From the history of the Gothic subculture to its evolution on fashion runway & beyond, here’s all about the world of goth fashion. Clothing, makeup, accessories – here’s your FULL guide on how to be goth!
If it were not for my mom, my wardrobe would be all black already. Well, more than half of my clothes are still black though. Goths were the first to start the all-black culture. Let’s take a tour of how goth fashion came into existence and how it has evolved over the years.
There is no standard dress code for Goth so they have the freedom to play with their thoughts, ideas, and style. Gothic fashion is gender-neutral and is seen breaking the typical and cliché gender norms. It is something about black clothes that drives me towards them. They are simply beautiful.
What is Goth?
The goth subculture arose from the dark, horrific and romantic scenes of architecture, literature, music, and style. Anytime a topic of life, death, and afterlife came up, it caught people’s attention and had them interested. In the modern-day, Goth fashion has exerted a powerful influence on street style, runway, and also fashion trends.
Influences behind Goth Subculture
During the Middle Ages, from 13th to 16th century, Goth architecture took Europe by storm. They had detailed and captivating designs of art. The buildings were tall and spooky with spires, pointed arches, and tall windows.
Today we can see many pretty churches and cathedrals that look similar to the fairytale castles. These creepy looking buildings inspired writers to create dark and ghostly scenes. Therefore, a new genre of literature came into being in the late 1700s – the gothic fiction. It is a part of literature that combines horror and dark romanticism.
A typical scene would be – alone, dimly lit castle with dungeons in a dense forest with bats flying around, haunted hallways, and white curtains flowing by the wind during a thunderstorm. Not to forget a pinch of supernatural characters like ghosts, vampires, spirits, and witches.
In the late 1970s, the later phase of the aggressive punk period saw the rise of the gothic rock. It was rather calmer than punk. They give messages of sadness and loneliness, which in turn gave joy and support to the audience.
The vocals were soulful, passionate, and dramatic. The music was dark, soothing, emotional, nihilistic, and had supernatural elements. Joy Division, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Sisters of Mercy were among the first bands to make gothic music. ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’ by Bauhaus was the first official gothic song.
Music created a dark atmosphere which inspired many. They found comfort and felt no less than home. Eventually, they started adopting the culture in their lives. Although the Goth lovers look very mysterious and distinct, they are peaceful and soft at heart.
A Goth’s ideal date would be to drink red wine in a graveyard under a moonlit sky. Sounds… romantic!
What is Goth Fashion?
Celebrating the darker aspects of life and inspired by the Goth subculture, Goth fashion started in the early 1980s. Dark and rebellious punk aesthetics combined with the Victorian romanticism make goth fashion. Victorian beauty standard’s influence brought the pale skin, tight-laced corsets, and long elegant dresses. Punk gave leather jackets, spiky accessories, and dark makeup.
This gave birth to the Goth club culture where people dressed themselves inspired by the gothic rock scene. It was a place for all the gothic lovers and bat cavers (early members of the goth subculture) where Goth culture, fashion, and music met.
From the children of the moon to the granddaughters of witches, Goth fashion took the world by a storm. Later the trend bubbled up to the labels. Gradually designers then started incorporating gothic elements into their designs and runway collections.
In the early 80s, Yoji Yamamoto took the runway with elements of traditional, or trad goth, and then designers like Alexander McQueen, Jean-Paul Gaultier introduced their take on it. Later many designers like Balenciaga, Thom Browne, Givenchy, Valentino, Olivier Theyskens, etc. bought their own variations to trad goth, such as romantic goth, corp goth, Victorian goth, etc.
The time when goth fashion was introduced, DIY was the only way to dress like a Goth. There were no specific stores that sold Gothic clothes. But today we can see numerous designers who design clothes only for the Goth subculture. They are readily available and easily accessible. The runway designers played a huge role in expanding the Goth culture and introducing new Goth trends.
Goth Clothing, Accessories and Makeup
Goths wear clothes like DIY’ed Leather jackets, fishnets, corsets and long robes and dresses, layered skirts or miniskirts, The clothing is usually black or with dark tones like purple, burgundy, etc. They do wear other colors too. The cloth is mostly velvet, satin, silk, laces, and nets. The hair is big, spiky, and bushy.
