So its always kind of bothered me a bit that some goths like to really dump on modern goth styles and trends when in retrospect, goth has always mirrored the mainstream in terms of fashion in some point or another. Right from the very beginning goth was borrowing from the mainstream and vice versa. So i thought that i would break down 4 decades of goth fashion and their comparisons to popular trends and mainstream fashion to show you that goth has never been as original as you might think and that change and evolution is inevitable in all subcultures that involve fashion.
Of course we all know goth came from punk so obviously from the very
moment goth stood on its own two legs, it was already borrowing style inspiration from its punk roots, but it didnt stop there.
The 80′s were known as a pretty outrageous time for fashion and with pop music dominating the radio and television it was understandable that pop stars were a huge influence when it came to fashion. Madonna was definitely one of the most influential fashion icons of the 80′s and though she was a pop princess on the radio, some of her style often dappled in the darker side of fashion. she often sported fishnet tops, black leather and religious symbols. much like Siouxsie Sioux. Leather, spandex, lace and pointy shoes were all trendy in the 80′s, but not just in goth, but much of the mainstream as well. Makeup was often bold in color and almost geometric in shape. And of course who could forget that hair? Goths in the 80′s went all out when it came to their hairstyles but they weren’t the only ones wasting a whole can of Aqua Net in one day on keeping their hair gravity defying. Almost everyone in the 80′s at some point has backcombed, teased or crimped their locks all in the name of bigger hair.
Of course not every trend that was popular in the 80′s died as soon as the 90′s rolled around, and a lot of goths were still wearing looks that were common in the 80′s but much of goth fashion was becoming less punk and more romantic during the mid to late 90′s. The 90′s brought with it, a strange obsession with the occult. Shows like charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and movies like The Craft, began influencing certain fashion trends. Velvet dresses with combat boots became staples in both goth and mainstream fashion. 90′s hair became less styled and more free and many goth women began adopting the free flowing look that added to the mysterious seductress vibe. Makeup became less geometric. It was popular at the time for women to go linerless or wear darker more natural tones in a smudged fashion around their eyes. young goths were ditching the pointy shoes to go with the more popular platform style that the 90′s was known for.
I think most of us can agree that the 2000′s had some really hit or miss trends in both goth and mainstream fashion and I can comfortably say that the 2000′s is seen as a rather embarrassing decade by many goths now. This was the time that a lot of misinformed young people were flocking to Manson concerts and Hot Topic and were eating up everything that they thought was goth whether it was or not. Many of the so called “goths” you saw on TV in the 2000′s were what we today consider mall goths. Mainstream fashion was really all over the place in the 2000′s and i think goth fashion was too. Pop stars were experimenting with strange color and style combinations and goths started experimenting with neon. Rave fashion had evolved and trickled over from the 90′s into 2000′s mainstream fashion and into goth as well in what is call cyber goth. In the 2000′s baggy pants became popular with young people and goths began sporting Tripp pants and other forms of cargo pants. Skater fashion clashed with the mainstream as well as with goth and you would often see goth teens wearing Avrils signature eye look paired with a fishnet top and black baggy pants. Stripped stockings became popular and high fashion was borrowing from goth more than ever. Thankfully romantic goth survived well enough that not every goth looked like a cross between a spice girl, a raver and a character from Invader Zim, but unfortunately there were a lot of misguided youths experimenting with a subculture that they didnt know enough about and with how many strange trends we blew through in the 2000′s its understandable why goth fashion was so all over the place.
And suddenly we are stuck in this strange place between the 80′s and 90′s. Mainstream fashion in the past 7 years has really borrowed a lot from the past, especially the 90′s. But this time, its doing it in a simpler, more flattering fashion. The 90′s was cool right? Well if you’re a 90′s kid like me then you probably jumped right on that 90′s revival train like the rest of us and you’re riding it all the way through nostalgia town. Grungy ripped jeans, flannel and band Ts, chunky boots and tattoo chokers are all back in style and many goths are eating it up as well. But im going to give nu goth some credit here. Some of it is really nice. Black leather jackets, velvet, occult symbols and fishnets. Its almost like its paying an homage to 80′s and 90′s goth fashion. Of course a lot of nu goth style in 2010 was really ugly garbage but the style has improved over the years, encompassing other styles such as strega fashion and ninja goth. Witchy symbols are being worn by goths and mainstreamers alike. Long band T shirts over leggings and wide brimmed hats are everywhere. Shows like American Horror Story helped kick start the witchy fashion trend and everyone is buying it. I personally enjoy a lot of aspects of modern goth fashion because they remind me of the 80′s and 90′s. Even pointy shoes are coming back into style. Its possible that with the help of nu goth and mainstream fashion we may actually be able to kickstart a new generation of traditional goths and finally come full circle.
So goth has never really been original and just like every other fashion, its going to keep evolving over time and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Now that leather jackets and pointy buckle boots are coming back into style and more people are asking who Joy Division is after seeing one of their shirts hanging up in Forever 21, we are now closer to our goth roots than we have been in 2 decades. Goth fashion was always about experimenting and expressing yourself but even the best of us have fallen prey to trends, and thats not a bad thing. Fashion is something to have fun with, and if goth really does claim to be a subculture thats “all about the music” then it shouldnt matter how a goth dresses.
