Everything You Must Know About Goth Subculture

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Goth subculture originated in the early 1980s in the United Kingdom as an offshoot of the post-punk musical genre, later known as gothic rock or Goth-rock.

The subculture’s visual revolves around aesthetics from 19th-century fiction and horror films and stylistic elements from Romanticism, Medieval, Edwardian, and Victorian eras.

The Origin of Goth Subculture

As the Goths and Visigoths – Germanic tribes – played a significant role in the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the term ‘Gothic’ appears in Italian literature of the Renaissance period (late 15th to early 17th century).

The Italian scribes mention the tribes’s visuals in the emergence of medieval Europe in the 4th and 5th centuries AD and the Gothic architecture and art of the early 12th century.

The word Goth was used in a derogatory way to describe barbaric, unrefined, and ugly forms of style and aesthetic patterns.

German barbarian goths

Later, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the term Goth was used in fiction literature to depict supernatural and mysterious characters living in large, frightening old buildings.

Gothic literature combined romance and dark visuals to depict ruinous castles, gloomy churchyards, and claustrophobic monasteries where supernatural characters live a life of mystery, suspense, and horror.

gothic architecture in the 12th century

The unique style of architecture – also known as French Work – employs pointed arches, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses, and shadows to create a sense of grandeur and mystery.


gothic foctions from the 18th and 19th century

Over time, artists, architects, writers, and filmmakers used Gothic aesthetics, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that the term Gothic was used to describe a particular type of music.

The first usage of the term Goth in the context of music is credited to John Stickney’s article published in a student-run newspaper, ‘The Williams Record,’ on 24th of October, 1967.

first mention of goth

In the late 1970s, the Gothic adjective was used to describe the dressing style and look of post-punk bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Magazine, and Joy Division.

Fans of the Goth music genre valued free thinking, freedom of expression, and a conspicuously dark, rebellious, and mysterious fashion look.

1970 and 1980s goth style

During the 80s, teenagers adopted the Goth dressing style to showcase belonging to a movement with a distinct aesthetic, music, ideology, and social scene.

The Gothic dressing style of the 80s emerged in response to the 80s disco fashion style as a dark flip-side to the rise of new wave pop media and celebs.

Darker, subdued, and rebellious presentations were valued, where extravagance, indulgence, and vibrancy allowed Goths to be distinguished from the mainstream culture.

Who Are the Goths?

Historically, Goths or Visigoths were Germanic tribes who played a significant role in the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of medieval Europe in the 4th and 5th centuries.

In a more modern context, Goths are followers of the Goth music genre that emerged in the late 70s and early 80s who find beauty in dark, eerie, mysterious fashion, aesthetics, art, and literature.

Goth fans

What Do Goths Value?

Goths find beauty in things most people consider dark and mysterious and take pride in being and looking different than the general public and mainstream culture.

Goths value free thinking, self-expression and individualism, tolerance for sexual and religious diversity, and creativity.

Goths dislike social conservatism and have a dark sense of humor and a mild tendency towards cynicism.

1. Individualism and Self-expression

Goths value individuality and reject conformity to mainstream ideas and ideals.

Goths do things not because it’s what’s trending in the “mainstream” but because that’s what they want to do.

Goths also value self-expression and are not afraid to stand out from the crowd.

2. Art and Creativity

Goths possess above-average intelligence and are highly literate and creative.

Goths are drawn to artistic pursuits, such as writing, painting, music, or crafting.

3. Free Thinking and Defying Norms

Goths are free thinkers and reject dogma and social conservatism.

Goths reject traditional values and social norms, particularly gender roles, sexuality, and religion.

Taboo subjects in ‘normal’ society are discussed and debated among goths, such as death, religion, magick, and mysticism.

4. Dark Sense of Humor

The gothic sense of humor is highly developed and leans toward satirical and black comedy.

Goths love jokes around the human condition, religious themes, and one’s reason to exist and live.

5. Open-Mindedness and Tolerance for Diversity

Tolerance is one of the most important aspects of being Goth.

Goths accept people from all walks of life, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, or cultural background.

6. Knowledge and Education

Unlike the mainstream perception, Goths are usually well-read and have a vast vocabulary.

Apart from being a sinister group of social misfits, Goths value university education and highbrow culture.

