To outsiders, the goth scene is all just one big pile of black clothing and heavy makeup. The reality is that, just like any other social group, there are different subsets within the goth culture, each with their own unique looks, personal tastes, and musical choices. This article will help you to identify the types of goth styles out there and guide you towards your best fit. Now, this is by no means a comprehensive list, as each subculture can be further parsed into smaller and smaller subcategories- but this is a basic, overarching guide to show the foundations.
The goth subcultures are bridged by several factors. Most groups are very well read, with a special focus in classic literature. Philosophical and sociological topics are often common, with Nietzsche being discussed commonly. In media, some bands are prevalent in just about every group, like Nine Inch Nails, and movies by Tim Burton are usually received well by all. In addition, most goths are intelligent, creative, and socially very comfortable with their circle of friends, but quiet around 'normals' (usually because they are deciding if they like you or not). Despite these similarities, there are many differences.
The classic (or Deathrock) style is the one most people think about when picturing a goth. Completely eschewing the societal norms of beauty, their look is extreme in every sense, The style actually started in the United Kingdom as the punk scene began to fizzle out in the early 80's, but was really embraced by the disaffected youth in East Germany (you know, the really oppressive side of Germany before the Berlin Wall came down). At a time when the fashionable thing was tanned skin, blonde hair, and bright candy colors, the goth scene had pale skin, dark hair in very punk styles like mohawks, torn fishnets, and mostly black clothing. Stylistically, much of the clothing was a holdover from the punk fashion, but rendered in all black instead of plaids and leopard print. The makeup was- and still is- a very exaggerated style, still avoiding the mainstream beauty standard.
For inspiration on classic goth, look to these:
Fashion Totem: Siouxsie Sioux from Siouxsie and the Banshees, Nik Fiend from Alien Sex Fiend.
Bands: Bauhaus, Joy Division, Children on Stun
Movies: Gothic, The Craft, The Lost Boys
Books and Authors: Dante's Inferno by Dante Alighieri, The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde, Neil Gaiman
TV Shows: The IT Crowd, Game of Thrones, The Twilight Zone
Victorian, Romantic, and Vamp style goths draw the inspiration for their look from the late 1800's, favoring the elaborate clothing worn during the mourning period after someone has died. Their elegance is a counterpoint to the punk-inspired fashion of the classic group, with long gowns, velvet, and damask featuring prominently.
For women, the clothing usually features long dresses and skirts, sometimes with a bustle (a section of padding or layered fabric at the hip or butt), and black corsets aren't uncommon. Gloves, fans, and parasols are all frequent accessories, and the jewelry tends to be minimal but classic in style. Cameo necklaces and filigree elements are common. The hair and makeup tends to be simple but dramatic, with clean lines being favored. For gents, long hair is encouraged, as are hats, pocketwatches, and gloves. Vests are often layered under dignified long coats or tailored jackets, paired with simple trousers.
These same style points are utilized by the Vamp subset. Colored contacts are often added to increase the startling, stark look of paled out makeup, and fangs are sometimes added as well. There is a hint of the macabre about the Vamp crowd, but largely the style is about the eternal romanticism about the things that go bump in the night.
Classic influences include:
Fashion Totem: Morticia Addams, Armand (played by Antonio Banderas in Interview with the Vampire)
Bands: Switchblade Symphony, Wolfsheim, Nox Arcana
Movies: Interview with the Vampire, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mary Reilly
Books and Authors: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, Edgar Allen Poe
TV Shows: Penny Dreadful, Sherlock, Downton Abbey
Steampunk is a relatively new arrival on the scene, but its common ties with the goth scene mean they fit in just fine. Whereas the Victorian goth embraces the mourning garb, the Steampunk embraces a different aspect- exploration and science. This style will often incorporate items from a world that evolved differently than ours, one where steam is still very much a viable energy source and tinker's inventions have daily use.
The color palette for Steampunk varies from the typical goth scene, with many outfits utilizing not black, but browns, ivory, bronze, and greens. All colors are muted, earthtones- the colors an explorer would wear. Women wear bloomer-style trousers or hitched up skirts with Victorian corsets, strappy belts, and button-down tops. Men are seen in similar fashion as the Victorians, with vests, cravats, and trousers being favored, though on occasion jodhpurs (think old-school horseback riding pants) are worn. Knee high boots work for men and women, as do hats and a multitude of pockets. The truly dedicated will also add in goggles or pocketwatches and even handmade guns as props.
