This month, as All Hallows' Eve draws near, I'm truly honoured to present to you the latest installment in the "Meet a fellow vintage blogger" interview series, starring none other than my dear friend, whip smart lady, goth/gothabilly/psychobilly/punk/vintage adoring, fellow Halloween obsessed friend, Franny from the wonderful blog, The Curious Professor Z.
I've known Franny online for a few years now, as I follow several goth blogs (being, as I've talked about here before, a major goth girl at heart myself) and was especially drawn to hers from the get-go because she enjoys vintage (and the like) styles as well as other alternative looks, with a wardrobe that marries each harmoniously – and inspiringly!
Franny is a very hard working, passionate, open, creative, inspiring woman and I feel blessed to not only have her in my life, but to have this chance to sit down and get to know her better. From blogging to the daily grind, her favourite decades from a style standpoint to what goth means to her, we cover a slew of topics and ensure that Halloween features prominently throughout - tis the season after all! :)
For those who may be new to your blog, could you please tell us a bit about when it began, what inspired you to launch a blog, and some of the topics that you love to cover on your site?
As many of my long-time readers know, “The Curious Professor Z” is not my first blog. Like many people, I started blogging in 2004-2006 with Live Journal. On that platform I maintained a private and very personal blog that had select readers.
In the Summer of 2011, I started a goth-centered fashion blog called “Le Professeur Gothique.” I was inspired by two wonderful bloggers, Trystan from “This is CorpGoth” and Miss Kitty from “Sophistique Noir.” Both of these fashion blogs concentrate on work appropriate outfits that stay true to a gothic sensibility. Miss Kitty also explores mature and sophisticated gothic styles that are age appropriate and that are put together utilizing clothing from “regular” stores.
At the time, I was trying to navigate being a goth in academia, especially being a goth who is an adjunct professor. One would assume that I could get away with a lot more than my CorpGoth counterparts; however, art history can be surprisingly conservative. “Le Professeur Gothique” primarily explored acceptable academic outfits that have a gothic twist.
Eventually, I got bored with just doing fashion and branched out to other things like cooking, art, philosophy, travel, etc. I ended “Le Professeur Gothique” and started a new blog, first “The Dancing Maenad” and then “The Curious Professor Z.” This newest manifestation of my blog is more truth to myself and my interests.
You have a phenomenal sense of style that marries various elements from different subcultures superbly well. What would you say are currently some of the styles (goth, gothabilly, vintage, etc) that you feel most pulled towards?
Questions about style are very difficult for me to answer because I don’t really see myself incorporating a certain fashion style just for the sake of that style. Rather, I’ve been part of the NYC Punk scene since the mid-1980s when I was in high school, Grunge from 90-95, and Goth since 95. I was attracted to Punk and Neo-Punk because I felt very different than my fellow classmates. I was a nerd who liked weird things, and who was very political at a young age.
I wasn’t interested in cheerleading, dating jocks, or “normal things” that “normal people” did. When I was growing up in NYC, my Mom and Grandma would take me to the East Village to do our grocery shopping because that’s where the Polish and Russian shops were. There was a pizza place on the corner of St. Marks and 2nd Avenue that had Punk Rock on the jukebox. This was 1978 and there were plenty of Punk kids and artists in the East Village.
There was one girl I saw every week — she had liberty spikes and her makeup was wild — at the pizza place. She would come in and play all sorts of music on the jukebox. I ADORED HER. I was immediately hooked and told my Mom that I wanted to be “just like her” when I grew up.
My Mom’s answer was, “Just as long as you get good grades and stay out of trouble you can do and be whomever you want.” I took that to heart. There was something about that girl that stayed with me for the rest of my life, and my Mom encouraged me to “do and be” the person I was meant to be.
Punk and Goth are subcultures based in musical genres that have specific aesthetics. There is also a common driving force in those subcultures, that of never fitting in, questioning authority and social standards, cherishing the odd and left of center, finding beauty in collective ugliness. People become part of the subculture (and stay in the subculture) not because of the fashion, but because they find their tribe. They find other people who share in their weirdness. And the music drives and confirms this.
I will never be part of normal society because I can’t understand it and I sincerely don’t want to be a part of it. I see and know too much. I may be forced to play nice once in a while, but I will never be a part of it. So, to answer your question … I’m a Gothic Punk Rocker. I will always be a Gothic Punk even while wearing jeans and penny loafers. I put my own creative spin on what I’m wearing and sometimes I deliberately add something that makes my outfit “not right” aesthetically. Like a thorn in the side.
