The Evolution of the Perceptions of the Goth Subculture

The Evolution of the Perceptions of the Goth Subculture
© Photograph by Andy Katsaitis

Divides between fans of Goth music in the mid-1980’s to late 1990’s split them into different waves and groups of Goths. While the music is the foundation of the Gothic subculture, the fashion and particular interests of its members are the branches of it.

Their taste in music, fashion, activities and topics influence them one way or another into choosing a specific type of Goth to call their own. To fully understand Goth, and why it is increasingly difficult to define, some of these different subcultures within the subculture will be explained. Something to keep in mind is that many of these different types can be considered stereotypes.

Many modern Goths are a mix of more than one of these types, and even then, they do not fall under all of the “requirements” or traits listed for the different types. This is just meant to be a sort of guide to show how vastly different Goths can be from one another.

The types of Goth previously mentioned by Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje in Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace are typically known as “old school” Goths, or “trad” Goths: traditional Goths (Harriman).

Though even among these trad Goths, there are subtypes, such as glam Goths. The number of subtypes of Goth can vary depending on who is asked, but for the sake of this article, the most common ones will be described.

It must first be noted that a Goth does not need to fall perfectly in line with any of these types; in fact, many Goths are a combination of more than one of them. To start, a lengthy blog post titled “Different Types of Goth” from Gothsociety.xyz will be summarized; this post does not include all the known subtypes, but it is a good place to begin.

As stated above, “trad” Goths, or “old school” Goths, are generally what was described by Harriman and Bontje in Some Wear Leather, Some Wear Lace; they cherish 80’s Goth music and combine some punk components with their Goth attire; they often tease their hair and have very stark makeup looks, and accessorize more casual-looking black attire with chains, fishnets, skulls, and bats (“Different”).

Another subtype of Goth is the “Cyber Goth”, which can be described as one with an affection for techno or mechanical music with a dismal feel; they enjoy wearing bright neon colours to complement their mostly black attire, and accessorize with gas masks, goggles, neon dreadlocks, and fairly basic cosmetics mostly comprising designs drawn with eyeliner.

From personal experience, these are the types that would often be found at raves, and they are very intense people.

In contrast, the “Romantic Goth” generally focuses on lovely and dark imagery such as dead roses and moonlit cemeteries. They are often creative, though most goths are to an extent, and like to dress in combinations of black and red, sticking to more formal attire than chains and leather.

Romantic Goths, such as myself, often prefer a “cat-eye” or Smokey-eye look when it comes to cosmetics, and are not usually the club-going type like cyber-Goths are. When it comes to music, Romantic Goths lean towards traditional music with a sense of drama and with an agonising or delicate disposition (“Different”).

There is then the “Victorian Goth”. Victorian Goths can be considered similar to Romantic Goths, though they take their aesthetic influences from the Victorian era with their huge outfits, corsets and girdles, elegant hairstyles, and simple, delicate cosmetics.

Victorian Goths portray themselves as though they were nobility, emphasizing poise and propriety. As for music, they enjoy dark theatre and classical music with a melancholy feel. Similar to this is the “Medieval Goth”; instead of taking their influence from the Victorian era, they take it from medieval times.

They cherish tales of dungeons, wizards, dragons and magic, and they are able to run free with little inhibition at events like Renaissance Fairs. They enjoy old folk music, as well as combinations of folk, Gregorian chanting, and Celtic metal (“Different”). It is important to note that most Victorian and Medieval Goths do not wear their extreme attire on a daily basis, though there are some that do.

There is also the “Vampire Goth,” though this subtype is different in that it cannot generally stand on its own, and needs to latch onto another subtype, mainly Romantic Goth. They have been described as “Romantic Goths with teeth” by Aurelio Voltaire, a modern Gothic cabaret artist.

Romantic Goth is not always the one Vampire Goths most identify with, though they do have the most in common. They have similar musical and non-musical interests as Romantics, but with vampires added in.

Characters such as Lestat from Anne Rice’s ‘The Vampire Chronicles’ are idolised by Vampire Goths, who take his agonising outlook on life to heart. Pale skin, long flowy outfits, silks, cemeteries and red wine are all staples of the Vampire Goth (“Different”). However, a Vampire Goth may choose to identify more with a different subtype instead, adding their own vampiric flair to it.

