Goth subculture is one of diversity and expression, however, it is united by some common elements and themes. There are many misconceptions and stereotypes when most people think of what it means to be goth. Perhaps one of the most common is that if you’re a goth then that must mean you’re an angry or depressed satanist who embraces all things evil.
The reality is very different so let’s clear up some misinformation about what it means to be goth and explore the rich variety in this dark, mysterious, and wonderful subculture.
What is goth exactly?
Back in the 70’s and 80’s when the rock and punk musical genres were exploding and rapidly evolving, a new term was coined to describe the emergence of a variation of that music along with the new fashions styles accompanying it.
Bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Joy Division, and others were some of the early pioneers who popularized the gothic style. Essentially, the goth subculture was born from this emerging music scene and the corresponding fashion styles of these bands inspired fans around the world to embrace and continue to develop the look and ultimately, the culture.
Now several decades later, the goth subculture has evolved to include many different styles, beliefs, and disciplines making it one of the most popular subcultures in the world with large followings in Japan, Germany, and the United States.
Goth subculture is often characterized by wearing all-black apparel, strong elements of magic or witchcraft, angry or depressed attitudes and emotions, and evil intent or involvement. While there may be traces of these elements within certain segments of gothic subculture, many of these misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth.
The reality is goth subculture is a vast and diverse collection of different fashion styles, preferences, musical tastes, outlooks on life, belief systems, and more that are always evolving.
Goths enjoy a wide variety of different types of music and fashion. Additionally, to be goth doesn’t have anything to do with being angry, sad, or having evil intentions. Goth subculture includes plenty of happy, upbeat, and bubbly personalities. Goths can laugh, have fun, have positive attitudes, and ultimately just be all-around good people.
A common similarity that most goth subcultures share is finding beauty and wonder in the dark, morbid, and mysterious. The dark and creepy elements of life, which most people find no interest in, are foundational to many goths and likely tie into individual personality traits and core beliefs. Many people gravitate to goth subculture because they personally identify with a love and appreciation for darker things. It is a strong form of expression and a counter-cultural movement that defies what the mainstream had tried to impose on people in terms of how they should live and what that should look like.
Like every other subculture on the planet, despite differences in fashion, music, and identity, everyone is united by our humanity. We all love, hurt, and bleed the same. We should never judge people based on their appearance. It is the character of a person that lets the world know the type of person they are.
It should be noted that the popular goth styles discussed below are not about labeling particular segments that people fit into but rather, seek to categorize the different types of gothic styles by preferences in music, fashion, etc. Ultimately though, goths can have any style or preference and everyone has complete freedom to be who they want to be.
Alright so now that we’ve got a brief history lesson out of the way, let’s dive into some of the most popular types of goths here.
1.) Trad (Traditional) Goth
Trad (short for traditional) Goth refers to early founding musical and fashion styles that emerged at the dawn of gothic subculture. Borrowing from styles of the rock and punk scene of the 70’s and 80’s, you’ll see plenty of similarities between early gothic style and the rock and punk trends of the time.
This particular style has remained more or less true to the traditional roots of goth subculture. It took the existing rock and punk styles of the time and went a bit darker with the concept. Trad goths can often be identified by their enjoyment of some of the earlier gothic music and love of dark fashion that embodies early rock influence.
Apparel and accessories include things like black leather, boots, fishnets, belts, and ripped shirts. Hair color is usually black and often a centerpiece of their appearance with many resembling the glam rock styles popular in the 80s. Dark makeup and accentuating pale skin features are also very common.
Many goths see the trad goth style as the pure and original form of gothic subculture.
2.) Romantic Goth
Beautiful, elegant, and dark, romantic goths are characterized by velvety and lacey apparel but most noticeably, their romantic view of dead, dark, and creepy things. These types of goths take much of their inspiration from early Victorian literature and fashion styles.
Romantic goths find beauty and appreciation in concepts like dead roses, moonlit graveyards, and literature with a strong focus on love, sorrow, and tragedy. Many who identify with this type of gothic style are creative individuals with a passion for drama, hence the love of tragic literature.