How have you found that you style has evolved since you've been blogging?
I’ve been more successful at putting together professional looks that also contain a bit of artsiness or spookiness. My style tends to fluctuate when I’m super busy or when I’ve gained or lost weight. When I’m busy I honestly don’t care what’s on my body.
I tend to just wear the uniform — a black skirt, black sweater, tights, and boots. It’s easy, takes little time to put together, and looks professional. Of course when I’m leaner and more physically strong and fit, I tend to gravitate towards more fitted clothing that accentuates my curves.
Otherwise, my style really hasn’t evolved much. One thing that has changed as I’m getting older is that I refuse to wear uncomfortable shoes. Ever. I don’t care how cute a pair of shoes are, if they hurt my feet they either go back to the store or they get donated to charity. That’s why you’ll see me wearing a lot of boots, super squishy flats, and creepers.
Do you incorporate much genuine vintage into your looks? How about vintage reproduction?
I have a hard time with real vintage because my height and athletic body prevents me from wearing a lot of vintage clothing. I always joke around that I wish that Julia Childs’s wardrobe would go on the market! We’re about the same size. HA! I do have a *few* real vintage dresses, but I always struggle with the back sizing and the size of the arm holes. I’m a swimmer so I barely fit into modern sizes! Forget real vintage, especially from the 40s and 50s.
So, I resort to reproductions, home sewing, and clothing that looks vintage but are modern interpretations.
You're a passionate 18th and 19th century art historian, how to do you find that your academic immersion in the past influences the way you dress in the 21st century?
I’ve always been attracted to the Victorian mourning aesthetic and to the PreRaphaelite gothic and medieval romanticism. I have an obsession with hats, gloves, long velvet skirts, 13th century inspired dresses as interpreted by the PreRaphaelite painters, etc. I adore embroidery, lace and other decorative flourishes. Most importantly, I started to collect 18th and 19th century mourning jewelry, some of which are too precious and too sentimental to wear.
Of course, I adore the “whiplash curve” of Art Nouveau and the concentration on the themes of death, the femme fatale, nature, and decadence of the fin de siecle. Finally, my adoration of the graphic nature, warm colors, and boldness of the Arts and Crafts style tends to inform my home decorating and general taste.
Do you have a favourite decade/era from a fashion standpoint? If so, do you incorporate many elements of that time period into your daily attire?
The 20s and 30s tend to be my foundation decades. I dabbled in the styles of the 40s and 50s but I just couldn’t get into them. Well, except the academic styles of young college women and the menswear styling of Kate Hepburn.
My ideas of womanhood and glamour aren’t compatible with the extreme femininity pushed in these eras. Kate Hepburn is my fashion icon of the period simply because she made menswear elegant, yet strong. Not to mention her penchant for sports, smoking, education/intelligence, and not being afraid to express her opinions.
That’s really the reason why I adore the 20s and 30s so much — the liberated freedom that women were demanding. The 20s saw the skirts get shorter, constraining undergarments disappear, hair get shorter, pants, and women smoking, dancing, drinking, voting, going to college, and having sex. The fashion reflects this, while keeping with the elegance of the Edwardian era with the pearls and fine fabrics. Add to it Art Deco styles and BOOM! Sheer perfection. The 30s brings with it smart and sensible suits, easy-to-care for fabrics, and sobriety. It also gave us the delicious decadence of Weimar Germany and gender fluidity.
Now that I think about it, I’m very cerebral when it comes to fashion and style. I’m trying to harness certain things about the socio-cultural and political zeitgeist of the time. I can’t wear something from an era that doesn’t fit my ideology.
What are some of your favourite online sources for goth/gothabilly/psychobilly and similar styles of clothing and accessories?
I really like Cats Like Us — Julie Ann is such a sweet and knowledgeable person. They ship immediately, communicate throughout the entire process, and returns are fair and easy. I also order a lot of Victorian and Edwardian inspired clothing and accessories from Victorian Trading Company. Modcloth has been good to me lately, especially for shoes.
However, I do 85% of all my shopping in local, Mom-and-Pop establishments. Here in NYC my three favorites are Trash and Vaudeville, Gothic Renaissance, and ENZ NYC. In Philadelphia it’s Crash, Bang, Boom. In New Orleans there’s Roadkill on Decatur. In New Hope I go to Teardrop Memories for my mourning jewelry and creepy death-related goodies.
