Emo vs. Goth: The Main Differences Explained

People often wonder what the difference between goth and emo is. At first glance they may seem very similar but the reality is quite different.
Emo vs. Goth: The Main Differences Explained

So you’ve been searching high and low wondering what the difference between emo and goth is. You’ve consulted with oracles, made a sacrifice to the goat demon of the underworld, or possibly thought about selling your soul in exchange for the mysterious key to this question of momentous proportions. Alas, the answer remains elusive and it’s keeping you up at night. Your curse the heavens as you cry out in desperation:

“What’s the freakin’ difference between goth and emo?”

Rest your weary head my young friend because in this post we’re going to explore a brief history lesson of these two delightfully dark subcultures, the key differences between emo and goth, and how you can easily tell the two apart.

Ready? Let’s go!

 

A Brief History of Goth

Before we move forward, it’s important to ask the question: “What came first—the chicken or the egg?” Or more to the point: “What came first—emo or goth?”

If you guessed “goth” then congratulations because you are correct! (Now go grab a cookie—you earned it!)

As with many things in life that have become increasingly more diverse, fluid, and far-reaching over time, they all often start with a single origin. 

goth origins mind map evolution to emo

The gothic style and subculture emerged around the same time as the rock, punk, and metal musical genres were gaining huge popularity in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. While most of these styles originally stemmed from rock in some form or another, the one thing that’s for certain is these three subcultures would pioneer a counter-culture movement and give life to many of the alternative musical genres, fashion, and lifestyles that would follow.


So What is Goth?

Being goth is often defined by a combination of appearance (as it pertains to fashion), particular musical interests, an appreciation and romantic view of the dark, morbid, and creepy, a counter-culture belief system, and a genuine calling or connection to a community of other likeminded individuals. 

Goth culture is one that commonly celebrates beauty in darkness (not to be confused with being sinister or evil). Death, decay, graveyards, creepy animals and insects, full moons, vampires,  and witchy things are just a few common themes you'll find within gothic subculture.

It is often hard to pinpoint certain commonalities within goth culture because it has branched off to include so many variations and subgenres making what it means to be goth incredibly fluid. People from all walks of life, careers, religious views, genders, etc., can find a home within gothic culture and that is one of the most beautiful and enchanting aspects of this rich community.

 

popular gothic fashion styles

Some common gothic styles

 

A Brief History of Emo

As we mentioned earlier, goth started to emerge in the 70s and 80s shortly after rock, punk, and metal had become more established. On the flip side, the term “emo” would remain largely unknown for at least a couple of decades later. This is predominantly because emo is essentially a branch within the gothic subculture in terms of its origin story. As goth was born from the rock subcultures of the time so too was emo born afterward from the essence of goth.

goth evolving into the emo subgenre over time

Many who consider themselves emo will argue that this subculture had its roots beginning in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. While this may be true, emo didn’t really get its chance in the spotlight until the late 90s and early 2000s, where around 2002 its popularity as a new alternative subculture began to skyrocket.

Emo was rooted in the core of gothic subculture but evolved to include its own set of unique and defining characteristics. Music, fashion, lifestyle, and even world views all took on a life of their own, which would ultimately come to create a subculture vastly different than its gothic predecessor despite being united by a few commonalities. 


So What is Emo?

Being emo is often defined by a combination of appearance (as it pertains to fashion), certain musical interests, a particular “angsty” and emotional disposition, a counter-culture belief system, and a genuine calling or connection to a community of other likeminded individuals. 

While goth culture tends to celebrate darkness, emo culture tends to use darkness as an externalization of their internal feelings. The term "emo" has its roots in "emotion" or "emotive" making emo culture one of both passion and deep angst. It is, of course, largely founded in emo's formative music which ranged from the confessional vibes or Taking Back Sunday to the Indie Rock of Death Cab for Cutie, all the way to the Screamo styles of Alexisonfire and everything in between.

emo band taking back sunday

Taking Back Sunday - A classic emo band formed in 1999

Emo culture is one that often grapples with mental illness such as depression, anxiety, and self-harm. Much of the culture and music openly discusses these concepts through emotional songwriting, poetry, and other forms of artistic expression. These widespread concepts are not advocated or glorified, but rather serve to often unite those who may have been struggling alone.

