Before you Begin
Before you even begin planning, know that there is no reason not to build a Goth wardrobe if that's what you enjoy. People e-mail me all the time worried that they are too young, or too old, or too fat, or they listen to other music besides 80's post-punk, or whatever, and I want to assuage that worry from the get-go. There's no one way to be a Goth and no reason not to build this wardrobe that you want.
Also, resist the temptation to throw out all your old clothes and buy all new over night. Doing that isn't economical and will more than likely leave you confused as to what to wear. I'm not sure what your style is before you make the transition into Goth, but chances are there are some things that can be worked into a Goth wardrobe fairly easily. A good pair of jeans, white or red blouses, black skirts, black t-shirts, and the like are all reasonable things to put into a Goth wardrobe that you might already have.
It'll also be a good idea to find a measuring tape and make a note of your measurements. Many Goth folks buy some of their clothes online so knowing what size you are is pretty essential for us. At bare minimum, know your waist measurement, chest, and hips. If you don't know how to measure yourself effectively, check this link here.
If you have a dress code at work or at school, now is the time to look into that and see what your limitations are. While you probably will have opportunities to dress more extravagantly Goth outside of those places, if you want to be wearing Goth clothing all the time you'll need to know what your limitations are.
Brainstorming your wardrobe comes next and luckily this step is also extremely fun and there are a lot of different ways to plan on whatever websites you frequent most often. Having a Pinterest board devoted to style inspiration, a Tumblr blog, or Polyvore sets are all great ways to explore different styles and see what appeals to you.
You might find that there are lots of different styles that appeal to you. You might look at a Pin-Up inspired look and decide you really like how that looks, but also a more Trad-Goth look, but also Gothic Lolita, but also.... ack, it all looks so good! That's perfectly okay. For practicality reasons, you might want to narrow your focus initially, but there's no reason your style can't encompass lots of different Gothic styles.
That being said, not everything that appeals to you will be very practical for your day to day life. Yes, a full Victorian Gothic look is striking and lovely, but if you're still in high school in Florida, that's not going to be practical at all. Take into account your dress codes, either for school or for work, as well as your climate.
You might also have to come to terms with some facts about yourself and your own clothing preferences. For instance, I love how high-collared shirts look, but I find them very uncomfortable to wear so I avoid buying them even though I really like how they look. (High heels are a similar problem for many people.) If you don't have the time or energy to take care of clothing that is hand-wash only or dry-clean only, look for easier to clean versions.
Planning is the next step where you make more direct decisions about how you'll go about working on your wardrobe. First is to make a list of the things you'll need to buy. Back in 2012 I wrote a list about what makes a basic wardrobe which I think holds up here, but absolutely tailor that list to what you need (this list from F Yeah Lolita about a complete Lolita wardrobe is an excellent example of a list tailored to your specific style.) That list was meant to be very basic to fit a variety of clothing styles, so you won't see fancier items of clothing there. If you have a more specific style that you're aiming for, your list will vary slightly.
Most of the pieces you buy will probably be in all black, par for the course for us spooky types, which is great because it means most of the pieces you buy will match one another. Still, don't be afraid to add color into your wardrobe, Goths don't have to all wear black. What colors you wear are up to you but red and purple are very popular for Goths.
When making your purchases you're going to want to buy the absolute basics in neutral colors (black, usually) first. Jeans or trousers or basic skirts, t-shirts or button-up tops, hosiery, etc. can all be found at regular chain stores relatively inexpensively. These are the most important part of your wardrobe because they can stand alone as outfits and then have more elaborate pieces added to them over time. A wardrobe that starts with very elaborate pieces will be more restricting and you'll find it difficult to make lots of different outfits.
When it comes to the more extravagant items (corsets, fancy boots, hats, waistcoats, expensive jewelry, fancy dresses, etc.) these should probably be purchased over time as additions to your wardrobe. What these items are depends on your personal style but they'll probably be from more Goth-focused online retailers, which I've compiled an in-progress list of on this page here. These pieces will usually be more expensive than your basics (I have a post on justifying the cost of expensive items here) so look out for sales from online Goth companies, especially around the holiday season.
You can also find Goth-appropriate pieces from mainstream fashion stores around the fall and winter, since designers tend to favor darker colors, vintage motifs, richer materials, and generally "alternative" looks during those times. At the end of the season these items will likely be on clearance, so keep an eye out for those as well.
Thrift stores are also beloved of Gothy types, with good reason. Cheap, unique clothing that you can DIY to your heart's content. That being said, when you're going into a thrift store resist the temptation to just buy up everything that -might- be fun to wear just because it's cheap. Stick to your plan as best you can even when in a thrift store.
Accessories make the difference between a plain black outfit and a Goth one so pay attention to the things you add to your outfit. Jewelry, bag, scarf, hat, etc. are all points of interest for you to pay attention to. They don't have to be extremely expensive, either. Be sure to check out Etsy and smaller retailers for truly wonderful pieces for your Goth look.
As always, DIY is one of the best ways to add a unique touch to your Goth style with just a bit of ingenuity. You don't have to be prepared to whip up a whole outfit from scratch, but basic decorative touches like understanding how to apply lace to a sleeve, sew on patches, apply studs, embroider, change buttons, etc. will ensure that the pieces you buy are unique to you.
And there you have it! A great Goth wardrobe cannot be built overnight but by planning it out and making smart purchases over time you can build something truly workable. Many of us never truly "complete" our wardrobes and are constantly evolving and adding new pieces but if you can make a unique outfit for every day of the week plus one or two for special occasions, that'll be a great foundation to build on.
What are your best tips for building a Goth wardrobe?