“Steampunk Goth” is almost like a combination of Victorian and Cyber Goth, and is equally intense but for different reasons. Much of their aesthetic is DIY-type accessories that add a sci-fi flair to Victorian attire.

Such accessories include pocket watches, cogs and gears, and goggles. Black, brown, copper and bronze are their preferred colours. Like Victorian Goths, they enjoy Victorian styles of writing, but like adding their own sci-fi twists to them.

They are not linked to any particular music scene, though certain bands like Rasputina and Abney Park appeal to them, as said bands incorporate Steampunk elements into their performances.

“Cabaret Goth” is similar to Steampunk in that it is another subtype that combines modern looks with those of an older style. Cabaret Goth is also known as “Burlesque Goth”, as it takes strong influences from vaudeville performances.

Members of this subtype want to be both sexually attractive, but still very tasteful in their appearances. Their attire has a 50’s vibe to it, though with darker colours. Fishnet and plumes are a must for the ladies, while suspenders and fedoras are a must for the men (“Different”). Once again, this subtype is not linked with a specific type of music, though one could argue that they may enjoy 1950’s styled music.

Moving on to another intense subtype, there is the “Fetish Goth,” which is often what more conservative people think of when they picture Goth if they are not familiar with it or have a negative attitude towards it.

Fetish Goths tend to lean towards BDSM-themed clothing such as collars and leashes, and are not linked to a particular kind of music, though they do enjoy songs that describe unusual or perhaps forbidden sexual acts with their lyrics.

Fetish Goths enjoy many PVC garments along with intense accessories that help them to express their sexuality, such as leashes, collars, whips, handcuffs, etc. They enjoy feeling as though they are “on the edge” at most times.

Another intense, yet less outwardly sexual, a subtype of Goth is the “Tribal Goth”. This can also be referred to as “Goth Belly Dancers,” as it takes significant visual influence from classic belly dancing attire.

They use bones and gems to accessorise this attire, adding a dark tribal flair. Egyptian and Arabian themes also play a part in their aesthetic. There is no specific type of music linked with Tribal Goth; in fact, many of them take any type of music they enjoy and can turn it into a dark and hypnotic belly dance (“Different”).

Next is the “Gothabilly,” a Goth twist on the Rockabilly/Psychobilly, mixes of rock and “hillbilly” music scenes. Goths under the Gothabilly subtype have a fondness for Goth rock mixed with soul and nation styles. They have a sort of retro feel, taking fashion inspiration from the 1950’s, but with a dash of black and spikes.

Pencil skirts, 50’s hairstyles, fasteners and heels are all staples of their look. Another variation includes the “Metalhead”; some debate on whether or not they are truly Goth, as they did with the Marilyn Manson controversies.

However, Metalheads do have enough similarities with other Goth subtypes to be considered Goth themselves, at least in this thesis. They adore all types of metal music, especially dark metal and symphonic metal, as they generally fit more with Goth interests.

Dark leather seems to make up much of their wardrobe, along with other “spooky” accessories. Metalheads can be compared to “Deathrockers,” which are Goths who take more from Punk than Goth as far as music goes, but aesthetically fit in more with the Goth subculture.

Like Metalheads, Deathrockers are extremely passionate about their music, which contains darker twists of Punk music without the gentle twist on the music itself, which first wave Goths enjoyed.

Harder 80’s Goth rock as well as more modern Punk rock, Horrorpunk and Psychobilly are favourites of Deathrockers. Aesthetically they make use of torn fishnets, band logos, large 80’s styled hair, strong and impactful cosmetics, and anything that could be considered visually ‘off’. Bloody, gory movies and the like attract them, as does anything traditionally repulsive or horrible (“Different”).

As stated previously, the “Different Types of Goth” blog post does not describe all the types, as there is still debate on exactly how many types in total there are. To go into further detail, artist Megan Balanck’s pieces shall be examined.

Each of her works describes a different subtype of the Goth subculture and will help fill in blanks left by the previous source.

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