The history of gothic fashion from all-black to pastels

Goth, the subculture, has never died, or perhaps more accurately, remains undead. The subculture’s style persists because of its rich cultural heritage and malleability, its ability to incorporate new influences.

Goth’s visual style is as vibrant as its music. It continues to inspire today’s designers, artists, and teenagers long after its original invention.

Early gothic fashion was heavily influenced by punk. Early goth icons such as Dave Vanian, singer of The Damned, and Siouxsie Sioux, of Siouxsie & the Banshees straddled two scenes.

Subcultural style in Britain was a DIY affair during the late 1970s and 1980s. In the recession of the 1970s, a DIY approach to style was a necessity. In the 1980s, as the economy boomed, this was a way to resist a culture that idolized wealth. In the spirit of punk culture, those who pursued “alternative style” would raid jumble and charity sales, recycle surplus army clothing, customize high street fashion, and make their clothes and accessories.

The subculture’s success has been attributed to its creative, individualistic approach to fashion. Goth is all about mixing and matching to create your style.

Gothic aesthetics are characterized by their preoccupation with images of death and decadence. It seemed to express the mood of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, a country where images of wealth and prosperity were accompanied by policies that facilitated disintegration in the social fabric. Early goth outfits were characterized by ripped stockings and repurposed bondage gear, as well as deathly makeup and chain jewelry. The look was dominated by towering, backcombed black hairstyles.

The 1980s saw the gothic style evolve, taking on looks from other subcultures, such as rockabilly, hippy psychedelia, and even Kate Bush.

Gothic style has been diversified.

The work of British designer Alexander McQueen was a prime example. His macabre collections were uncompromising and thrilled both the alternative scene as well as high fashion insiders.

During this time, the gothic style was made more accessible to mainstream consumers through high-street versions. Hot Topic, a chain of regional mall stores in the US founded in 1989, sells alternative styles to teens through its Hot Topic chain.

This commercialization of goth diluted its countercultural appeal for some. Contrary to the DIY culture in the 70s and 80s, a desired Goth look was becoming increasingly expensive.

The subculture remained resilient and incorporated new influences. In the late 1990s, cybergoth was born from the hybridization of dance music and subculture. Ensembles that combined colossal platforms, boots, neon extensions, and tech accessories such as masks and goggles evoked dystopian futures.

A woman dressed in the Gothic Lolita style. WikicommonsCC BY-SA

The international spread of subculture led to new techniques. Japanese Gothic Lolita Style was designed to transform its wearer into a Victorian doll.

Gothic Lolita was exported internationally via manga and animation in the early 2000s. It became a major inspiration for the Western Gothic style. It inspired “cute” looks such as “pale goth” – a gothic style in sweet, childish colors the subculture had once rejected.

Many goths also developed a passion for replicating historical costumes, which were inspired by the literary, cinematic, and artistic tradition of the Gothic. The Whitby Goth Weekend was founded in 1994 and is held twice a year. Participants pay homage to Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, by wearing Victorian-style outfits on the seafront.

In just four minutes, you can see 40 years of Gothic style.

Members of subcultures may choose to dress in a certain style or wear different types for different occasions.

Corp-goth even adjusts their style for corporate environments, wearing office-friendly versions of the look. By 2023, there will be many different ways to be a goth.

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