From the rock’n’roll days to present-day Gothabilly vogue

Connie Marchal
Connie Marchal

Perhaps, you have probably seen Gothabilly dresses in your local alternative fashion shop – assuming, that is, that you have one – due to the outlook’s recent surge of popularity. Just as deathrock came under the wing of the Goth scene after its formation, so did Gothabilly – to begin with, it was simply seen as a spin-off genre of rockabilly, but nowadays both the music and the fashion have been adopted by Goths and are mostly seen within the Goth scene, as it happened with other genres in the antiquity, the Goth lifestyle tends to surface from what has been done, and bloom into something partially invigorating.

Laying down the foundation of such fashionable style, it is said that rockabilly is a term combining “rock’n’roll” and “hillbilly,” musically combining rock’n’roll with influences from country, swing and boogie woogie. Musicians who have been associated with rockabilly include Elvis Presley, Wanda Jackson and the mythical Johnny Cash.

Psychobilly adds punk rock influence to rockabilly music, and is one of several rockabilly spin-off genres, alongside thrashabilly and surfabilly, just to used as a simplified reference. Lyrics often reference horror, sci-fi, violence and sex, though usually in a comic fashion. Most psychobilly bands feature an upright double bass. Bands associated with psychobilly include The Meteors, Guana Batz and Batmobile.

The word “Gothabilly” was coined by the band The Cramps in the late 1970s, as they were looking for an uncommon term to describe their music – punk rock with rockabilly attractions. The Cramps are most strongly associated with the psychobilly subculture, although they are also relatively popular amongst Goths. Again, the term “Gothabilly” came into common use amongst the alternative scenes when in the mid-1990s record label Skully Records released a series of Gothabilly compilation albums which incited listeners of the genre, to seek for a proper fashionable manner to express visually, their musical references.

Musically speaking, Gothabilly combines aspects of Goth rock (such as jungle drums and jangly Bauhaus-esque guitars) with the country and blues influences of rockabilly and, usually, the upright double bass seen in psychobilly. Many Gothabilly bands use horror themes, often with a twist of black humour and deliberate spectrums, although unlike rockabilly and psychobilly, lyrics may also include the romantic and paranormal – including, and rightly so, the vampire thematic. Gothabilly music is generally less aggressive than psychobilly music and often has a more melancholic atmosphere. As you have probably noticed, Gothabilly has much in common with deathrock (horror imagery; black humour; ties to punk rock) and it is not uncommon to often attend deathrock events with Gothabilly bands playing alongside.

Motifs ordinarily seen in Gothabilly fashion are cherries, dice and playing cards, flames, animal prints, tattoo-inspired designs, polka dots, sugar skulls, swallows, zombies and pin-up girls (or simply zombie pin-up girls) – retro and kitsch with an added dark twist. For men and women tattoos are often common, featuring pin-up girls, flaming skulls and playing cards. Gothabilly women could be described as “Living Dead Dolls” and can often be seen in pencil skirts, heels, red lipstick and seamed fishnet stockings; hair may be styled with victory rolls, quiffs and Bettie bangs – the entire appearance, for women, could be summed up with “Morticia Addams meets Bettie Page.” Gothabilly males may sport creeper shoes, cowboy boots and hats, morning coats and dusters. Fashion influences include The Cramps themselves, Fields of the Nephilim (a 1980s Goth band famous for their dusty cowboy gear) and The Gothic Cowboys.

Gothabilly fashion consolidates more colour than many styles of Goth fashion that are frequently black and white-oriented, sometimes with hints of red and grey – from brightly coloured leopard print to red or pink 1950s cardigans. It can also be a more masculine look for the males – as opposed to the frilly shirts of romantic goth or the ripped tights sported in deathrock. As Voltaire points out in What Is Goth?, Gothabilly is a good look for darkly-inclined gentlemen who do not wish to dress like “fruity vampires.” Shirts with the sleeves ripped off, black denim, tattoos of buxom women and rockabilly quiffs galore.

Gothabilly interests include hot rods and hearses, horror B-movies and vintage fashion. Gothabilly incorporates that tongue-in-cheek humour found in the music – Auxiliary Magazine says, “Whether it is putting mini top hats on taxidermy bats or planning a creepy tiki party, it is all about dark humoured fun.” The music blaring from a Gothabilly’s headphones is likely to include bands such as those named above, as well as Cult of the Psychic Fetus, Vampire Beach Babes, The Horrorpops, The Phantom Cowboys, Zombie Ghost Train, Ghoultown, Dead Sea Surfers, The Coffinshakers, Pink Hearse, and the Surf Sluts.

Gothic fashion throughout the decades, have continuously dragged into its waters, older and recent trends while mutating and presenting new ways of presenting themselves in today’s society. Is there any particular fashion style you would like us to cover in our pages? If so, feel free to share your viewpoints with us, which are more than esteemed by leaving a response to this article, and further suggestions for future articles, or constructive criticism in the comment section. Plus, you may prefer to subscribe to our newsletter by filling out the form below in order to keep yourself refreshed with our most contemporary publishings.

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