 

some popular emo styles

Some common emo styles


Side Note: While many emos might identify within the parameters mentioned above, there are many who prefer not to operate within a label. As such, it’s important to remember that what ultimately constitutes “emo” can often be very subjective.


Unlike goth, emo never really had a chance to evolve past what it was. While goth spawned many new subcultures from its essence (Romantic Goth, Cyber Goth, Victorian Goth, Pastel Goth, etc.), emo more or less became a passing trend. At its peak from 2000-2010, it was mostly composed of Millennials at the time and now lives on in much smaller communities both on and offline. Most active emos today are from Gen Z while most Millennials have retired their emo ways to adjust with getting older and progressing through life.


Okay So, What Is the Difference Between Emo and Goth?

The most important and major differences between goth and emo primarily come down to fashion, music, and differing views of what it means to be alternative and counter-culture.

To any outsider, one might look at someone who is goth and someone who is emo and instantly think they’re more or less the same. While the general aesthetic of dark clothes, hair, makeup, etc. may unite them both in terms of fashion and appearance, there are some big differences that uniquely separate the two.


Here Are 5 Important Differences Between the Goth and Emo Subcultures:

  1. Gothic subculture is home to many different variations (Romantic Goths, Cyber Goths, Pastel Goths, Trad Goths, etc.) whereas emo more or less is on its own
  2. Gothic fashion has a wide range of many different styles whereas emo fashion is fairly casual, limited, and defined
  3. Gothic subculture includes teens to older adults whereas emo is generally reserved for teens to young adults
  4. Gothic subculture has an established history of many decades whereas emo only has a relatively young history
  5. Gothic subculture to many is more of a calling and a lifestyle whereas emo is often seen as a passing trend

Emo vs Goth Fashion

 

A Table of The Most Common Key Distinctions and Similarities

If you're nerdy like us, the table below offers a wide spectrum of characteristics from both goth and emo fashion styles. Here you can see where there are usually distinctions between the two and also when there’s overlap.

(If you're more of a visual learner, scroll down for an image representation instead).

Remember, this table is just a generalized guide and shouldn’t be taken as absolute fact. It’s just to help paint a clearer picture of the main differences between emo and goth and also highlight many of the similarities. 

Let’s take a look!

Fashion Style

Goth

Emo

Overall Aesthetic

Grunge / Elegant

Minimalistic

Diverse / Versatile

Casual

Complex

Practical

Tops

Vests

T-Shirts 

Jackets

Hoodies (Zip-Ups & Pullovers)

Corsets

Muscle Shirts / Tank Tops

Collared Shirts

Mesh Tops / Bondage 

Bottoms

Leather Pants

Skinny Jeans

Cargo Pants

Jean Shorts

Jeans

Tights / Leggings

Miniskirts

Miniskirts

Gowns / Dresses

Shoes

Platform Boots

Skate Shoes

Work Boots / Shoes

Slip Ons

Dress Shoes

High Tops

Hats

Top Hats

Toques / Beanies

Concho Hats

Snapback Hats

Wide Brim Hats

Bikers Cap

Accessories

Chains / Spikes

Studs / Spikes

Belts / Harnesses

Belts / Wristbands

Chokers

Necklaces / Pendants

Gloves

Glasses (Style)

Jewelry

Hair Extensions

Contact Lens (Style)

Bandanas

 

Emo vs Goth Fashion

Here Are the Major Differences Between Emo and Goth Style in a Visual Guide:

Emo Girls vs Goth Girls

goth girls vs emo girls visual comparison

So generally speaking, we can see from the visual comparison above that there are plenty of similarities and crossover between both girls emo fashion and girls gothic fashion.

Obviously, the first one being the dark and black overall aesthetic. Both styles use these dark tones as the foundation for their style. Despite both having this same base, gothic style tends to involve more things like corsets, leather, jackets, mesh apparel, cargo jeans, and plenty of accessory components like pull straps, harnesses, zippers, and chains. On the other hand, girls’ emo style tends to gravitate towards more of a casual and minimalistic approachoften wearing tights/leggings, tank tops, and more colorful accessories.

