Goth Fashion 101 – From Gothic Origins to Modern Styles

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What is Goth Fashion?

Goth fashion is a distinctive and mysterious way of dressing and makeup adopted by the Goth Subculture.

Drawn from the Goth-rock music scenes in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Goth fashion is influenced by punk and post-punk movements, including New Wave and New Romantic.

Also, the Goth look draws inspiration from the imagery of Gothic architecture and literature and the dressing style of the Victorian, Elizabethan, and Medieval eras.

Gothic Fashion Origin

The UK’s post-punk music scene of the late ’70s and early ’80s, characterized by a dark, undead, androgynous aesthetic, is credited with the origins of Gothic fashion style.

Batcave Trad Goth Fashion Style

During those decades, the gothic dressing style was influenced and shaped by the Punk subculture and its rebellious views.

The look was edgy and unique, comprising combat boots, spiked wristbands, chokers, voluminous and exotic hairstyles, and the New Romantic heavy makeup.

Post Punk Goth fashion style origin

Although there’s no specific moment recognized as the inception of the Goth fashion style, the 1979 single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by the band Bauhaus is cited as a catalyst.

Bauhaus 80s Origin of Goth Fashion Style

The Goth fashion style takes significant inspiration from the Victorian era of the 19th century and the dark, brooding imagery depicted in the fiction and horror books of that era.

Victorian Cult of Mourning

Victorians’ fascination with death and supernatural events, reflected in their mourning customs and specific attire, contributes to the look of the Goth fashion style.

For example, the typical Victorian mourning attire for women consisted of a tight black bodice over a corset and a black frilled full skirt.

Victorian Gothic mourning female attire

For men, black gloves, a dark suit, and a hat adorned with a black band, both outfits resembling the classic Goth fashion style.

Victorian Gothic mourning male attire

80s Goth Fashion

In the 80s, the Batcave club, an important gathering place for the Goth subculture in London’s Soho district, was pivotal in popularizing the Gohtic fashion style.

During that decade, the Goth fashion style had a moody palette dominated by black, manifesting in mourning clothes, velvet cloaks, ripped tops, leather jackets, distressed leather pants, and black jeans.

Batcave Trad Goth fashion style

The gothic dressing style was augmented with dark eyeliner and lipstick, teased or spiked hair, fishnets or ripped stockings, and sturdy footwear, especially black leather Doc Martens or winklepicker boots.

Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees, dubbed “The Mother of Goth,” was instrumental in popularizing the Goth fashion style for women in the 80s.

Siouxsie Sioux 80s Goth fashion style

Siouxsie’s gothic look comprised distressed black leather clothing, fishnet stockings, combat boots, spiked and leather wristbands, cat-eye makeup, deep red lipstick on pale skin, and voluminous, teased hair.

Goth fashion style for men was shaped by gothic rock musicians like Peter Murphy of Bauhaus (the “Godfather of Goth”), Robert Smith of The Cure, and Nik Fiend (alias Jonny Slut) of Alien Sex Fiend.

Male 80s Goth Style

The look encompassed dark suits, ripped T-shirts, black leather jackets or overcoats, leather pants or black jeans, and combat boots or black leather ankle winklepickers.

The decade’s makeup and hairstyle echoed the trends seen among female goths: dark eyeliner, pale skin, dark red lipstick, and teased hair.

90s Goth Fashion

During the 1990s, the media substantially promoted the gothic aesthetic by showcasing gothic theme movies, stories, and TV shows.

Music bands embraced gothic sounds and adopted Goth fashion style, even if their music wasn’t Goth, with some of the most famous being Marilyn Manson, PJ Harvey, Manic Street Preachers, and Nine Inch Nails.

90s Gothic fashion style inspired by Music bands such as Marilyn Manson, PJ Harvey, Manic Street Preachers, and Nine Inch Nails.

Movies and TV shows likeEdward Scissorhands (1990),The Addams Family (1991 – 1998), The Craft (1996), and Sleepy Hollow (1999) promoted the Goth subculture into the mainstream.

90s Goth fashion styles inspired by Gothic TV shows and Movies

Consequently, the 90s Goth fashion style began incorporating aesthetics from Grunge, Emo, Industrial, and Dance subcultures, such as lace, stripes, plaids, and neons, into mini skirts, cropped tops, and jackets.

The late 90s witnessed the emergence of Goth substyles like Mall Goth and Cybergoth, a fusion of Goth with rave and industrial aesthetics.

Cyber Goth fashion style

The popularity of the Goth subculture and style in the 90s inspired high-end designer labels to incorporate gothic aesthetics into their collections.

Some of these iconic collections are Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 1994, Comme des Garçons Fall 1997, Alexander McQueen Fall 1997, Balenciaga Fall 1998, and Olivier Theyskens Spring 1999.