The problem with some young goths and the unintentional erasure of the goth subculture
I’ve complained enough about elitists over the years and to be perfectly honest, elitists arent the only problematic members of the goth subculture. If you were to put goth on a scale it would be be broken up into three major groups.
On one end you would find the elitist group. A group of goths who believe that there is absolutely only one way of being goth and in order to be it you must abide by their strict rules. These are the people who prefer to bully other goths than keep their opinions to themselves. This group is usually on the smaller side because most goths dont like engaging with them because of the drama that they bring. But i’ve already discussed this group many times before.
In the middle of the scale we have a very balanced group of goths. This is also the largest group. This group encompasses thousands of goths around the world of different styles and ages. These goths believe that goth is a subculture and is something that should be respected. These goths are also very aware of where and when goth started and how. This group respects the music and though not everyone in this group listens to goth music, they are still very aware of its importance to the goth subculture. This is the best place to sit on the scale. These goths often feel that goth should not dictate who they are as a person but at the same time these goths feel that the history and the music should be respected.
Now we get to the last group that unfortunately has been growing in numbers over the past few years. This is the group that poses a threat to the preservation of goth as a subculture.
First, i’m going to start with a definition for the word “subculture”
A cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests at variance with those of the larger culture
This means that a subculture is a smaller culture within a larger one and that there are specific values, beliefs and interests that divide this culture from the larger. So in order to be a part of a subculture you must have these same beliefs, interests, and values. Of course there is a ton of wiggle room when it comes to the goth subculture. Goth does not restrict you to these interests and values, but instead allows you to include your own. You can be goth and have non goth interests. You can be goth and listen to non goth music. Also the values that are often considered more mandatory are simply based on respect. Many will say that you dont have to limit yourself to listening to only goth music but, it is important to respect the music because the subculture, fashion, etc. wouldnt exist without it.
This is where problems arise. In the modern goth subculture, we are seeing more and more goths throwing these values out the window and ditching all respect for the subculture. These people are treating goth as more of a fashion statement than a culture. Goth was never meant to be a superficial concept lacking any depth or substance. Like punk, goth was a strange and amazing phenomenon that occurred at just the right moment in time. Goth was this thing that connected people through a love of dark music and a taste for the darker, stranger side of life. The fashion sort of came after and was mostly influenced by the artists producing these dark genres of music. So no matter how you look at it, goth music is really what kick started the whole thing
But many of these young, new goths dont care about that. They believe that goth is anything they say it is. When this is just not true. You cant walk up to a member of X subculture and tell him that his values and beliefs dont need to be respected and that X culture is completely subjective. Thats just not how subcultures work. Subcultures are not subjective. Goth as a subculture is not subjective. You can be a goth have your own views on the world. You can have your own interests and beliefs but goth is still a subculture and certain values NEED to be respected. If we dont respect these certain values than we risk losing our subculture.
By ignoring the history and beliefs of a subculture you are leading to its erasure. And if you know anything about today’s social issues, this should sound very familiar. We live in a time where all cultures, not just subcultures, run the risk of being erased due to racism, appropriation, the domination of mainstream cultures as well as other factors. So its important that we keep some of these values and continue to respect the history of goth as a subculture.
Unfortunately this is becoming harder and harder to do, with the rise in popularity of blogging and social media as an outlet for expressing one’s personal views and opinions. Many goth blogs on tumblr are getting popular for very superficial reasons such as fashion and aesthetic purposes. Its very easy for a blog that only posts goth fashion to become popular and though this isnt negative on its own when the person behind the blog starts divulging their opinions about the subculture, they already have a large follower base to listen to them.
So if this blogger who only cares about goth fashion, who doesnt respect the subculture starts pontificating on topics they know nothing about or respect, this will subsequently lead to a large number of less educated people to believe in misinformation about the subculture. If a popular blogger starts saying things like, “you dont need to respect or like goth music to be goth,” or, “you dont need to know anything about the history of goth to be goth” their followers will start to believe this, when its just not true.
If this keeps up like it is, eventually we are going to see a lot of young goths who dont care about the subculture. Who only want to be goth because “it looks cool” or “it scares my parents.” Goth will eventually become nothing more than a trend. Something a kid does for attention. This will also divide goths even more. You will start seeing a lot of older goths stop wanting anything to do with the younger generations and their lack of respect for the culture.
Yes goth should be something a person can have fun with but there is more that divides goths from the mainstream than just our look and many of us would like to keep it that way. Goth used to be about music, literature, art, philosophy and more. Goths were mature, refined and intelligent people who liked discussing topics such as philosophy and psychology. We were a cultured breed who enjoyed history and arts. Goth is not a gimmick. Its not a trend. Its a way of life and its a culture. And many of us are tired of seeing younger people try and ruin that.
And another thing. This is something that is not said enough and its so damn important. You do not need to be goth to like goth things. You dont have to restrict yourself to a label. Its okay to like goth things and not consider yourself goth, in fact i encourage it. If goth really is right for you, you will want to know everything about it naturally. You will feel a passion for learning about its music and history and above all, you will respect it. If not, maybe goth just isnt for you and thats okay. Even if you dont fit the label, you can still follow goth blogs and have goth friends and go to goth events but if you really want to preserve goth, you need to respect it as more than just an image. You need to respect it as a subculture that is rich with history, art and very importantly, music.