Fashion and apparel usually has strong Victorian roots with an emphasis on black clothing with colorful highlights of brighter colors such as red and purple. Music tastes often fall into softer and/or more classically inspired sounds from bands like Dark Sanctuary or Nightwish.
It is this type of goth’s tendency to romanticize the dark and tragic by combining it with strong emotion and colorful notes that often defines what it means to be a romantic goth.
3.) Cyber Goth
Cyber goths are a relatively new addition to the goth subculture that primarily emerged during the rapid rise of heavy electronic music and technology. Unlike many of their gothic counterparts, these types of goths are less drawn to all black apparel and pale skin, and instead, infuse more radical and colorful elements into their style.
Cyber goths tend to identify with strong electronic music like techno, dubstep, and industrial genres. Not entirely too far away from the rave or electronic dance scene, cyber goths tend to share a love of electronic music styles, dancing, and colorful fashion.
Many speculate these types of goths originated within the electronic music genre but gravitated into the goth subculture because of their calling to a darker nature. Common identifiers in terms of fashion include things like neon dreads, gas masks, and rave goggles. Makeup styles often include more extravagant designs. Additional accessories might include things like leg warmers, platform boots, leather chokers, and corsets.
Cyber goths are notably distinguished as the goth types with the strongest connection to electronic music, dance, and modern or advanced technology when compared with other goths in this subculture. Additionally, this style tends to draw in more high energy personality types due to the strong element of dance culture embedded in this style.
4.) Vampire Goth
The vampire goth style is similar to romantic goths in the sense that it incorporates many of the same elements of Victorian fashion but with a strong emphasis on aristocratic or elegant tones.
Like the name suggests, vampire goths are primarily characterized by their love of vampires and vampire-related concepts and themes. These types of goths were popularized by inspiration drawn from early forms of vampire literature such as those created by Anne Rice.
Vampire goths mirror vampiric concepts so you’ll often see an emphasis on having fangs, satin and silk robes, dresses, and other apparel, as well as a taste and elegance for the finer things. Some vampire goths take this further by truly believing they are a vampire and acting as such. This depth of immersion is often referred to as the “Vampyre” subculture where the concept of stealing energy or blood from others is seen as something less fictitious.
5.) Pastel Goth
This style of goth is relatively new and is characterized by soft pastels often linked to Kawaii fashion. While still founded on the same darker concepts and principles as other goths, these types of goths incorporate soft and bright imagery with alternative and traditional gothic fashion.
Rainbows, unicorns, pink hair, brightly colored chokers, and more mix together with traditional gothic elements such as piercings, tattoos (usually brightly colored), and a shared love of the dark and creepy.
Essentially pastel goths take the foundational dark and spooky elements of gothic subculture and infuse them with bright and pretty colors. Think of it as cute meets creepy where death and decay are reinvented or celebrated in a bright and colorful way.
6.) Emo Goth
While many still classify emo within the goth subculture, it is considered by many to be a cousin of most gothic styles, as opposed to a directly related segment.
Emo (meaning Emotion or Emotive Hardcore) subculture was popularized in the late 90’s and early 2000’s where it even made its way into the mainstream. Towards 2010, emo rapidly declined in popularity and while there are still plenty of emo goths out there, it has shrunk to a relatively small community in comparison with its former glory.
Although this style was born from traditional gothic elements and ideologies, emo blossomed into its own distinct subculture. It included a strong emphasis on poetic literature and as well as celebrating the emotional. It was a haven for outcasts who were united by their strong emotions and was incredibly popular amongst teens.
Music for these types of goths consisted of many emotional and hardcore bands such as Taking Back Sunday, Funeral for a Friend, Secondhand Serenade, Senses Fail, Underoath, The Used, My Chemical Romance, and others. A lot of hardcore emo music incorporated screaming, which often accompanied emotional parts of the song.