Other than that, I shop at Lord & Taylor, Dress Barn, QVC, and Macy’s for clothing that can either be altered or styled the way I want.
What advice would you give to someone who was looking to start weaving more goth/gothabilly/psychobilly style looks into their wardrobe?
This is a very slippery question to answer because I revile the appropriation of subcultural styles for fashion’s sake. It makes me nuts. Goth and Psychobilly are musical subcultures and, in my opinion, the music — and resulting beliefs — is most important. Like I said, there are certain aesthetics associated with these subcultures that belong squarely to those people who live, breath, and form that subculture. I honestly think that subcultural appropriation is no different than appropriating ethnic signifiers that have deeply embedded meaning within those cultures. For example, I see no difference in a “norm” appropriating safety pins and spikes on a jacket and the appropriation of bindis or Native American headdresses.
With that said, if you’re looking for a more femme fatale, spooky look then look towards vintage fashion. The femme fatale, Vampira, Elivira, and Western mourning fashion hold a wealth of inspiration for the darkly inclined.
Now, if you’re really interested in the subcultures and want to know more, ask those of us in it. Also do your homework: there have been some really good written histories and film documentaries done of Punk and Goth. Learn the foundation bands, ask yourself why you’re attracted to this kind of stuff, go to some nights, and understand that Punk and Goth have been around for over 30 years. We have a history.
You recently chopped numerous inches off your hair (and it looks fantastic!). I know that at times in my life when I've made substantial hair changes, my style has often changed somewhat to "match" my new do, so to speak. Are you finding the same to be true for you this time around?
Thanks! My style hasn’t really changed much at all. I think that I’m more aware of my ears now, and so I’ve started to wear statement earrings. And lipstick! For some reason I’m more aware of my lips and when they need some color.
What are a few of your current favourite accessories (jewelry, scarves, hats, etc)?
I have a HUGE hat collection that sits in hat boxes in my bedroom. I rarely wore my hats because it’s frustrating to dig through every box to see what’s inside. I started to take photos of the hats in the boxes and paste the photo on the outside of the box so that I know what’s inside. This way I can “shop” my hats and wear one that fits my outfit. Because of this, I’ve been wearing more of my hats.
Like myself, you're the kind of person who eats/sleeps/breaths/utterly lives for Halloween/Samhain. Can you share some of the ways that you keep the fires of that passion burning strong in your life all year long?
Oh that’s easy — I never put away my Halloween collectables! I always say that I live in HalloweenTown year round because the Boney Bunch, skulls, vintage Halloween repros, etc. all stay out no matter the season. I’ve also painted my walls a delicious goldenrod yellow because I want to live inside of a pumpkin. My housewares and other home goods are all Halloween based. As we Goths like to say, Halloween isn’t a holiday, it’s a lifestyle.
I always adore your posts about the Halloween shopping that you do each season. What are some of your go-to sources (online or off) for great seasonal decor?
Yankee candle, HomeGoods, Pier One, Crate and Barrel, Williams-Sonoma, Joann’s, Michaels, and Victorian Trading Company...sometimes Target.
Any insider tips for buying Halloween decorations (et al)?
BUY QUALITY. Seriously, if it’s made from good quality materials like your normal house decor, then it won’t look cheesy and cheap. There’s a certain elegance to good quality goods mixed in with your everyday decor. It feels purposeful and well-thought out. Also, start shopping for crafting materials in June and Halloween goodies at the end of August. No, I’m not kidding. Shop early and shop often because the good stuff tends to fly off the shelves. Then hit the sales the week of Halloween and the week after Halloween.
What are some of your favourite Halloween foods (candy or otherwise)?
Hmmm … candy corn. It makes me sick to my stomach, but I love it. I also adore pumpkin spiced lattes and pumpkin muffins. Finally, here in the States we have a Pumpkin Pie cream liquor from Fulton’s. It’s so good that it can make Bailey’s Caramel cry from envy.
Your husband (pictured above) shares in your love of this holiday and (if I'm not mistaken) in the goth culture, too. What are some things that you love to do together to celebrate All Hallows' Eve?