For shoes, they usually wear Doc Marten, new rocks, military boots, chunky and big unisex boots, and the length of the heels is quite high. They mostly wear black or burgundy nail polish. Accessories include spiked chokers, buckles, belts, chains, occult jewelry, piercings, crowns, hats, and sometimes precious stones like ruby too.
Goth fashion frequently uses motifs like bats, coffins, vampires, skulls, mirrors, and religious symbols. The atmosphere and aura of a Goth is very mysterious, cold and melancholic. They have a supernatural feel with hints of romanticism.
Black is the statement look for clubs, cocktail parties, and ceremonies. It is the untold color that everybody unintentionally thinks of first. This doesn’t mean they are Goth but black is the unspoken color of the glamour world.
Goths mostly prefer pale skin; Egyptians influenced thick and dark smokey eyeliner and kohl eye makeup. They mostly wear black, deep wine or burgundy lipsticks.
Ancient Goth vs Modern Goth Style
The early goth fashion was sophisticated and uncomfortable. The upper-body garments were body-hugging and would accentuate the curves to give an hourglass figure, like corsets and tight sleeves. The lower part was exaggerated, flowy, and long.
Men usually wore trousers, shirts with ruffles and laces. They wore black high heeled shoes or dark flat boots. They would wear blood-red too. Women would leave their hair loose or tie it up into a bun and men had bleached bob hair with bangs.
The little details of gothic fashion are playing a big role in today’s style and even influencing other fashion subcultures. It’s simple and comfortable, yet has irregular and mature cuts and silhouettes. Minimal accessories are worn or maybe one or two occult pieces. Body piercing and tattooing are also seen. These looks are mostly DIY’ed with the trendy style and one’s taste in fashion.
Modern pieces include blazers, coats, baggy pants with chains, slip dresses, miniskirts, etc. The skin is not so pale with subtly dark makeup. A wide variety of shoes is seen – thigh-high lace-up boots, Doc Martens, pointy shoes, studded and buckled shoes. People tend to try various hairstyles and hair colors like choppy hair which is black or bleached in pastels or decorated with hair accessories.
Celebrities who Wear Goth
Siouxsie Sioux is known as the godmother of Goth. Her fashion had a great influence on the club culture and the youth in general. Goth gave icons like Peter Murphy known as the ‘godfather of Goth’, Bela Lugosi who is best known for his role as a handsome blood-sucking Dracula, Marilyn Manson, and many more.
Mana is a guitarist of the Japanese visual kei rock band Malice Mizer and gothic metal band Moi dix Mois. He created his own label called Moi-même-Moitié and intends to spread Gothic Lolita fashion to the world seeing no gender norms.
Kerli Koiv is an Estonian singer. Fairies and angels have influenced her music in several ways, and as a result bubble Goth became a popular movement. This style combines both light and dark things. Her style is a mixture of cyber Goth and Goth fashion.
Goth Fashion in Cinema/ TV
The entertainment industry has incorporated Goth fashion into movies and TV shows and media’s representation of Gothic fashion has influenced today’s styles too. Tim Burton is one of the famous directors to add elements of Goth into his movies. His stories are very deep and dark but could make the viewer’s eyes teary. He has teamed up with Johnny Depp to give many hits.
Some of their hits together are Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and many more. According to Society19, “You know you’re a Tim Burton fan when his art and movies don’t only make you happy, they also set you free.” Some of the characters may seem dark and villainy but have the softest heart.
Other than these, Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) is all about the goth subculture. With the main character having bat-superpowers, night-time scenery, all-black costumes, pale-skin makeup, and a city called ‘Gotham’, it creates quite a world of Goth.
There are many characters whose costumes incorporate elements of Gothic fashion like Angelina Jolie in Maleficent, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, Anna Hopkins as Lilith in the TV show Shadow Hunters and so many more.
