Whether one is personally familiar with Gothic subculture, has studied it academically or has a vague notion of it derived from mass media, one point stands: the subculture is too broad and diverse to fit within a specific definition.
A constellation of moments became visible in the arts/visual culture (painting, fashion, branding) that contested any notion that black can only be said to function as surface, as a colour. Rather, one is impressed with the substantive material qualities of black clothing, which could never have held the same degree of intensity or form had they been designed in a “colour.” This will be shown through the design work of Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo, and Junya Wanatabe, which rely on the vocabulary and diversity of black for their collections.
In a previous article, we established that across a range of theoretical perspectives, there is a tendency for commerce and media to be associated with cultural superficiality or fluidity rather than substantive subcultural groupings as defined in this series.
The origin of the word Goth is connected to the Roman Empire but has little or nothing to do with the subculture. Goths were a Germanic tribe who helped in the defeat of the Roman Empire. In contrast, the gothic novel of the eighteenth-century is a pioneer of the modern understanding of the term gothic by being a genre related to the mood of horror, morbidity and darkness.
Imagine Jules Verne as an inventor instead of an author. Imagine Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, a submarine capable of speeds rivalling modern Seawolf-class attack submarines, as a reality. Imagine Frank Reade as historical figure instead of a fictional persona; imagine his steam-powered robots as a fact of the American frontier. Envision a world where the speculative dreams of Victorian and Edwardian writers like Edgar Allan Poe, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs were realities instead of fantasies, and you begin to see the world through steampunk lenses.
In this article, I will first address the Gothic Lolita trend in terms of the notion of dressing up and the presentation of the spectacular, non-normative presentation of self or multiple selves. Next, I will examine this specific dressing up activity by the fashion tribe of Gothic Lolitas in terms of their assumed Gothic inspired identities. Finally, I will fuse these themes together by suggesting that although quintessentially Japanese in origin, the Loli-Goth or Goth-Loli tribes in South East Asia, as a form of cultural hybridisation, have significant connections and share parallel universes with their global Goth-Loli sisterhood and other neo style tribes, whilst adopting their own unique cultural take on their appearance and lifestyle underpinning this distinctive sartorial practice.
The Gothic has never been more alive than it is today. Like a contagion, of late, it has travelled across cultural and media landscapes to permeate even the most banal aspects of everyday living. While the Gothic has undoubtedly regained its popularity, it is also granted acknowledgement in “higher” culture.
“Arriving early, I wander through the mostly-empty space at yet another Friday-night Goth event in this dingy downtown nightclub. I encounter a young man clad in tight-fitting black pants, with bone-white decorations in half-skeleton arrangement. His black t-shirt features an Orthodox cross in outline. Text within the cross reads ‘Sleep is the cousin of death’ — a reference to sixteenth-century poet Charles Sackville. We exchange pleasantries in respectful, if awkward, anticipation of the louder atmosphere that has yet to coalesce.”
Reading through fashion historiography, it becomes clear that the key tension inherent in this area of culture and identity is the one between past and future played out in the present (Simmel 303). Sociologists who study fashion do so because it is linked to “the history and sociology of cultural production in which new interpretation of symbolic values are created and attributed to material culture” (Crane and Bovone 320). In this regard, clothing, as the material artefact, creates impressions that suggest the varieties of cultural life from past to present. Fashion can also anticipate or look to an ideal future for inspiration.1
Think of the word “Victorian” and the first images that come to mind invariably include a corseted female figure. Whether the apparition sports a bell-shaped mid-century crinoline, the skirts of which fan over the cage-like construction beneath, or whether its silhouette is transformed into the suggestive turn of the century “S-bend”, its form and allure are determined by the firm grasp of a corset.