Goth Fashion and Goth Music
When someone looks at me, they can definitely tell that I am goth. And I have been dressing this way for almost 25 years now. What many people are not aware of is that there are a lot of subcultures within the gothic subculture. These fractions under the umbrella of “gothic” are different in style and music, and take influences from different directions. Although the whole subculture started in the late 1970s, things branched out pretty quickly, and many of the newer bands and fashions have little to do with the cult bands from the early days.
A lot of the styles today are not particularly linked to certain artists, but are really just fashion statements. And the people in those fractions might share a love for a certain way to dress but might not at all share the same taste for music (although their music tastes are generally under the gothic umbrella). For an outsider, the nuances between the different fashions and styles are probably not particularly obvious, but within the subculture, we all can quickly categorize folks by just looking at the way they dress and present themselves. It is also very important to note that the North American and the European gothic subcultures don’t necessarily overlap in the way they define terms and different subcultures within the subculture.
I dress in a variety of goth styles and most of them are actually inspired by music artists and the sounds they created. There are five styles in particular that I have often been drawn to, and depending on my mood and my plans for the day, I am dressing in one of them.
New Romantic was more of a fashion style in the late 1970s and early 1980s than a music style, but there were definitely some bands that people would still class new romantics today. It all started in the UK, where some people started dressing in a certain style, influenced by a variety of sources. The club Blitz in London was the place to be, and the people who dressed in this particular style were often labelled “the blitz kids”.
The main influence was the style of David Bowie during his glam rock period. Other influences were punk, 1930s cabaret, the late 18th and early 19th century (the Romantic period), Bonnie Prince Charles and even harlequinn and clown styles. It was all about sticking out with frills, with colours, with being flamboyant. They even had certain hairstyles like the mullet or quiffs. What I find particularly interesting, and something that I am often drawn to myself, is the androgneous look of it all. All genders dressed in similar clothes and rebelled quite successfully against existing gender norms.
The music from the New Romantics era is sort of the first synthpop, but still with very punky and glam rock influences. Some of the more famous artists were Boy George, Duran Duran, Visage, Spandau Ballet and Adam and the Ants. But there are also artists that many goths still listen to today, like Siouxsie from Siouxsie and the Banshees or Dave Varian from the Damned, who dressed in a new romantic style at least for a while. Just check out the video to Happy House by Siouxise and the Banshees that is very much influenced by the Pierrot clown fashion that many new romantics tried to copy.
You don’t see as many new romantics today, but they have found a home in the goth subculture. They wear colourful make-up and dress very much like the blitz kids in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I quite like this style and while I don’t always go for the colourful make-up, but when I do, I go all in. It is definitely not an every day look, but depending on the club or concert I go to, I sometimes pick the new romantic look. I have quite a few clothes that fit the description and minus the overly bright make-up, work as something to wear every day too.
The gothic subculture was founded in the late 1970s, most famously with Bauhaus’ song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” being labelled “gothic” . The subculture co-existed with a lot of different genres at the time, many drawing influences from the 1970s punk music and fashion style. Notable here is definitely postpunk, a scene that many goth artists like The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus came from. It is not from nothing that many goths still today love the music of Joy Division or The Sound.
In the beginning it was all very focused on London and the Batcave-club, but word of the new subculture spread fast and clubs and bands popped up all over the UK and then Europe and eventually all over the world.
Goth was very strongly linked to fashion, and the goths had an eclectic style, and just like gothic music, influences came from punk, new romantic and glam rock. But the focus of the fashion and music was more nihilistic, and morbid. Symbols like the ankh-cross, ripped clothes, fishnets, DIY clothing, ankle boots and army boots, heavy eyeliner, big black hair and mohawks: all markers of the gothic fashion style.
The fashion was definitely influenced by the artists that played the music. Today the style is often labelled trad goth, old school goth or in the American subculture, deathrock. The fashion-style and the music are still very much alive, and the old bands play in front of sold-out venues. There are also a lot of newer bands that still play the same style and dress similarly as their role-models did in the 1980s. In Sweden where I lived for 12 years, this is the style that most goths wear.
The trad goth style is the fashion you can see me in the most when I go out clubbing or to concerts. This is me, so very much. It is the music I most listen to, and post punk and goth fashion has been my to go to style for the last 20 years. And I am happy that my favourite fashion and music is still thriving.
Wave is a huge subculture within the goth subculture. It is a genre of music that originates in the 1980s (like most cool music does, really) and has seen many forms, most loved in the goth subculture are New Wave and Dark Wave. It is a music style with new bands constantly popping up, which is quite exciting. The band that wavers most adore are The Cure. It is really difficult to place the music by The Cure, some say it is rock, others say they are goth, but if you ask a waver, they are definitely wave!
I love The Cure, but I am generally more drawn to the genre of dark wave. In the 90s, the German band Deine Lakaien had their breakthrough and while they don’t have a huge following in North America, in Europe they are generally seen as one of the best dark wave bands out there. A newer dark wave band that has hit it big in the goth subculture are ACTORS, a Canadian band.
One of the things that stand out with dark wave and also new wave bands, is the cleaner style in clothing. There are no ripped clothes, the punk element has vanished a bit. Back in the 80s, wavers often had huge hair (Robert Smith being the role model there) or crinkled/ crimped hair. Hairspray was the number one accessoire of the waver.