Knowing about the Goth subculture is also one of the essential aspects of being accepted as a goth.

7. Apolitical

Although Goths defy social norms and value freedom of expression and individuality, they have no pronounced political messages or cries for social activism.

Goth ideology is based far more on art and aesthetics than ethics or politics.

8. Celebrating Sexuality

Sexual empowerment is an important part of the goth experience.

Goths celebrate active sexuality and resist mainstream notions of gender roles and sexuality stereotypes, which creates “gender egalitarianism” within the scene.

For example, women can freely engage in sexual play with multiple partners without suffering the stigma associated with such behavior and are even seen as solid feminine characters.

Similarly, men dress up in an androgynous way, wearing makeup and skirts to “enhance masculinity” and facilitate traditional heterosexual courting roles.

9. Mood and Self-dramatization

As a result of the Goths’ love for romanticism and neoromanticism, they put overwhelming importance on mood.

As a result, Goths could be seen as theatrical or self-dramatic.

The Level of “Gothness”

Goths’ emphasis on individualism and self-expression can lead to conflicts within the subculture, as different subgenres or individuals may have different opinions on what constitutes “true” goth.

As such, Goths raise the issue of to what degree individuals are indeed members of the goth subculture.

On one end of the spectrum is the “Uber Goth,” those who have reached a level of gothiness above what one would suspect a living human capable of (particularly in paleness!).

Also, the term “Batcavers,” the members of the Batcave club launched in London in 1982 as a central gathering point for Goths, is used to describe the old-school goths.


On the other end of the spectrum are the “baby bats,” a term for people new to the scene, and “poseurs,” goth wannabes, usually young kids going through a goth phase who do not hold to goth sensibilities but want to be part of the goth crowd.

Also, “mall goth” describes a teen who dresses in a Goth style and spends time in malls with a Hot Topic store but does not know much about the Goth subculture or its music, thus making them a poseur.

wannabe goths and baby bats

Between these two extremes, Goths are varied in musical and visual interest, from Industrial to Classical music and back, and lack of interest in vampires or death.

Also, there is a lot of confusion about what is Goth and what is not, especially among outsiders.

For example, mainstream media considers Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails as Gothic bands (they’re not) and Sisters of Mercy and Dead Can Dance as punk (but they’re goth).

What Are the Different Types of Goths

There’s an ongoing debate on what can be considered Goth.

The internet has given birth to several variations of Goth music and dressing styles, discarded by the subculture’s OG’s who do not consider them part of the subculture.

trad goth, victorian goth, vampire goth, vintage goth, fetish goth

Some variations are formed according to the level of Gothness, participation in specific activities, or interest in certain types of fashion, music, and art.

Some are based only on the Gothic aesthetic and have little connection with the music genre of the 80s.

Other subgroups are created at the convergence of Goth with other genres.

