From the seed of social deviance that punk rock initiated, the Gothic culture began its birth into the shadowy realms of nightclubs and eventually, the streets. It is an aesthetically exciting interpretation of the rejection of mainstream fashions and common perceptions of beauty and attractiveness. Some people use the Gothic subculture as a direct form of rebellion, others as a transient step to “something else”. For a handful it is a way of life, a set of beliefs and ideas. The roots of the Gothic sub-culture can easily be traced back centuries; the seeds of which were sown in the Gothic literature of the 1800’s.
A dangerous and hostile world of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, coupled with the curiosity, excitement and insecurity of youth, has created a pattern of exclusion and tribalism. The formation of various youth sub-cultures, all with individual rules, codes and beliefs, are an empowering response. Thrust into a system created for and benefited by adults, they are forced to territorialise certain meaning systems, modes of expression or lifestyles,’ and find identity and belonging. Gothic fashion and style is possibly the most visually noticeable presentation of a sub-culture available on today’s social kaleidoscope of the streets.
Clothing and body ornamentation is highly stylised and indicative of a dark or morbid underground existence. Obviously rejecting anything remotely popular or mainstream, it can range from slightly off-kilter to explicitly sexual and deviant. Punk Rock styles and their rejection of the typically attractive heavily influenced Goth dress style. The most common form Gothic style appropriates bondage gear and fabrics, such as PVC, leather, buckles and zips, and thigh high boots, as well as accessories such as whips and chains. Fetish is a theme that dominates the theme of dress, with sexual overtones and lots of skin.
i Such overtly sexual dressing blatantly informs the public of the wearer’s Gothic status and attitude. Through such extreme deviation from social norms, the wearer is displaying an explicit resistance to the normalised, dictated indicators of sexuality, and a preference for an alternative route. Other variations on the Gothic style include the Romantic Goth, and the Industrial Gothic. Romantics tend to draw inspiration from clothing of the 18th and 19th centuries. Always theatrical, this kind of Gothic trend indicates a deeper resonance with the origins of Gothicism, in literature and history.
Images, like those of Dracula and the Vampire are emanated often in the look. The uses of capes, velvet, waistcoats, lace, brocade gowns and corsets, nowadays often worn with modern materials. While Industrial Gothic can attribute its origins to that of the traditional Gothic, it has today evolved into an entirely separate sub-culture. It has grown to such proportions, especially in countries like German and Japan, that it deserves a separate analysis, independent of the traditional Gothic culture from which has now surpassed.
The Gothic style pushes the boundaries of taste, with body piercing, tattoo’s, makeup and hairstyles all vying for centre stage. White make-up, blood red lipstick and very dark eye make-up are all used to create the appearance of death. Fake blood, fangs, and contact lenses are also popular, often in a vampiric look. Normally black or dark and almost always dyed, hair is another indicator of creativity. The Mohawk, another adaptation of the punk look, is popular, as is dreadlocks, extensions and braids. Body piercing is a poplar mode of decoration.
Often permanent or in obvious places, it is another indicator that the Gothic has no desire to submit to mainstream labour market, as it is generally unacceptable to sport extreme piercing in many corporate arena’s. Music is the unifying factor and the cultural force that brings the various kinds of Gothic’s together. In 1979, Bauhous released the song ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’, inspiring a new type of Gothic music and culture. As punk was dying, new sounds began to take the stage. The Gothic label wasn’t yet coined, but a culture of introspective, creative, and frenzied sounds, was beginning to form.
Bands like ‘The Damned’ and ‘The Banshee’s’ paved the way and the late 80’s introduced the first wave of self-labelled Gothic bands. ii Dark, moody and melancholic, this seemingly morbid music, to the untrained ear, may represent a clan of sombre, depressed youths, with a morbid fascination for death. Gothic’s, however, describe this genre as ‘full of passion, majesty, beauty, mysticism. iii” The Gothic love of introspective music, penchant for dark imagery and romanticising of death is often blamed for teenage suicide. This is a reactionary response and a fallacy.
It also ignores the fact that many people gain stability and friends from the Gothic culture, and are out to have fun rather than withdrawing into themselves. In contemporary culture, music a tool which can be used to defining ones identity. It gives people, especially, youths with questions about identity and their place in the social structures of teen culture, a more solid reference as to where they belong. The nightclub culture is a huge part of the Gothic community. It is a sanctuary, away from the mainstream culture, and a meeting place for other Gothic’s.
Music is obviously an integral part of any club scene, and integral in the unification different people with similar tastes. Religion and spirituality are important beliefs in the Gothic culture. Witchcraft, Shamanism, Druidism, worship of Mother Goddess, and The Cult of the Dead are all popular and visible in religious symbols, popular as decoration and symbols of faith. iv This is, in some ways a reaction to many modern day religions, such as Christianity and Catholicism, which are often considered alternative or outdated, empty and repressive.
Paganism and magic hold philosophical principles, rather than instructional lessons. Christianity often represses and tries to eliminate alternative forms of religion, demonising those they deem wrong or evil. The rituals and beliefs of these alternative religions offer a more active role and appeal to those who will question the notion of mindless belief in oppressive doctrines that may not still be relevant in today’s society. While today’s adaptation of the Gothic culture may often be considered superficial, the ‘real’ Gothic’s owe more than just a label to historical literature and schools of thought.