Dark wave on the other hand, is more about slick or simple black hair. The dressing style is very similar to that of the new wave or wave from the 1980s though: simple black clothes. Winklepicker shoes (pointy shoes) are often a must, so are leather jackets, simple black dresses and stockings, oversized clothes and not a lot of jewelry. The make-up is still dark, but the lipstick is often red.
I often dress in the toned down dark wave style when I leave the house during the day. It still looks goth enough to be recognized as such, but the style doesn’t draw as much attention as the trad goth style would. I like the simplicity because I don’t take ages to get dressed, I don’t need to spend hours on make-up and hair. And honestly, everyone looks cool in a leather jacket!
90s Victorian Goth Style
This is a very German phenomena. In the German goth subculture in the 1990s, a new sort of music style became popular. It was music that was inspired by previous centuries. Medieval goth rock became a thing all of the sudden. Or gothrock heavily influenced by Victorian music. It was actually quite interesting how with the entry of those bands, a new fashion style spread through the gothic scene: Victorian gothic.
The style was heavily influenced by some of the dramatic effects of the new romantic movement, but also by the dark make-up of the trad goth subculture. And all in a mix with Victorian, medieval or romantic elements. I think that the release of the movie Interview with a Vampire had a huge influence too. Suddenly every goth guy wanted to look like Lestat, he became the ideal, but only darker: black lipstick was a go to for men, while women wore blood red lipstick.
For men it was all about frills, long fingernails, long black straight hair, and eyeliner, together with long coats, silver jewelry and spiritual symbols like the pentagram or even the upside down satanic cross. Women, on the other hand, started wearing wide underskirts, heavy velvet dresses, ankle boots, lots of silver, lots of lace. And corsets, everyone was suddenly wearing corsets! We were all sewing Victorian dresses and Victorian picnics became the in-outing that every goth had to attend.
I like some of the music that the Victorian goths listen to (they are still a big thing in Germany!), like Qntal, Mila Mar, Faith and the Muse and LaCrimosa, Goethe’s Erben and even some L’ Ame Imortelle (which we lovingly called Lame in the Hotel haha) every now and then. When I started hanging out with the goths in my town, the Victorian witchy, vampire style was definitely my style. I owned a lot of velvet clothes, and I still do! And lace will always be one of my favourites.
I don’t dress in a full-on Victorian style much anymore. But I miss it, and I fondly remember the times when us girls took hours to get dressed and ready together before a club-night or a picnic. I wouldn’t mind going to a Victorian picnic again! These days I wear the style more toned down and quite like the romantic Victorian feel to it.
The goth subculture got definitely Americanized in the 1990s and more and more subcultures within the subculture emerged. There was a sort of culture war going on as the elder goths (yes, we call them that still!) wanted to continue the traditional way, while the baby bats (yes, still call them that too!) introduced new music genres to the scene. The issue if Marilyn Manson is goth or not has been discussed so many times during my teenage years, and I still stand by that the band’s fashion style greatly influenced the goth subculture, the lyrics were very gothic as well, but the music style? Nah. But wherever you stand on the issue, Marilyn Manson influenced goth fashion.
A lot of the 90s goth bands like Diva Destruction and London After Midnight were American. The fashion had a lot of its roots in the fetish scene and PVC clothes could be seen in all goth clubs. The same goes for platform boots and ripped stockings.
Apart from the American influence, electro also stomped its way into the subculture. EBM, industrial, futurepop, synthpop were played in goth clubs. People used goggles, tubes and colourful plastic dreads in their hair. Goth retail shops opened everywhere (in the USA Hot Topic, in Germany it was X-Tra-X). So the style that once was so much about DIY was now easily attainable for everyone.
The goth subculture had more and more subcultures within and it was quite interesting to see them all come together in clubs and on festivals, the different fractions looking totally different from each other, but still belonging to the same scene.
I never went down the electro-route, but I definitely adapted to the American style and I still wear that sort of style quite frequently. The make-up was dark but you could add a colour or two to the black. The ripped stockings were easily made at home, the platform boots were expensive but they lasted years. Clothes with prints were a thing now: skeletons, skulls, bats, bandshirts (I must have about 30 bandshirts just here in Canada, I think I have about as many still in Sweden). The interesting thing is that even though I still listen to the trad goth music, and the dark wave, I also quite enjoy a lot of the 90s band and their fashion.
There are quite a few goth fashion trends that I never really followed and that have come up after the 1990s. I already mentioned the electro goth style with the hair tubes and PVC clothes. I have also never really been into steampunk, pinup goth or lolita fashion. I need the connection to the music, because goth music and goth fashion are very much intertwined for me. But I must admit that I sometimes dress very nu goth, yet another American trend that is promoted by the designers at the Killstar clothing line. I do like the symbolism with the pentagrams, and I like that some of their items almost look like high fashion. But really, most days you will find me chilling at home in a simple dress or a pair of leggings and a bandshirt. But the moment I leave the house, I am gothing it up old school.
I know I mentioned that there is a difference between the European and North American evolution of goth fashion, and they often use different terms for the different styles as well. You can watch a video of 40 years of goth fashion from an American perspective here.