How to Be Goth in 5 Steps (It’s Not What You Think)

So you're wondering how to be goth? You're not alone. Many claim to have the answer but the truth about becoming goth may surprise you.
How to Be Goth in 5 Steps (It’s Not What You Think)

So you want to be goth do ya? 

You’ve been thinking about it. You’re probably searching online and reading WikiHows, checking out forums or other goth communities, and you’ve definitely watched a few videos on YouTube. You’ve collected all this information (or maybe this is your first stop on your gothic journey), but the real question is:

Do you really know what it means to be goth?

How do you take an inconceivable amount of (often conflicting), information telling you what goth is or what it isn’t. There are so many different views on what it means to be goth and what that entails. Some want to tell you that you need to dress a certain way or listen to certain kinds of music. Do this or don’t do that. This is what goth is and this is what it isn’t blah blah blah…


Before you read any further go find a mirror and take a good hard look. 

black goth cat looking in mirror

Do you see that lovely face staring back at you? (Stunning by the way. Also it's totally cool if you're not a cat.) THAT person right there is the ONLY person who gets to decide whether you are goth or not.

Say whaaaat?

I hope you’re taking notes because class is in session and it’s about to get dark, gritty, beautiful, and maybe a little weird (in the best ways of course).

Yes, you read that right. Mirror-you wants you to gaze deeply into your eyes and search your heart to answer the burning question that keeps you up at night:

Am I goth?

So what’s the answer?

If you haven’t guessed it yet, that’s totally okay because I’m about to break it down for you right now.

The question of “how to be goth” is put simply, just the wrong question to be asking.


Because (*drum roll plz*)...

Being goth is not like flicking on a light switch. You can’t just finish brushing your teeth one morning and then just suddenly turn goth. That’s not how it works.

You either are goth or you’re not, and the reality is only you can answer that question. And this has nothing to do with how you dress, what music you listen to, or how much you enjoy having a picnic in a graveyard. 

It’s about you and how you feel and what you identify with. These are the foundations that will help you determine whether being goth is your natural calling or if you’re just inspired because you spent all night binging vampire movies and writing poetry.

To be goth is simply to embrace what’s already there inside of you.

So instead of focusing on how to be goth, the more appropriate focus should be: how to identify and awaken your inner goth to explore whether the goth lifestyle is truly your calling. This can be done in a few easy steps. Check them out below.

Step #1 - Identify and Awaken Your Inner Goth

Now for some of you, this has already happened but for many of you, this is still a question that needs to be answered. Answering this question though is the starting point. This is where it all begins.

goth night person meme

To be goth is quite simply to be part of a culture that is essentially counter-culture. Goth was born out of a desire and need for self-expression and creativity. It is rooted in escaping the confines of societal norms that had dictated a way of thinking and living that just simply does not align with who you are or what you believe. To be goth is to break away from these confines and pursue things that are alternative to what we’ve been taught to place value in.

Finding beauty in darkness, death, or decay is a great example of this or expressing yourself and your creativity through Victorian-style fashion. The world may look at first glance and assume being goth means dressing in black and living like a vampire but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you find beauty in darkness?
  • Do you identify and agree with what society calls ‘normal’ or do you prefer to do things and express yourself in your own way?
  • Do you enjoy gothic fashion?
  • Does the goth style and culture speak to you - do you feel at home when you think about it?
  • Do you feel happy, excited, or interested when you actively participate in or imagine yourself immersed in goth culture?

You see this is why only you can answer the question of “how to be goth” because you already know deep down what the answer is. You can be dressed from head to toe as a farmer and love folk music and STILL be more goth than the most gothic-looking person at a Depeche Mode concert.

Nobody is going to become a dentist if they think mouths are gross or have nightmares about the tooth fairy. Just the same, identifying and awakening your inner goth means that the goth subculture and style already speaks to you.

Step #2 - Immerse Yourself in Goth Culture

Okay, you’ve made it through step 1 and you’re pretty sure the goth life is calling your name. The next step is to cultivate the goth within you and this is done best when you immerse yourself in the goth culture.

If raving under an overpass in true cybergoth style doesn't really speak to you, then don't sweat it because the goth subculture is super diverse so there's plenty of styles, trends, and ideologies to choose from and experiment with.

For many, a good place to start would be to start looking for a goth community to be apart of. Check out forums, browse Tumblr, or find people at school or anywhere really where you can connect with fellow goths. Being part of the goth community will be fundamental to giving you that sense of belonging in an environment that complements your gothic aspirations. You’ll see first hand what it means to be goth in a supportive way.

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not being goth truly resonates with you, this is also a great opportunity to explore that further by getting an immersive look at what it means to be goth. You may come to be surprised that the concept of being goth is far more fluid than you originally thought.

Step #3 - Be True to Yourself (and Not a Little Goth Robot)

As you continue to immerse yourself in goth culture and cultivate the things you love about it, you might start to get some pushback from the goth community but have no fear! This is part of the evolutionary process on your gothic journey and also an introduction to goth politics that are hard to escape.