This is more of a roleplaying character than some other styles, but it is no less valid or alternative for it. Characters will often have fanciful names and complex, in-depth backstories and histories to go along with the intricate outfits, adding to the allure and escapism.
Feel like trying out Steampunk? Check out:
Fashion Totem: Kato, Brett Banning from Synthetic Dream Foundation
Bands: Rasputina, Abney Park, Vernian Process
Movies: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Priest, The League of Exraordinary Gentlemen
Books and Authors: The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, The Half-Made World by Felix Gilman, Cassandra Clare
TV Shows: Doctor Who, Grimm, Tim Man (miniseries)
Another, more unexpected newcomer to the scene is Pastel goth. This category is often looked down on by other groups ( sometimes even referred to as 'goth lite'), as they don't seem to fit in aesthetically. Get past all the bright pink and white, though, and there are still spikes and chains to be found. This style is actually a mixture of the anime-like kawaii ("cute" in Japanese) and lolita fashion with the foundation of classic goth. Lolita goth is sometimes placed in this category as well, but only some fit- some of the more macabre styles are definitely horror-influenced and are therefore their own group (not covered in this article, as it is still uncommon in many places). This is, strangely, one of the only subsets of goth culture that hasn't been directly influenced by music and bands from the start. Since this is a fairly new scene, though, I'm sure that we'll be hearing from more groups that identify as Pastel.
This group seems to be dominated by women (Pastel goth men-we want pics!). The clothing tends towards corsets and doll-like short dresses (though it can be much more casual, with leggings and flowy tank tops being favored), with colorful wigs and hair extensions. Black can be mixed in with pops of color, or the outfit can be all brights. Stockings and thigh-highs are common as are tall platforms and lots of bracelets. So even though the spikes may be pink, that's no reason not to give this style a try. Often under that bright, colorful veneer, is a mind as dark as the rest of this list.
Check these out for inspiration:
Fashion Totem: Charlotte Free, Jeffree Starr
Bands: Malice Mizer, Garbage, Lydia
Movies: Howl's Moving Castle, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Alice in Wonderland
Books and Authors: Any Manga
TV Shows: Fairy Tail, Black Butler, The Vampire Diaries
The Cyber Goth scene is instantly identifiable- mostly black clothing, with fluorescent (sometimes glow in the dark or LED) accents, multimedia hair, and gas masks. This subculture, along with Industrial, have taken elements of tribal fashion- like dreadlocks and loincloths- and fused them with a high-tech, post-apocalyptic, almost alien style. This is the fusion of man and technology, a world where cybernetics have altered humans into bright and strange new creatures. The term- again from the United Kingdom- didn't come to describe a style until a decade after it was coined, when the late 90's saw an emergence in clothing and tech that allowed for the fashion to bloom.
Common elements in all Cyber Goth outfits may be respirators (particularly ones with neon accents), goggles, platform boots, goggles, vinyl, and hairpieces of dreads and tubing. Women tend to wear two-piece outfits, short skirts and strappy tops, piped with bright colors (especially neon green and yellow) or short dresses of the same style. Men's outfits begin to get more elaborate here, with tight, multi-strap pants and PVC tops being frequently spotted. The bio-hazard and radiation symbols feature prominently, as all that technology can be hazardous...why else do you think it glows?
This is a fun and quirky style to try out, especially if you're a fan of electronica and rave-y styles of music.
For inspiration, look up:
Fashion Totem: Terrorcat, Surgical-Steel
Bands: Orgy, Goteki, Psyborg Corp
Movies: Ultraviolet, Tank Girl, Aeon Flux
Books and Authors: Halo by Tom Maddox, Shade's Children by Garth Nix, William Gibson
TV Shows: Batman Beyond, Invader Zim, Gareth Marenghi's Darkplace
The Industrial (or Rivet, Rivethead) goth is also a post-apocalyptic take on fashion, but there's a different outlook- whereas Cyber is a technologically advanced society, the Industrial scene is down and dirty, a wasteland where technology is hard to find and life is hard. This is reflected in clothing that is mostly black, occasionally with red, silver, and grey thrown in. Vinyl is common here, but leather moreso. Though the two styles have similarities, Industrial predates Cyber by more than a decade- something that makes sense when you look at the actual technological aspect of both fashions. The mentality fits as well; in the late 80's there was a lot of talk of nuclear war, radioactive disasters, and that became an outlet for the societal fringe of the time. In grabbing onto that idea, combining it with hard, dirgey rock, the Industrial scene was born. These mindsets are also reflected in some of the more militaristic style choices.
