If you’ve ever Googled “how to remove an oil stain” or “how to jump a car,” you’ve probably landed on wikiHow, a website that aims to create “a world where access to comprehensive step-by-step instructions in multiple languages enables billions of people to improve their lives in ordinary and extraordinary ways.”
Some of those ways are more extraordinary than others. And many of those include dressing oneself. WikiHow’s guides to self-presentation through clothing range from the obscure (“How to Dress Like Alex Russo from ‘Wizards of Waverly Place‘”) to the practical (“How to Dress to Install Insulation“) to the endearingly specific (“How to Dress on a Low Budget As a Young Teen“).
Like Wikipedia, the site is created by volunteer contributors. Its anonymous, detached voice and illustrations recalling cartoons of the 1980s make this one of the most wonderfully strange—and culturally insightful—fashion guides available on the internet.
Author and archivist Emily Spivack fell down the rabbit hole of reading these guides, and has scraped them to create How to Dress Like, a digital archive of wikiHow’s dressing instructions.
“It’s an anthropological view of what we thought was important,” Spivack told Quartz, painting the project as something of a digital time capsule. “I learned what people were seeking.”
Spivack said she was hooked when she found the guides for dressing goth, which are extensive. “How to Dress Pastel Goth in Middle School“ and “How to Dress Pastel Goth in High School” are both represented, as is “How to Dress Like a Gothic Fairy (Adults).”
“I was like, ‘Oh my god this is incredible…to see this broken down in this incremental way,'” Spivack told Quartz. The guides made her think of her own teenage years in Delaware, she said—implying she herself may have benefited from some goth style guidance. On one hand, she wondered whether having access to such guides as a teenager would have made dressing herself less fun or creative. On the other, she saw something endearingly supportive in it.
“I keep thinking about high school kids reading this, and that sense of being judged,” she said. “Maybe there’s this community that’s like, ‘We really want to help each other, so that people aren’t teased or have more self-confidence.'”
Wikihow users can contribute manuals they’ve conceived on their own, or respond to requests for specific guides. Part of the joy of reading the How to Dress guides is trying to imagine who the author was—Someone who finally nailed their Katniss Everdeen vibe, thanks to the right v-necks? A wise tween giving her fourth-grade sister advice on dressing ”very cute without looking too mature”?—and what inspired them to share their knowledge.
Some of the advice goes beyond accessorizing and hairstyles. The guides show people searching for and trying on different identities. “Be kind to people,” advises “How to Dress Pastel Goth in Middle School.” “Pastel goths are supposed to be innocent and intelligent. Make sure to keep your grades up in school; if they go down, your parents might blame this on your pastel Gothicism.”
Check them all out at How to Dress Like, and be warned: they are addictive.