By Kerry Ingram
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
It was an especially sunny Fall morning the day Kellee Britenstine prepared to meet her idol.
The 20-year-old Lutherville resident sat in her “beauty room,” a walk-in closet that she transformed into a small pampering area with deep burgundy walls and black shelves that display a taxidermy bat in a glass case and a line of skulls and animal bones.
Britenstine spent about an hour getting ready for her meet-and-greet with Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, who was part of the Monster Mania Con 41 held in Hunt Valley in September.
Britenstine styled her long black hair into soft curls before applying her makeup – dramatic and smoky – to match the onyx shades of her clothing. Blood-red lipstick covered her thin lips.
“I love her so much, man,” Britenstine said, as she held an 18-by-24 illustrated poster of Elvira tightly to her chest. “She’s a large part of why I feel like I belong to this community.”
The gothic community, that is.
The gothic subculture, dating back to the late 1970s, began as a way for those unconnected to societal “norms” to come together.
According to Lauren Goodlad, co-author and editor of “Goth: Undead Subcultures,” the gothic world includes individuals that are fascinated with death and the supernatural, as well as history, antiques, and older music.
“When it comes to goth culture, music is important,” said Hailee Hauthorne, a friend of Britenstine and fellow member of the goth community. “Throwbacks are huge to us, in terms of history and architecture, but especially in terms of music.”
When the music scene began to evolve in the 1980s, goth culture spiked, and in 1988, actress Cassandra Peterson made her film debut in “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark,” playing the gothic sultress that she would later be known for. These emergences of gothic culture within the entertainment industry made goths a more popular and well-known group.
“The gothic community is for everyone,” said Amber Selene, a gothic artist and owner of the blog “SweetDreamsSelene.” “It’s about expressing yourself freely and not caring about what people think.”
According to Goodlad, goths are defined as “people who try to do something interesting, and usually something sexually exciting, with [the] sense of being dead to the straight world.”
Britenstine herself fits this general definition, her Maryland apartment filled with antiques, dark oddities, and suggestive apparel. A row of classic horror tales lines one of the bookshelves in her room. Her Victorian goth identity is rooted in her appreciation for old stories.
Despite the many visual aspects of goth culture, Goodlad emphasized that a large part of the culture involves individuals exploring their own personal pain, often times as a way to avoid taking things out on others.
Britenstine admitted she has experienced more pain than she “would have cared for.”
“I grew up not having the absolute greatest people in my life,” Britenstine said. “I didn’t fit in back home. My step-brother was physically abusive. The guys I dated were emotionally manipulative. I needed this as a way to heal.”
Britenstine began to research goths when she was 11, still a young girl living in Eureka, Missouri. She found she closely identified with Victorian goth culture, since it focused on romanticism and history, as opposed to other goth types like Trad or Steam Punk, which are more music-based.
Britenstine found that her gothic persona allowed her to dream up a life worth living, ironically enough.
The morning of Monster Mania Con 41 was just one instance of Britenstine’s dark and dreamy life coming true. She took one last look over her outfit in her antique-framed mirror, while her boyfriend, Taylor Mitchell, placed a soft peck on her cheek. Mitchell, who is not gothic, still appreciates the subculture just as much as his beloved.
“I feel positive about the goth community,” Mitchell said. “More so since I get to experience it with my one spooky girl.”
Britenstine’s black cat, Zydrate, sauntered to her feet, his small paws taking slow strides as his piercing yellow eyes held its gaze at the floor. She swept him into her arms, smiling softly at her reflection as she gently hugged him.
“Time to go meet the love of my life,” Britenstine said. “Because we can’t appreciate death without a little living first, right Zydry?”
And with that, Britenstine turned sharply from the mirror and headed for her front door, the goth’s dark love and excitement for the day illuminating just as brightly as the morning sun.