Trad Goth – the original Goths who have been around since the 80s Goth and the music played in London’s Batcave club. Lovers of Bauhaus and Siouxsie, Trad Goths wear fishnets and leather jackets and have voluminous hair paired with heavy makeup.
Romantic Goth – emotional, creative, and dreamy in love with dark, romantic fiction. RGs wear velvet and lace in flowy silhouettes and listen to softer genres of Goth music.
Mopey Goth – those who linger on the dark and gloomy aspect of Goth, wear all-over black outfits and dark makeup, and listen to darker goth music.
Vampire Goth – drawn to supernatural fiction with a fixation on vampires; pale features, dark makeup, black cape, and Victorian clothes.
Fetish Goth – kinkiest subgroup who fully embrace the sexual empowerment ideology of the subculture; wear chains, leather, fishnet, strappy bondage gear, lots of tattoos, and piercings, drawn to music with references to fetish and kinkiness.
Baby Bats – a derogatory term to describe teens new to the Goth scene who wear shocking outfits to rebel against their parents and a music taste inclined towards the Metal genre.
Weekenders – those who are going through a phase, following Goth as a trend to be cool; wear more commercial clothing you might find on Hot Topic or other fast fashion stores, and are less educated about the music or even uninterested.
Perky Goth – those who like the gothic style and music but see it as fun and do not adopt the doom and gloom attitude; wear brighter colors, body glitter, and fun accessories.
Darkwavers – a type of goth who listens to darkwave, a subgenre of goth music that fused goth rock and synthpop/new wave. Darkwavers dress in a more ethereal style: longer hair, lacy fishnets, and flowing/sleeved clothing or dresses.
Cybergoth – emerged from the convergence of techno, dance, industrial, and Goth music in combination with the Cyber scene of the 90s. Their fashion is radical, futuristic, dystopian, and dark: neon vests, corsets, fishnets with leg warmers, cargo or leather pants, platform boots, leather chokers, neon dreadlocks, gas masks, and goggles.
Victorian Goth – emerged as a Victorian “Cult of Mourning” after the death of Prince Prince Albert in 1861; the look is comprised of all-black Victorian-style outfits and dark smokey eye makeup.
Emo Goth – between Emotive Hardcore and Goth music genres, Emo Goth looks include Trad Goth and modern Emo clothes like skinny jeans, band tees or tank tops, Converse sneakers or Doc Martens boots, and dark makeup.
Riot Goth – similar to Riot Grrrl, was coined by Jack of Jills’ lead singer, who famously wore bloody babydoll dresses on the stage and sang feminist songs to address self-harm, depression, and feminism.
Hippie Goth – those who enjoy Goth music and embody the Hippie ideology at the same time. The fashion includes long black and dark-colored maxi dresses, flowy shirts or pants, dark-colored bandanas, oversized glasses, and accessories with occult symbols.
Gothabilly combines Rockabilly and Psychobilly aesthetics with Goth retro style: Fringe bangs, pencil skirts, heels, garters, or fishnets for feminine looks; ripped shirts, leather jackets, and black denim pants for masculine looks. Tattoos and piercings are also pivotal.
Glam Goth – a version of Goth that draws more inspiration from New Romantic and New Wave movements than Punk. Its fashion is more androgynous: Dark clothing in dandy silhouettes, padded shoulder leather jackets or blazers, frills, studs, heavy makeup, and big hair.
Medieval Goth – puts more emphasis on the medieval heritage of the Goth genre. The fashion is inspired by the medieval period (5th to 15th century): dark embroidered corsets, black long-sleeve maxi dresses with underskirts or lace-up shirts with loose pants, and ankle-turn shoes.
Gothic Lolita – also known as J-Goth, is Japan’s rendition of the Goth subculture among other types of Lolita.
Geek Goth – depicts “Geeky” goths who love video games, comic books, conventions, anime, cosplay, and anything sci-fi-related.
Tribal Goth – or Gothic Bellydancer, describes people who blend bellydance clothes and music with a Gothic flair. Hipskirts and accessories from bone and wood are commonly used in this subgroup.
Nu-Goth – a modern take on classic Goth, Nu-Goth focuses more on fashion and style than music. Nu-Goths imagery emphasizes the romanticization of witches, paganism, and the occult.
Cabaret Goth – or Burlesque Goth is inspired by Cabaret or Burlesque shows. Dita von Teese is the pioneer of this movement among the Goths.
Bubble Goth – a newer type of Goth created by the Estonian pop singer Kerli Koiv. She aims to “make the beautiful, creepy and the creepy, beautiful.”
Crop Goth – refers to people who adopted corporate life while still living the Goth lifestyle. The corporate job manifests in appearance, lifestyle, and ideology.

Several subcultures are close to the Goth regarding music, art, aesthetics, ideology, and dressing style.

  • Punk
  • Rivet Heads
  • Emo
  • Steampunk
  • Industrial
  • Metalhead
  • Deathrockers
  • Visual Kei
  • Dark Mori

Controversies Around Goths

The dark music with dark lyrics and a dark, cynical sense of humor characteristic of the Goth scene is exploited for commercial purposes, used as a scapegoat, and misunderstood by the mainstream, blaming the Goth subculture for school shootings, self-harming practices, and attempted suicides by teenagers.

Also, the interest in fetish fashion and clubs associated with the modern Goth culture is seen as Satanism or atheism and demonized by right-wing political/religious organizations like the Parents’ American Religious Organizations Defending Youth.

However, the association has more to do with adherents’ tolerance of alternative lifestyles than any endorsement of any particular set of values.

The Elements of Goth Aesthetic

Goth aesthetic is built around 80s post-punk fashion, imagery of Medival tribes, Victorian-era dressing style, depictions of 19th-century fiction, and Horror movie visuals.

