Goth fashion isn’t new, but fashion associated with the vampire scene has seen a resurgence as the vampire has once again grown in popularity through the success of the 2022 adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, as well as the Castlevania franchise seeing a resurgence with its Netflix series. Once again, the vampire has permeated the mainstream, sinking its fangs into an entirely new generation, coupled with an interest in historical fashion and what this timeless creature has come to represent. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, sometime in 2021, while cleaning out my wardrobe, I decided to dress like I could fit into one of Koji Igarashi’s Castlevania games.
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The look of the vampire is ageless but hard to define. It exists somewhere between Victorian fashion and goth subculture, and has morphed into different subsets and microtrends over the past few decades. It can be black frocks or Tom Cruise’s frilled shirts and brocade vests in 1994’s Interview with the Vampire. It could be one of Ayami Kojima’s gorgeous oil painting illustrations of Alucard and various Belmont family members from the Castlevania series.
It was my interest in period fashion and various subcultures that brought me to dress like a Castlevania vampire for a year. (That and having disposable income as an adult.) Would I have dressed this way as a teenager? Probably. The modern vampire has often been associated with androgyny, and it’s something I’ve always personally gravitated toward. Naturally, there are also some subsets to this. There is the more industrial goth that is sometimes blended with mid-’80s aesthetics, extremely heavy makeup and all, or the “romantic” goth associated with ruffled shirts, corsets, and modified pieces of Victorian clothing.
The vampire is associated with so many various interpretations that it’s hard to pin down just what exactly defines it — outside of fangs, odd-colored eyes, and a penchant for the night. (I didn’t end up ordering a pair of fangs — I’m a little too self-conscious about my teeth — but someone else I know wears their pair almost religiously.)
I scoured the internet for sellers that would provide exactly what I was looking for: linen shirts with ruffles, tightly-laced corsets, leather trousers, knee-high boots, everything I associated with the gorgeous Gothic designs Kojima incorporated in art of characters like Alucard and Mathias Cronqvist, and in one-off illustrations she’s done that feature these ephemeral creatures. I packed my closet with velvet capelets from Dark in Love, scoured secondhand shops for antique Victorian brooches and silk ribbons I would tie my then-shoulder-length hair with. To cement the vampire image, I ordered matte black lipstick to use exclusively on my upper lip, in combination with full-coverage foundation to get that perfectly flawless countenance coined as “vampire skin,” which appeared as a full-blown trend in 2022. Naturally, I also wore colored contacts and heavy eyeliner to further accentuate the look.
I felt great assembling these outfits, spending the time to practice and perfectly apply my makeup, and walking around in clothing that made me feel extremely comfortable. I would get stopped from time to time by random passersby, but since Germany has a history of a thriving goth subculture and scene, I never received any disparaging remarks. It was all compliments, which further cemented my confidence in walking around dressed to the nines, inspired by one of my favorite artists and game series of all time.
Many others are drawn to the way the vampire aesthetic lets self-expression and various interests converge. “Being into Victorian fashion, architecture, and even smaller subcultures like Visual Kei when I was a teenager was sort of how I got my start into vampire fashion,” said Storm, a former member of the fang community (slang for vampire communities, or in some cases even clans) when asked about what drew them to the subculture. “My interests in fashion and subculture merged with my nerdiness when I discovered the game Vampire: The Masquerade.”
Don Henrie, “The Human Vampire,” was a popular internet personality in the early 2000s, and was even featured in a National Geographic program and appeared on SyFy’s Mad Mad House. He was one of the first glimpses into what bridging the vampire lifestyle and fashion movement was like during that era. There was also the (moderate) success of Queen of the Damned, Van Helsing, and Underworld roughly around the same time. The website VampireFreaks began in 1999, functioning as a MySpace for goths; it still exists today, now as an online shop that sells goth-related apparel and goods.
This style of fashion has also created a community. “I ended up becoming part of an online community in the early 2000s, which was super into all of the Vampire: The Masquerade clans. It’s actually how a lot of ‘vampire clans’ in the physical world formed,” Storm said. One of the more popular “vampire clans” was featured on Buzzfeed in 2018, where host Selom received her own pair of vampire fangs. Vampire fangs can definitely be a fashion statement; I know a few people who wear them without joining a clan, as they’ve become more accessible through sellers like Kaos Kustom Fangs. But for clan members, it’s more or less a lifestyle they subscribe to. I never joined a clan myself, and only learned the inner workings of them through friends who had participated in the culture, but living in a major metropolitan city meant that I definitely wasn’t alone in dressing outside of the norm. I was friends with former cyber goths, and while they had more or less toned down their looks, they still dressed in mostly all black and gravitated toward voluminous black dresses with heeled boots.
Having orbited those circles and now seeing the resurgence of vampire media, it feels like the scene is in the middle of an upswing. Would I dress like a “vampire” again? The answer is maybe, mostly because where I live now doesn’t accommodate it all that well. (Wearing black velvet in sweltering summer heat doesn’t bode well for anyone.) But it was definitely one of my favorite periods of personal fashion, and a fulfilling period of self-expression. So maybe I’ll throw everything together for a night at the club. Regardless, it’s great to see this subset of goth subculture still alive and well.