Types of Goth
1. Traditional Goth
Traditional, also known as trad goth, started in the 1980s. It is the traditional and classic stage look worn by bands like the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, etc. A classic example would be the iconic Siouxsie Sioux look (band member of Siouxsie and the Banshees)
Their hair is big and wild, skin is pale, and wear dark and dramatic Egyptian influenced makeup. They mostly wear black clothing like leather, chunky boots and fishnets, etc.
2. Haute Goth
Designers create a kind of art in fashion that goes beyond the boundaries of imagination. They combine gothic elements with their creativity and therefore creating something unimaginable. Haute gothic fashion includes modern translations of Victorian clothing like ball gowns, corsets and headdresses, with the makeup being dark and bold.
3. Death Rock
It is a combination of horror and gothic elements, but more of horror. Deathhawk and mohawks are the recognizable hairstyles of death rock. Clothing consists of leather jackets, skin-fit jeans, Doc Martens. Skin is pale with dark makeup and eyeliner.
4. Corporate Goth
Corporate also known as corp Goths as the name suggests, is for formal or workplace kind of style. It is less dramatic. They consist of formal clothes like suits, dresses, shirts, trousers, etc. The hair and makeup are minimal.
5. Gothic Lolita
This is a combination of Japanese ‘kawaii’ (cute) and the black Goth look. There closet must-haves include ruffles, frills, bows, cute flowy lace dresses. They go for a dark and also a child-like and innocent look like knee-length socks and buckled shoes. They doll up their hair into pigtails or space buns or add adorable hair accessories.
6. Other Subcultures
The Goth community is ever growing, and Goth fashion lovers bring their personality, and subsequently, new trends in this subculture. In gothic fashion so many new subcultures emerge from the fashion of the day and create something new every time. And also various other music genres combine with Goth rock which gives birth to new styles and trends.
There are many subcultures like retro Goth, cybergoth, minimalist Goth, hippy Goth, pastel Goth, steampunk, and many more keep adding to the list every couple of years.
Evolution of Goth Fashion on the Runway
Big labels picked up this club culture trend and included them in their shows almost as soon as Goth fashion was born. They depict feelings and emotions through their designs. Goth fashion is timeless. And when picked up from any part of history it will still look amazing and fashionable any day.
1990s: Trad to Minimal Goth
In the early 1980s, Yoji Yamamoto created a collection with trad goth elements. During the early 90s, the gothic style evolved and designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen added tribal and deathrock elements to their shows. Meanwhile in the second half of the 90s, designers kept their collections minimal and corporate-like.
2000s: The Romantic Goth Period
The 2000s and most of the early 2010s saw striking variations of gothic fashion like the romantic, Victorian, fairy, and gothic lolita. Haute goth from designers like Gucci, Christian Dior, H.Naoto, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Meadham Kirchhoff, and Givenchy also made it to the spotlight.
2010s: Haute to Cyber Goth Era
Late 2010s: Minimal & Corp Goth Revival Epoch
The late 2010s saw the revival of minimal and corp goth with designers like Versace, Alexander Wang, Guo Pei, etc. This era also saw other gothic subculture elements like cybergoth, and tribal from designers like Nasir Mazhar, and Givenchy. Dior and Marc Jacobs both famously brought black lipsticks into mainstream fashion with their goth makeup looks for the Fall 2016 shows.
2020s: Wearable Goth
Even in the dark year of 2020, designers like Ann Demeulemeester, Philipp Plein, Chanel, Yoji Yamamoto, etc. have revealed a variety of gothic elements in their designs. No offense, but these collections are not as dark as this year though!
So are you a bat-caver? Which is your preferred goth style? Do you like to try goth-inspired outfits? Do share your ideal goth OOTD by commenting on our Instagram @shilpaahujadotcom or twitter @shilpa1ahuja. We would love to read your thoughts!
Brinda is a Fashion Journalist Intern at ShilpaAhuja.com. She is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Fashion Technology from NIFT. Fashion makes her happy, and she loves reading and learning more about fashion. She likes to style clothes and doing makeup is her forte. In her free time she likes to listen to music and sing. She is a huge k-pop fan, and also enjoys k-dramas. In her free time, she stays at home and likes to spend time with herself and her family. Her hobbies are drawing and learning Korean. She likes to exercise and stay healthy.