Inspired by Gothic architecture and cathedrals, spiritual and religious imagery are common elements in the Gothic aesthetic.

goth aesthetic

In Gothic literature, dark imagery such as ruinous castles, gloomy churchyards, and claustrophobic monasteries are associated with the Goth aesthetic.

Supernatural figures such as demons, vampires, ghosts, and monsters are a big part of the aesthetic.

The most common Goth colors are black, red, blue, purple, green, gold, pink, silver, and white.

The Goth Way of Dressing

In line with the subculture’s origin, the early Goth fashion style draws from the rock music scenes in the 70s and early 80s, including punk, new wave, and New Romantic.

The classic dressing style of the early Goths in the 1980s is known as Trad-goth.

The Trad-goth style – also known as Ethergoth – was inspired by Siouxsie Sioux and other mid-1980s musicians like Elizabeth Fraser and Lisa Gerrard.

trad goth

Mainly represented by women, it was characterized by new wave hairstyles, both long and short, partly shaved and teased, and 80s street-compliant clothing.

It included black frill blouses, midi dresses or tea-length skirts, floral lace tights, Dr. Martens, spike heels or pumps, and pointed-toe buckle boots or winklepickers.

Also, the clothing was supplemented with accessories such as silver bracelets, chokers, and bib necklaces.

Today, Goth dressing styles borrow aesthetics from the Victorian, Edwardian, and Belle Époque eras of the 18th and 19th centuries.

victorian goth

For example, the “Victorian cult of mourning” of the 18th century, which mandated head-to-toe black, is a source of inspiration for the members of the Goth subculture to create an image of the femme fatale and the vamp.

Goth fashion is also influenced by horror fiction themes such as crucifixes, bats, vampires, and religious imagery such as pagan and occult.

vampire goth

For example, vampire film characters reinforced the enthusiasm among goth males for whitened faces, long dark hair, and shades.

Over the years, the Gothic fashion style has also taken elements from other genres, such as steampunk, cyberpunk, rave, fetish wear, and cosplay.

steampunk goth, cyberpunk goth, rave goth

Goth Style Clothing and Accessories

  • Black velvets
  • Black midi dresses
  • Tea-length skirts
  • Lace tights
  • Fishnets
  • Leather coats tinged with scarlet or purple
  • Black frill blouses
  • Dr. Marten’s combat boots
  • Spike heels or pumps
  • Pointed-toe buckle boots or winklepickers
  • Laced corsets
  • Leather or lace gloves
  • Precarious stilettos
  • Religious or occult silver jewelry

Goth Hair and Makeup

  • Heavy eye makeup
  • Dark eyeliner
  • Black fingernail polish
  • Voluminous or shaved hairstyles (both long and short)

What is Haute Goth?

“Haute Goth” is the term used to describe the high fashion scene that uses Goth as the primary source of inspiration for runway collections.

goth runway

Goth Fashion Designers and Clothing Brands

Goth Icons and Celebrities

The following are post-punk artists and influential figures who pioneered the gothic-rock genre and helped develop and shape the subculture:

Goth Music Bands and Artists

The most popular Goth music bands from its foundation in the 80s to modern times are as follows:

Goth Books and Novels

The following are the books that influenced the Goth subculture the most:

Other essential novels that influenced and shaped the Goth subculture are:

The following are the most popular movies in the Goth subculture:

Goth Communities and Events

The early goth scene was centered on music festivals, nightclubs, and fan meetings in Western Europe.

Of all, two clubs are hailed as critical to forming the Goth subculture.

  1. F Club in Leeds in Northern England opened in 1977 as a punk club and became instrumental in developing the goth subculture in the 1980s.

2. Batcave opened in 1982 in London’s Soho as a prominent meeting point for the emerging Goth scene.

goth batcave and F club

Goths use social media to meet people with similar musical, artistic, and stylistic interests.

Before the rise of social media, online forums had the same function for goths (and still have to some extent).

goth social media

With events like the Whitby Goth Weekend rising in popularity, the online Goth community made a resurgence.

Let’s not forget the World Goth date; it originated in 2009 when BBC6 Music ran a series on music subcultures, nowadays celebrated yearly on the 22nd of May.

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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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