Southern Gothic Fashion

Updated: Feb 26, 2020

The iconic Blair Waldorf once said:

“Fashion is the most powerful art there is.

It’s movement, design, and architecture all in one.

It shows the world who we are and who we’d like to be.”

While I am of the personal belief that literature is the most powerful form of art (as a writer, I am slightly biased), I am a huge fashionista and am in complete agreement over how powerful fashion can be. People can communicate through their fashion choices without ever having to say a word.

Take royal icon, Princess Diana, for example. She was a master at communicating not only her state of mind, but her intentions, through her fashion choices. Who can forget that groundbreaking moment back in 1987, when she famously removed her gloves in order to shake hands with an AIDS patient. This may not sound like much now, but at the time, there was a widely-recognized fear that the disease could be transmitted through touch. Removing her gloves not only showed the world that this was a misconception, but it was also a display of her incomparable empathy and compassion.

Recall Jackie Kennedy, famous for her chic, yet simple, sleek style. She made conservative fashion look glamorous through her use of Chanel suits and pillbox hats, but when she famously refused to change out of her boxy, pink Chanel suit after her husband’s assassination despite the blood that had been splattered all over it, she was communicating a powerful message of the loss she had just suffered, and she was conveying the trauma that this would be not only for her and her children, but also for the entire country. By leaving her bloody suit on, she was showing the world the pain that she was in.

Now, apply this same concept to the everyday female. Think about the tradition of bachelorettes wearing black while the bride-to-be wears white. This is in an effort to showcase the woman who is about to be married, not only to help her stand out, but also to mourn the loss, so to speak, of her days as a single lady. Whether we realize it or not, we speak through our fashion choices. We tell the world who we are and who we wish to be through what we wear, but what makes fashion even more interesting are the traditions that inspire them.

As we find ourselves in the throes of this spooky month where the Southern Gothic genre has dominated the Wardrobe’s feed, let’s take a look at how the genre has influenced fashion. From the antebellum South to the modern-day mainstream, we can spot the genre’s impact on every cycle of fashion.

High necklines and ruffles dominated the antebellum fashion scene. Part of the high neckline style was due to the fact that it was unconsidered un-ladylike to show skin before dinner, but the other reason was to protect their skin from the scorching southern summer sun. The mix of conservative style with a playful, flirty twist was widely used throughout southern aristocracy, but these elements have proven to be timeless, as we see them making appearances in modern lines, from Reformation to Karl Lagerfeld.

Reformation is a line that aims to create highly feminine designs while maintaining a sustainable approach in the raw materials stage. Their mission is an honorable one, and their dresses are to-die-for.

The Adelia dress is a perfect pick if you’re trying to channel the Southern Gothic style for an event. With its ruffled bodice and high neckline, it brings a sense of inspired fashion that blends beautifully with the modern slit and mesh-sleeves, creating a timeless dress that you will be able to wear for years to come, justifying the steeper-than-average price tag. The Reformation model pairs this dress with leather boots that give it an additional southern, yet chic flair, but if you want to neutralize the look, pair it with your favorite strappy heels for a more elevated feel.

It’s important to remember that antebellum fashion was largely influenced by Victorian fashion, and most Southern aristocrats acquired their fabrics from Northern and European manufacturers. Once the war began; however, there was a blockade that prevented Southern women from acquiring these expensive fabrics, leaving them with no choice but to mend old dresses or even worse, wear homespun dresses. The homespun dresses are when we see a shift from rich colors to cream-colored neutrals.

The Suzanne dress, which comes in two different colors, brings velvet to the forefront, a popular, expensive fabric used by wealthy southern women in the fall and winter prior to the Civil War. This dress uses a sweetheart neckline to highlight the feminine figure, a style that was extremely popular in the old south. The Suzanne dress; however, contrasts the structured neckline with loose sleeves and a skirt that hangs past the fitted, natural waistline for a look that is flattering, yet effortless. I love the wine color for a moodier look, but seeing as I’m a huge fan of powder blue in the fall and winter, the regal blue color feels a bit more fashion forward.

My last Southern Gothic-inspired pick from Reformation is the Valentin, which comes in three different fabrics; two patterned, and one in solid cabernet. This moody dress takes my breath away, with its smocked cuffs, billowy sleeves, and mock neck screaming of old world inspo, yet its modern slit and fitted bodice bringing a sultry vibe to an otherwise traditional look. This is one of those looks where the dress does all the talking, so if you’re trying to make a statement while channeling a little Southern Gothic flair, the Valentin is your best friend.

Another perfect example of this Southern Gothic flair in fashion is this Karl Lagerfeld sheath. With Wednesday Addams vibes written all over it, eyes are drawn to the point collar and lace sleeves. The dress comes in two colors, black and alabaster, both of which define the genre, and both of which you will be able to use regularly, as the sheath style is perfect for day-to-night wear, and neither of the colors are ever out-of-style or out-of-season.

Whenever I travel, I base my attire on the destination I am visiting. As I stated earlier, I am a fashionista. Fashion is my second favorite language, behind the English written word, so clothes are my entryway into the escape and adventure that is traveling. When I visited New Orleans a couple weeks ago, I chose a deep palette as my base, with black being my main neutral for the haunted city.

With the old, southern hoop skirts being an inspiration, I brought a black pleated midi skirt that flares out, and I paired it with a couple different tops; one backless, and one strapless, sweetheart corset to really bring the essence of the era. Nothing says Southern gothic more than a subtle corset style bodice. It’s feminine, flattering, and defining of an era that has long since passed.

If you’re looking to channel Southern gothic vibes through your accessories, the drawstring purse is your go-to. This Rebecca Minkoff, although bigger than what women of the era would use, is the perfect modern pick for gallivanting around the streets of New Orleans, Charleston, or Savannah. Its pastel tone is the essence of a southern spring, but if paired with a deep-toned monochromatic outfit, this could easily be the bold statement piece of an autumnal look.

As I wrote in my article about my trip to NOLA, it was impossible not to notice how the Southern Gothic style lives on there. Many of the stores on Canal and Bourbon were lined with inspired dresses, from fit and flares with sweetheart necklines to boatnecks with ties, the vintage feel was dominant and brought so much character to the city. I have always been a fan of vintage, and I thoroughly enjoyed noting ways to bring vintage vibes to modern styles. This truly is the essence of Southern Gothic fashion, blending the old with the new.

Whether we know it or not, we communicate through our fashion. From women wearing pants as a symbol of their liberation, to military uniforms that show cohesion and solidarity, what we wear and how we wear it says something about who we are and what we stand for. Next week, we will be analyzing the film The Beguiled, a movie whose costume choices are almost as important as its casting. As we continue through this ghostly month filled with sinister stories and messages that make you rethink everything you once knew, it’s imperative to take note on how creators use a character’s style choices to convey a mood or to foreshadow an event. Fashion is a visual statement, so the next time you throw on your favorite ruffled blouse and billowy skirt, channel your inner Scarlet O’Hara or Sojourner Truth and remember the millions of women who spoke before you.