questioning ourselves we should be questioning why adults (who claim to be diverse and accepting) are telling other adults how to dress? Why would one want to work for and give your time and energy to people who act in such a manner? Instead of wasting one’s energy trying to impress people who act in such a manner one should instead be finding people and jobs who are accepting of differences.

    • Unfortunately, the sad reality is there are not that many jobs out there that will accommodate what you are suggesting, while still paying enough to allow for a healthy retirement. Seeking a substantial income is only prudent, since most of us (those who don’t die young) will eventually reach a point where we are too old to work. Most people drastically underestimate the financial needs they will face in retirement; in order to support oneself without work for 10-20 or more years in retirement requires some seriously significant investments and savings. Also, I am so very willing to sacrifice a bit of independence in terms of personal appearance in order to retire early, far before I am “too old” to work. This small compromise doesn’t change who I am at all, but will allow me to liberate myself from a working much, much earlier in life.

      When you think about it, going to work means sacrificing many things – time (you can’t always DO whatever you want while you are at work), personality (you can’t always SAY whatever you want at work), interests (I can’t bring my cats to work). Sacrificing style is no different – you can’t always WEAR whatever you want to work. And to be honest, I’d have to apologize for who I am much more if I DID dress more Goth at work. Even if it was allowed, there will (sadly) always be people who judge, misinterpret and misunderstand. At my age, I have NO desire to have to defend or explain myself at work for what I am wearing. It is frustrating, and distracting to me in doing my job.

      There might be workplaces out there where absolutely no one would judge a co-worker by appearance, but if so they are so, so rare, I have yet to EVER have found one or even known someone who worked at such a place. I truly wish we lived in a world where abundant opportunities existed where one could dress however they liked without being judged while still making a substantial income, but that’s proven not to be the case. Call it “selling out” if you like, but I’ll be free from ALL work requirements in my early 50s and I treasure that thought every day. That makes me far, far happier than dressing Goth at work ever could. :)

      To be honest, I don’t really feel I am sacrificing much in terms of style at work, anyway. The inherent restrictions of a work environment are just a different type of challenge, and challenges help you grow. It is an opportunity for me to be creative in different ways. I feel confident and beautiful every day at work, and I know I look great. I can hardly view that as “restrictive.” :)

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