Surprise. Surprise. 

Like any culture or community, there’s always going to be a difference of opinion regarding how to go about things. Don’t let this get you down or interfere with your development as a goth. Learning about these conflicts is also part of what it means to embrace gothhood. 

“Goth elitists” are individuals within the gothic community who have essentially created a framework for what they believe it means to be goth. Anyone who does not fit into their “box” of what goth should be are then therefore not considered goth.

Well, I got news for you goth elitists and it starts with taking a little trip down memory lane.

80s trad goths

The goth culture was born out of a desire for self-expression and non-conformity so when you create this framework that decided what is and what isn’t goth, what you’re basically saying is:

“You need to conform to this idea of what it means to be goth otherwise you’re not goth.”

That’s so insane though because the very origins are goth are to be non-conforming so to conform to stereotypes is pretty much the most anti-goth thing you can do!

Hold my distilled water.

To truly be goth is to embrace individualism and self-expression and not to limit yourself by trying to fit into someone else’s idea of what it means to goth. When you play into these confines, you perpetuate the goth stereotypes that exist which ultimately do more harm by taking away from the essence of what it means to be goth.

Don’t follow the crowd. Don’t confine yourself to a box. Be true to yourself and your ability to be creative and expressive as opposed to a little goth robot who religiously follows the official goth handbook (which also doesn’t exist by the way).

Step #4 - Labels Schmabels. Take ‘Em or Leave ‘Em

Just like we touched on in the last step, confining yourself to a box or someone else’s idea of what goth should be, is at its core contrary to what it means to be goth. Labels are no different.

Some people like labels and being recognized as something familiar. Other people don’t like labels and prefer to remain fluid in terms of how they approach being goth. The good news is there is no right or wrong answer. If you like labels, then go for it and if not—same thing.

So what do we mean by labels?

Well basically a label is simply a structured way of organizing something that operates within certain parameters or the confines of an idea. 

Short answer = A predefined set of guidelines or rules.

Labels can be helpful for some people who prefer to follow a map or guide to help them reach their objectives. Others find labels to be too confining and limit their ability to be expressive or true to themselves. 

Within goth culture exist many different styles, types, preferences, and so on and all of these are equally valid and just as much goth as the next one. Whether you identify with or want to label yourself as a trad goth, romantic goth, vampire goth, or cybergoth—it’s completely up to you. Alternatively, you could take elements from each of these to form your own style and be equally as goth as the rest.

types of goths illustration

At the end of the day, the option to operate within a label or without a label is entirely up to you and that ability to be expressive how you see fit, is ultimately part of what it means to be goth.

Step #5 - Find Your Style with Gothic Fashion

By this point, you probably have a pretty good feeling about whether or not the goth life is your true calling. The final piece of the puzzle is to get decked out in your favorite gothic clothing and really embrace that goth image. 

This is the fun part and again, it really comes down to how you choose to express yourself. But for most people drawn to the goth subculture, it is that dark aesthetic that really encapsulates a large portion of what they find attractive in the genre.

goth girl

So now is the time to hit up your favorite gothic clothing stores and piece together the outfit that best represents your style and tastes. Of course, some of the classic fashion items, styles, and accessories to choose from could be:

  • Military or black platform boots
  • Fishnet tights or stockings
  • Leather, lace, velvet, or silk garments
  • Long and elegant Victorian style gloves
  • Deathrocker style leather jackets and vests or long dark trenchcoats
  • Spiked chokers, skull necklaces, and other gothic bling
  • White foundation powder, heavy black eyeliner, dark or bright painted nails, and blood-red lipstick combinations
  • Casual gothic tops like t-shirts, razorbacks, and blouses
  • Black hair dye or expressive bright colors depending on your preference
  • Piercings including the lips, eyebrows, tongue, ears, and more as well as tattoos
  • Accessories like top hats, colorful contact lenses, fake fangs, or cybergoth goggles

When you’re decked out in your favorite gothic apparel and everything feels right in the world, well then congratulations—this is a good sign you are truly goth at heart!

To wrap it up

As you continue to immerse yourself in goth culture and express yourself in creative ways, you’ll begin to learn more and more firsthand about what it means to be goth. You’ll also be exposed to both the beautiful and ugly sides of being goth. As you become more comfortable and fluent in your identity, the task of preserving what it means to be goth will fall to you.

In time you will encounter those who were once where you were—searching and wondering if the goth calling was where they belonged. You once had questions that you now have answers for and you’ve learned so much about yourself and what it means to be goth. Now it will be your time to help the so-called “baby bats” discover their gothic calling.

Teach the same philosophies that helped you uncover and cultivate your gothic side. Encourage self-expression, creativity, and community and avoid trying to convince people to conform to an idea that doesn’t serve them.

As you continue on your gothic journey of self-discovery, walk in love and kindness. Just because we love to wear black, doesn’t mean we can’t be a candlelight in the darkness.

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