Once upon a time, alternative subcultures thrived underground. They arose from nebulous origins in backstreet clubs, each enthusiast crediting a different journalist, a different band, with starting it all. Now we live in the age of social media, and whilst some in the alternative scenes remain offline, enjoying the mystery of relative anonymity, many have taken to the web with great delight to share music and fashion with friends all across the globe. We can now document new tattoos, winklepickers and growing eyeliner skills in the blink of a mascaraed eye, creating a network of oddballs, geeks, witches and darklings knitted together by WiFi.
Perhaps strangely, the rise of the internet has led to what could be called a growth in the Old Ways. The net is a haven for witchery and the occult. Tumblr and Instagram are used to share dozens upon dozens of oracle card spreads, altar photographs, haunting and beautiful images of faeries and forests in the moonlight. There is a hankering for myth and magic still, and whilst an interest in folklore and fairytale might be considered a little eccentric amongst one’s contemporaries in a small town, online we can cheerily and freely talk about everything, from Tarot to trolls, with people who share our interest.
Mai Agerlin, a 22 year old artist from Copenhagen, is one such internet user. Mai’s dress sense was inspired by fairy tales from a young age, and now under her Tumblr handle ‘shortcuttothestars’, Mai posts dark and unusual fashion images, including her own daily outfits running the gamut from Lolita to post-apocalyptic. Mai’s interest in witchcraft and folklore has lent itself to the growing popularity of a new subcultural style, and its accompanying hashtag, #stregafashion.
Unlike Goth, for example, with its numerous contradictory origin stories, strega was born on picture-sharing social network Tumblr, and dozens of people, excited about dark fashion and otherworldly aesthetics, have recognised the community as a place where they might feel at home. As of now there are strega Pinterest boards, blogs and shops, and new offshoots such as ‘celestial strega’, ‘urban strega’ and ‘swamp strega’ already emerging.
So what is strega fashion? Strega is a visual interpretation of witchcraft and folkloric themes; its aesthetic roots are in Goth, boho style and Mori Kei, a whimsical Japanese fashion subculture whose adherents like to dress as though they live in a cottage in the forest. Mori, and its spookier sister, Black Forest or Dark Mori, incorporate layers upon layers of clothes in rustic styles (usually brown, cream and earth tones for Mori; black and grey for Dark Mori).
The name ‘strega’, in fact, comes from the Italian word for ‘witch’. Mai says, ‘Strega was a rather random choice, any word for witch in any European language could have been picked (like heks, for example).’ Some have objected to the use of the term, suggesting alternative names such as ‘dark fairytale’, but strega blogger Rae, aka ‘c4tbus’ on Tumblr, points out, ‘Honestly almost every person I know in the strega fashion community practices some sort of craft. Like it wasn’t just a name. It was really like a bunch of “witches” came together to make our own fashion subculture.’
Dutch Goth/alternative model Psychara posts many of her daily outfits under the strega hashtag, and she says, ‘I’ve always been interested in anything witchy, because of the relationship witches have with nature and my grandmother who was interested in witches too. The magic, spells, herbs, way of life is so inspiring!’ Mai’s mother describes herself as a witch, and thus, Mai says, ‘it’s always been a positive thing for me. A witch is a strong, feminine woman and a force to be reckoned with. A witch cares about nature and her surroundings and the welfare of other people.’
Several bloggers have been influential in the development of the style, such as Pandora, whose blog Strega Forest curates inspiration for an audience of over a thousand followers. Pandora’s 2012 Dark Mori ‘Style and Lifestyle’ checklist (with bullet points such as ‘strangeness over prettiness’, ‘believes in fairies’ and ‘old bookstores are a favourite place’) captured the imagination of many internet users interested in esotericism and dark fashion. Mai’s Tumblr post, ‘Strega Fashion Manifest’, also gave those interested in the style a set of guidelines to help them express their inner witch.
In strega, there are no definite rules, unlike the Japanese fashion subcultures which it draws from. Whilst Dark Mori and strega have similarities in terms of colour schemes and a fondness for layering, Mai draws a distinction between the two: ‘Strega fashion has European roots and inspiration, whereas Mori has Japanese. Strega fashion has no other rules than that it has to be witch inspired. Mori has stricter rules about silhouette and colors, whereas strega has only this one. We came together to create strega because we felt that Mori was too limiting.’ She explains, ‘Strega started when people started pointing out how far I’d strayed from the mori aesthetic and I realized I didn’t wanna fit back into it. I was way more drawn to this European-inspired boho/witch look, and thus Strega was born.’
Indeed, this freedom of expression is a large part of the appeal for other strega enthusiasts. Psychara says, ‘Styles and communities with rules are often too intimidating, while strega is very openminded about everyone’s opinion about what is witchy! I think that plays the biggest part in its growing popularity!’
Accordingly, every strega has their own take on the style. Goths, Mori girls (and boys), fans of fairy fashion and practicing witches have all been attracted to the new community, and while some wear strega occasionally; some, like Rae, adopt the look as their everyday wear. Rae says, ‘I know others might see my outfit and say well I don’t think that’s very witchy but the whole point of strega fashion is that it’s what YOU think a witch would dress like. And since I consider myself a witch I would think I could dress any way I want and it be considered strega fashion.’
Another element of strega is its emphasis, intentional or otherwise, on low-budget, eco-friendly fashion. Mai, Pandora and Rae source a large proportion of their wardrobes from thrift stores, and many stregas are selling second-hand clothes and handmade jewelry online. Rae has even set up a thrift-based service, 6rimoire: ‘6rimoire is my personal stylist service that I created all myself to help others achieve the look they want in an affordable way. When I have spots available a customer will have a “dressing room” on the blog/website and we’ll discuss what they really like fashion wise, and what they’re comfortable with, and then with their measurements and a set budget I will go out thrift shopping for their perfect outfit. So it’s very eco-friendly! And I also have a thrift shop that is connected with the company where if you just want to find the one perfect piece for an outfit you already own you can purchase something from there.’
The growing strega community is already very close-knit. Rae describes it as ‘a family’: ‘We’re all diverse people, genders, races, sizes. It’s very warm and welcoming and I think it’s a rare thing to have in a fashion community.’ As such, #stregafashion is a welcome addition to the darker side of the web; not just a style but a supportive online community for the spooky, the magical and the Crafty to enjoy.
(Image credits: Photographer: Jordan Kelsey. Models- Rae, Mai Agerlin.)
Strega Resources: http://www.tumblr.com/search/strega+fashion