The hair is another big one. Classic gothic hairstyles for girls commonly involve dark black colors, often with bangs that don't reach below the eyes, and a wide mix of long, medium, and short hair. Emo girls’ hairstyles on the flip side, are often dyed a mix of colors and involve the use of accessories like hair extensions or cute bow ties. Perhaps most notable for emo hairstyles for girls is that classic style where the hair is given much more volume and "lift" for a truly beautiful and unique aesthetic.

Some differing features about makeup, piercings, and tattoos are also apparent. For example, gothic girl fashion commonly involves dark lipstick, white foundation, more prominent tattoos, a variety of piercing locations, and often a preference for heavier eye shadow. In comparison, emo girl fashion commonly involves lighter, more skin-tone-like foundation, soft lipstick colors, minimalistic tattoos, piercings most typically found on the ears, nose, and lips (snakebites are usually the most common), with a stronger preference for black eyeliner than heavy eye shadow.

Emo Guys vs Goth Guys

emo guys vs goth guys visual comparison

Much like their female counterparts, both emo and goth guys share a ton of similarities while also simultaneously being uniquely different.

Again we can see the dark black aesthetic remains the foundation for most fashion choices on both sides. Gothic guy styles often feature jackets, vests, collared shirts, boots, or dress shoes, and usually contain a more elegant, punk, or metal vibe. Emo styles for guys are usually far more casual, consistently featuring band t-shirts, skinny jeans, and skate shoes like Vans or Converse. Both accessorize well with goth guys often leaning towards, pendants, chokers, hats, chains, and spikes while emo guys often rock wristbands, studded belts, necklaces, and bandanas. Both often have a variety of piercings and tattoos.

Hairstyles for both emo and goth guys occasionally share some overlap, especially for short to medium-length haircuts and styles. Both tend to almost always have dark black hair and while many gothic hairstyles for men involve long hair down to the shoulders or beyond, emo guys typically won't grow their hair very long, with the exception of their bangs which often rest to cover the eyes. Goth guys often gravitate to a more natural hairstyle (with the exception of trad goths and cybergoths), whereas most emo guys will straighten their hair as this is a very common trait shared by both emo guys and girls.

It isn't uncommon for emo guys to wear makeup or nail polish, however, makeup is usually most commonly applied as black eyeliner and generally doesn't extend far past that. Goth guys on the other hand often use more makeup as part of their regular look which includes things like white foundation on the face, heavy eyeliner and eyeshadow, black nail polish, and occasionally dark or mild tones of lipstick.

Friendly Reminder: Again, it's important to remember that these are just some generalizations of what is often commonplace among both of these emo and goth fashion styles but none of these solely define either style.

Summary of the Main Differences Between Emo and Goth

Key Similarities

  • Both use black and other dark tones as the primary aesthetic to their fashion styles
  • Both originated from the rock, punk, and metal scenes of earlier decades
  • Both share an alternative or counter-culture philosophy with a focus on individual expression
  • Both share body modifications such as piercings and tattoos
  • Both are largely defined visually by their fashion aesthetic

Key Differences

  • Goth often presents more dark, serious, and sophisticated where emo often presents more cute, playful, and heartfelt
  • Goth has a wide age demographic where emo resonates primarily with teens and very young adults
  • Goth and emo music contain vastly different musical tastes and preferences
  • Goth fashion is often extravagant, complex, and diverse while emo fashion is typically simplistic, casual, and well defined
  • Goth culture tends to focus on a certain appreciation and celebration for the dark, creepy, and morbid while emo culture tends to focus on emotion, romance, and a "forever young" mentality
  • Goth has a long-established history and continues to exercise its influence globally whereas emo has been seen as more of a localized passing trend that is now only a ripple of its former glory

Final Thoughts

Well, there you have it. While both emo and goth subcultures and fashion styles share a lot of crossovers, they are also quite uniquely different in their own respects. Each brings its own defining features to the table, which includes everything from fashion and music to philosophy.

We've aimed to cover some of the most common generalizations among each style but as we've mentioned before, it's important to remember that there really isn't a box that neither goth nor emo can simply be packaged into. Both of these rich communities offer so much and at the end of the day, it's up to you to decide what you love about each one. From there, you can hopefully identify the things that are important to you and express yourself through fashion, music, and philosophy in the ways that resonate with you most.

 

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