To outsiders, the goth scene is all just one big pile of black clothing and heavy makeup. The reality is that, just like any other social group, there are different subsets within the goth culture, each with its own unique looks, personal tastes, and musical choices. This article will help you to identify the types of goth styles out there and guide you towards your best fit. Now, this is by no means a comprehensive list, as each subculture can be further parsed into smaller and smaller subcategories- but this is a basic, overarching guide to show the foundations.
The classic (or Deathrock) style is the one most people think about when picturing a goth. Completely eschewing the societal norms of beauty, their look is extreme in every sense.
While this style of goth does draw on some of the more sexualized aspects of fashion (as nearly every subset of goth does, to some extent) such as sexy corsets and bondage belts, both women and men tend to be more covered up. Women’s style often consist of a long-sleeved net or mesh top, layered over with a tank top (maybe with something offensive, as goths fully embrace being a trigger for others and will often display anti-religious or counterculture statements) and if needed a leather jacket. Short skirts are paired with fishnet stockings and combat boots, or tight pants are paired with stiletto boots. For men, the style is simple, often just a pair of snug bondage-style jeans and a band shirt, layered with a dark coat, but can get more involved.
Victorian, Romantic and Vamp style goths draw the inspiration for their look from the late 1800s, favouring the elaborate clothing worn during the mourning period after someone has died. Their elegance is a counterpoint to the punk-inspired fashion of the classic group, with long gowns, velvet, and damask featuring prominently.
For women, the clothing usually features long dresses and skirts, sometimes with a bustle (a section of padding or layered fabric at the hip or butt), and black corsets aren’t uncommon. Gloves, fans, and parasols are all frequent accessories, and the jewelry tends to be minimal but classic in style. Cameo necklaces and filigree elements are common. The hair and makeup tend to be simple but dramatic, with clean lines being favoured. For gents, long hair is encouraged, as are hats, pocket watches, and gloves. Vests are often layered under dignified long coats or tailored jackets, paired with simple trousers.
These same style points are utilized by the Vamp subset. Coloured contacts are often added to increase the startling, stark look of paled-out makeup, and fangs are sometimes added as well. There is a hint of the macabre about the Vamp crowd, but largely the style is about the eternal romanticism about the things that go bump in the night.
Steampunk is a relatively new arrival on the scene, but its common ties with the goth scene mean they fit in just fine. Whereas the Victorian goth embraces the mourning garb, the Steampunk embraces a different aspect- exploration and science. This style will often incorporate items from a world that evolved differently than ours, one where steam is still very much a viable energy source and tinker’s inventions have daily use.
The colour palette for Steampunk varies from the typical goth scene, with many outfits utilizing not black, but browns, ivory, bronze, and greens. All colours are muted, earthy tones- the colours an explorer would wear. Women wear bloomer-style trousers or hitched-up skirts with Victorian corsets, strappy belts, and button-down tops. Men are seen in similar fashion as the Victorians, with vests, cravats, and trousers being favoured, though on occasion jodhpurs (think old-school horseback riding pants) are worn. Knee-high boots work for men and women, as do hats and a multitude of pockets. The truly dedicated will also add in goggles or pocket watches and even handmade guns as props.
This is more of a roleplaying character than some other styles, but it is no less valid or alternative for it. Characters will often have fanciful names and complex, in-depth backstories and histories to go along with the intricate outfits, adding to the allure and escapism.
The Cyber Goth scene is instantly identifiable- mostly black clothing, with fluorescent (sometimes glow in the dark or LED) accents, multimedia hair, and gas masks. This subculture, along with Industrial, has taken elements of tribal fashion- like dreadlocks and loincloths- and fused them with a high-tech, post-apocalyptic, almost alien style. This is the fusion of man and technology, a world where cybernetics have altered humans into bright and strange new creatures. The term- again from the United Kingdom- didn’t come to describe a style until a decade after it was coined, when the late ’90s saw an emergence in clothing and tech that allowed for the fashion to bloom.
Common elements in all Cyber Goth outfits may be respirators (particularly ones with neon accents), goggles, platform boots, goggles, vinyl, and hairpieces of dreads and tubing. Women tend to wear two-piece outfits, short skirts and strappy tops, piped with bright colours (especially neon green and yellow) or short dresses of the same style. Men’s outfits begin to get more elaborate here, with tight, multi-strap pants and PVC tops being frequently spotted. The bio-hazard and radiation symbols feature prominently, as all that technology can be hazardous…why else do you think it glows?
This is a fun and quirky style to try out, especially if you’re a fan of electronica and rave styles of music.
Ah, Fetish. Once something kept in bedrooms worldwide, the fashion has seeped out and influenced those who love pushing the envelope. At the core of this style is raw sexuality- the latex, vinyl, and leather once lived only in the dark recesses, but has been appropriated by fashion designers, Hollywood, and style seekers alike in search of new territory to explore. Once again finding roots in the United Kingdom, particularly latex clothing, the trend spread to Germany before manufacturing methods began to improve and some amazing designers began to create wearable art. Being something that is dark and often looked down upon, the Fetish community has found a home alongside all the other goths. While not everyone appreciates their overt sexuality (which at times bleeds over from ‘sexy’ to just plain ‘sex,’ often by those who don’t appreciate the boundaries of others in public places), their contribution to the scene has been invaluable.
Never before have we had such unfettered access to so much shiny, restrictive, well-made clothing, and it is partly the mainstream acceptance of Fetish style (if not the lifestyle) that we have to thank for it. Along with the corsets and catsuits, we began to see amazing sky-high stilettos and titillating masks being worn out to clubs. Anything can technically be a fetish, but the Fetish style trends towards tight clothing that is usually shiny, laced, buckled, or strapped. These can be anything- dresses, leggings, skirts, tops, you name it.
So what kind of goth style would you try? Let us know- or even better, post pics!- in the comments below!