The emo fashion style is generally characterized by tight skinny jeans, band t-shirts, Vans or Converse shoes, studded belts and bracelets, piercings, tattoos, and most notable the hair which often included long bangs covering the eyes.
7.) Victorian Goth
As the name suggests, Victorian goths draw much of their style from the Victorian era which popularized such things as extravagant dresses and elegant hair. With a preference for the finer things, these types of goths mimic the wealthy and elite aristocrats of the Victorian era. Formal galas and other luxurious parties are popular for this goth type along with a strong interest in Victorian poetry, literature, pastimes, and more. All of these mix together with the dark gothic aesthetic to form an upper crust segment of the goth subculture.
Victorian goth music styles often have largely classical influences that also incorporate a shared interest in things like opera or theatre performances. The fashion style for these types of goths is usually characterized by extravagant ballgowns, corsets, hats, long black gloves, as well as accessories including chokers, necklaces, and other types of jewelry. Pale skin with soft makeup and long dark hair are common for Victorian goths.
8.) Nu Goth
A relatively new addition to goth subculture, nu goth, sometimes referred to as hipster goth, is a blend between trad goths and modern, more contemporary elements. As the name might suggest, these types of goths take a “new” approach to the gothic subculture by selecting certain elements from traditional gothic styles and merging them with more modern concepts.
It is less distinguished in terms of music and ideologies and instead has a primary focus on fashion. Nu goth borrows certain elements from traditional gothic styles but it is often referred to as a simpler or more “watered down” gothic look. It essentially incorporates gothic elements without making as bold of a statement as many of the other types of goths.
The nu goth style is often referred to as hipster goth due to the elements of hipster fashion and styles in which it is deeply rooted. To many, nu goth is more hipster than goth, however, despite the strong hipster component, nu goth is still based on many of the same foundational concepts as the other more darkly defined gothic styles.
9.) Bubble Goth
Bubble goth is a newer style of goth that can more or less be traced back to a single person. Estonian pop singer, Kerli Koiv popularized this style and in the true spirit of goth subculture, had the desire to "make the beautiful, creepy and the creepy, beautiful".
As with the very origins of goth subculture as a whole, this particular style was born from this distinct type of music. Similar to pastel goths, bubble goth style adds a colorful and somewhat cute touch to the traditionally dark aesthetics of the gothic subculture.
The music genre for these types of goths primarily includes the musical works of Kerli Koiv (since she more or less spawned the bubble goth style). With similarities to the styles of music you’d find in the cyber goth realm, bubble goth is very pop music focused with more edgy or dark electronic elements.
Much like cyber goths, bubble goth fashion borrows elements like gas masks, technology, and other similar accessories. Additionally, it shares many similarities to pastel goths as the style incorporates less dark apparel and instead focuses on brighter or more neutral colors in a variety of styles like shorts, skirts, and tops.
10.) Deathrocker Goth
A unique branch of goth subculture, deathrocker goths evolved primarily from the punk origins that infuse much of the essence of gothic style. Going darker than traditional punk characteristics, deathrockers are somewhere in between punk and traditional goths.
These types of goths are founded primarily on punk fashion but this has been taken a step further to incorporate many gothic elements to evolve into a darker alternative style. More closely related to trad goths over all other types, deathrocker goths are often considered the missing link between goth and punk.
Visually, this style is known for its strong punk elements like jeans, chains, piercings, and extravagant makeup but all with a darker, more gothic vibe. One of the most notable and common features for this style is the "Deathhawk", which is embraced by both punk and gothic subcultures alike. Additionally, shaved sides of the head are a common look incorporated with the Deathhawk or as a standalone feature.
While there are many different types of goths, it's important to remember that labels don't always fit and so it's important to allow room for acceptance and flexibility when approaching the goth subculture.
Here we've described some of the more common kinds of goths but the reality is that the goth subculture is always evolving and expanding. Any aspiring goth can either build upon the framework set out by the generations that preceded them or pioneer new additions to such a wonderfully rich and diverse subculture of fashion, music, and alternative world views.
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