Since Ed and I are both Wiccan, Halloween is a sacred day for us, called Samhain (the end of the summer). For us, Samhain is the time when the veils are thinnest between the material and the psychic worlds. It’s a liminal time, one of here and there. Not only are we celebrating the end of the summer and beginning of the winter, but we also honor our ancestors and those who have gone before us. It’s our New Years, a time when we take stock of where we’ve been and what we’ve done that year, and set goals for the coming year.
We don’t go to parties, parades, or other festivities. Instead, we spend our day hiking in the woods. In the evening, I cook a huge feast. We’ll set a Dumb Supper for our ancestors, followed by a ritual in which we will burn away the heartache and hardship of the old year, celebrate our accomplishments, and set our goals for the New Year. Sometimes we’ll do divination — Tarot readings mostly.
How are you planning to celebrate Halloween/Samhain this year?
The weekend before Halloween we’re attending Sleepy Hollow’s reading of Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” at the Old Dutch Church, followed by the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. The next day we’ll be attending a reenactment of the 1865 funeral of Seabury Tredwell at the Merchant House in Manhattan.
We’ll be in Victorian Mourning costume and will get to follow the funeral to the Marble Cemetery, which is very rarely open to the public. The following weekend, we’re going on a ghost tour/hunt at the Merchant House on Friday, spending a quiet Samhain at home, and then on Sunday we’re touring Green-wood cemetery in Brooklyn, NY.
Aside from blogging, work, and all things Halloween related, what are some of the (enjoyable) things that fill your days?
I find my research and writing the most enjoyable things I do. Of course, going to museums, archives, and libraries are a part of this. It’s very rare that folks can say that they do what they love and love what they do. Other than that, I’m also a fine artist and like to draw and paint, mostly botanicals and landscapes.
I like to hike in the woods and snuggle on the couch with Ed. We tend to have our best conversations in the woods or over mugs of coffee! Oh, and cooking. I LOVE to cook for Ed and myself, and I love to entertain. Big dinner parties, holidays, teas, and cocktail parties are some of my favorite things to plan and execute.
Are you a crafter? If so, what are your current crafts of choice?
Yes … sort of. I enjoy knitting but it frustrates the heck out of me. And I also enjoy sewing, but haven’t done much lately because I’ve been so busy with teaching, looking for a full-time, tenured gig, and doing my research. I have a knitting project in the works that I’m hoping to finish before Thanksgiving. The key word here is hope. HA!
Do you currently have any pets? If so, do you try to involve them in your Halloween celebrations, too?
I have a grey tabby cat named Moo, and a shih zhu named Pumpkin. We really don’t involve them in our celebrations, though they do love to be in ritual with us.
What is one of your happiest Halloween memories ever?
Trick or treating with my brother, Robert. My Mom used to take me around the neighborhood during the day after school, but we usually had to be back home around 4:30 so she could cook dinner. Robert is eight years older than I and was allowed to go out of our neighborhood.
We would grab the pillowcases off our beds and go trick or treating after dinner. Good grief! We would be out for hours and hours, and only came home when our pillowcases were dragging on the ground! I had Halloween candy well into the Spring! It was AWESOME!
And last, but certainly not least, if you could spend Halloween night anywhere in the world that you haven't yet done so in, where would you pick and why?
I would really like to spend Halloween in Ireland. Not only is Ireland my mother-in-law’s birthplace and there is still tons of family there, it is also the birthplace of Samhain. From what I understand, there are festivals, parades, ghost tours in old castles, and other events in the larger cities and towns across Ireland. I, of course, would have to go to the Hill of Tara with Ed to "soak it all in."
You can connect with Franny on the following sites:
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I wholeheartedly want to thank Franny for her great interview and for sharing in her own unending adoration of October 31st with all of us. I couldn't possibly think of a better suited interviewee for this month's post and love that Franny was keen to take part in this series. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
Next up, for the 11th month of the year, we'll be staying put in the good, ol' USA of A when we chat with November's interviewee - an uber talented historical sewer, major mid-century fashion fan, married lady who made her own wedding dress (epic props there!), and passionate vintage loving blogger that I can't wait to put some fun questions to the near future.
*PS* I've decided, for the sake of brevity, to shorten the title of these monthly interview posts from "Meet a fellow vintage blogger" to simply "Meet so-and-so (the person's name)". I just wanted to mention this so that you guys didn't perhaps think I'd dropped this thriving series (as such is definitely not the case and I have many more exciting interviews lined up for the coming months).