Goth Style on Fashion Show and Runways in the 90s
Goth Style on Fashion Shows and Runways in the 90s: Jean Paul Gaultier Spring 1994, Comme des Garçons Fall 1997, Alexander McQueen Fall 1997, Balenciaga Fall 1998, and Olivier Theyskens Spring 1999 – The VOU

2000s Goth Fashion

The 2000s brought a renewed focus on the classic Goth fashion style color palette, returning to black and red in clothing, accessories, and makeup.

Combinations of these shades appeared in striped over-the-knee socks, black corsets with red embroidery and decoration, and black and red eyeshadows.

2000s Gothic fashion style

In the 2000s, there was also a shift in the approach to Goth-style eyebrows towards a thin or shaved look and hairstyles departing from dyed black hair to dual-tone hair colors and dreadlocks.

Cut-out gloves remained an essential Goth look accessory, ideal for complementing gothic outfits.

2000s Gothic fashion style shaved eyebrows

Inspired by the Victorian era, variations of the classic Gothic style emerged from the mid-2000s to the early 2010s.

Among these were Gothic Lolita and Japanese Lolita fashion styles that combined the elegance and cuteness of Lolita’s aesthetic with the dark patterns and motifs of Goth.

Other notable variations included Steamgoth and the gothic interpretation of Steampunk, which combine historical elements with a futuristic, industrial vibe.

Steamgoth and Gothic Lolita styles in the 2000s

While in the 80s and 90s, Goth clothing mainly was DIY, during the late 90s to mid-2000s, Goth clothing brands such as Tripp NYC and online stores like Hot Topic became very popular, particularly among Mallgoths in the US.

2010s Goth Fashion

The 2010s witnessed the rise of Corp Goths, a term coined to describe early Goths who now, in their late 30s and 40s, were living a corporate life.

Part of the Goth corporate aesthetic, the decade’s Goth fashion style was adapted to officewear: grey blazers, black button-up shirts, formal black trousers with silver zippers, black ties, and less voluminous haircuts.

2010s Corp Gothic fashion style

Growing online communities such as Tumblr and influenced the Goth fashion style during this decade, with Eboy and Egirl showcasing young gamers popularizing Pastel Goth.

The Pastel Goth fashion substyle fused the dark aesthetics of Goth with the Kawaii (‘cute’) sensibilities of Japanese anime and cosplay, favoring softer hues like lavender and baby pink.

Pastel Goth Fashion Style 2010s

The growing hip-hop and street culture of the 2010s impacted and diversified the Goth fashion style.

Health Goth emerged as a fusion of athleisure wear and gothic aesthetics, prioritizing black sportswear and sleek, futuristic designs.

Health Goth Fashion Style 2010s

Ghetto Goth, another substyle that emerged during this decade, combined streetwear’s practicality and casualness with the dark aesthetics and symbols of Goth fashion.

2010s Ghetto Goth fashion style

Goth Fashion in 2023

The modern iteration of Gothic fashion is characterized by experimentation, reflected in black see-through mourning lace dresses, intricately embroidered hoop skirts, white spiked collars, and black and red plaid Lolita dresses.

Leather layering, a technique employed by designer Noir Kei Ninomiya, has also found its place in the current Goth wardrobe.

The current style has adopted lace mourning veils, mismatched leg warmers, platform boots and sneakers, silver chains, tribal accessories, and matrix sunglasses in a unique aesthetic of modern Goth.

Current Goth fashion style

Makeup is dramatic, with exaggerated black winged eyeliner, hairstyles from side-shaved cuts to shaved eyebrows, and long spiky nails.

Another significant variation was the Tribal Goth fashion style, which merged traditional Goth aesthetics with themes reminiscent of belly dancing.

This fusion adds a unique dynamic to the Goth fashion style, keeping the dark aesthetics intact while integrating diverse cultural influences.

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Professional Styling Advice

Are you looking to improve your fashion style and unsure where to start? Are you wearing traditional Old Money looks like Sloane RangerPreppy, and BCBG, but Gothic fashion resonates with you?

Contact The VOU’s Style Experts to receive your free and personalized styling advice based on your current way of dressing, preferred outfits, colors, aesthetics, age, gender, body shape, location, and event you seek to attend. 

Your dedicated stylist will meticulously select essential garments, footwear, and accessories to craft a wardrobe that complements and enhances your style. 

Embrace this unique opportunity for a transformative fashion experience, all at no cost to you.

A University of Oxford graduate in Design History, Katherine Saxon is researching arising TikTok cultures from a consumer psychology perspective while covering emerging aesthetics in fashion and beauty for TheVOU, Forbes, Business Insider, and more.

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