For women, the style is similar to Cyber, but the colors are usually almost all black and red. There is an undertone of violence and survivalism in the aesthetic of this scene, made evident in the accessories of bullet belts and spiked bracers. Menswear trends to the militant look, with multi-pocket cargo pants showing up frequently. Tops tend to be tight and unrestrictive, and the accessories of goggles and respirators show up again, though in a more utilitarian sense.
For hints on Industrial fashion, look at:
Fashion Totem: Amelia Arsenic, Peter Spilles
Bands: Angelspit, Chemlab, KMFDM
Movies: Dune, Blade Runner, The City of Lost Children
Books and Authors: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Spares by M.M. Smith, Bruce Sterling
TV Shows: iZombie, Orphan Black, The Walking Dead
Ah, Fetish. Once something kept in bedrooms worldwide, the fashion has seeped out and influenced those who love pushing the envelope. At the core of this style is raw sexuality- the latex, vinyl, and leather once lived only in the dark recesses, but has been appropriated by fashion designers, Hollywood, and style seekers alike in search of new territory to explore. Once again finding roots in the United Kingdom, particularly latex clothing, the trend spread to Germany before manufacturing methods began to improve and some amazing designers began to create wearable art. Being something that is dark and often looked down upon, the Fetish community has found a home alongside all the other goths. While not everyone appreciates their overt sexuality (which at times bleeds over from 'sexy' to just plain 'sex,' often by those who don't appreciate the boundaries of others in public places), their contribution to the scene has been invaluable.
Never before have we had such unfettered access to so much shiny, restrictive, well-made clothing, and it is partly the mainstream acceptance of Fetish style (if not the lifestyle) that we have to thank for it. Along with the corsets and catsuits, we began to see amazing sky-high stilettos and titillating masks being worn out to clubs. Anything can technically be a fetish, but the Fetish style trends towards tight clothing that is usually shiny, laced, buckled, or strapped. These can be anything- dresses, leggings, skirts, tops, you name it.
So if this sounds like you, look at:
Fashion Totem: Jean Bardot, Masuimi Max
Bands: The Genitorturers, Nine Inch Nails, Lords of Acid
Movies: Quills, Secretary, The Night Porter
Books and Authors: Brash by JG Ballard, Normal Enough by M. Sexton, Finding Sanctuary by D.C Juris
TV Shows: Masters of Sex, American Horror Story, Mad Men
There's another 'category' of goth I'd like to address: Neo and Fashion. Both of these terms are used in a somewhat derogatory manner, so I'm not classifying them as actual categories. There's altogether too much infighting going on in the scene, and I'd rather not proliferate that kind of behavior. Neo is a term used to single out those who may be new to the scene and are still trying to find where they fit in. This is a process; as we learn about ourselves, we find where we belong in life. That's nothing to ridicule- rather, it's great that someone new has come along to breathe new life into the scene.
Fashion goths are those who, according to others, aren't as 'hardcore' about the lifestyle as maybe some others may be, or they only occasionally indulge in the goth lifestyle. I understand that this can feel like people are appropriating our scene, but I look at it this way- we make this shit look so good that even NORMAL people want to steal it from us every now and then. Sure, they may want to make fun of us for how we look, but hey- they obviously just have jealousy issues, and can't handle it. That's not my problem. Conversely, you also need to remember that you don't know where people are coming from- maybe they live in a very religious household and can't handle the persecution our lifestyle would bring them, or they don't have the money to maintain an entire goth wardrobe. That's fine by me- just be awesome when you're in my scene, and everything will be just fine.
So what kind of goth style would you try? Let us know- or even better, post pics!- in the comments below!