Goth isn’t fully goth without the fashion. Fashion is what separates goths from vampire lovers and Victoriana nerds with great taste in music. Clothing and makeup are often seen as shallow or silly things to care about, and alternative styles are often ridiculed as being all about “shocking people” or “just wanting attention,” but clothing and makeup are also great ways to express your creativity and find people who might share your deeper interests. Gothing up your personal style is a great way of finding out who around you might share your interests and keeping away the kind of boring, closed-minded people you’d rather not deal with.
A lot of people dial their personal style up and down according to what they’re doing (work? play? meeting new people? seeing old friends?) and who they’re with, and a lot of people are looking for their own balance between standing out and blending in. Goths are no exception, but I think goth style goes farther than that. Not to get all pretentious here, but goth fashion is also commenting on society. In my mind, at least, dressing goth says three basic things.
First, modern consumer society likes to pretend that weird and sad and painful things can and should be somehow done away with. I think (and this seems like a fairly standard goth attitude) that those things should be understood and embraced instead of swept under the rug. Dressing “like you’re going to a funeral” is a subtle but insistent reminder to the world that darkness will always be with us, no matter how much you want to pretend otherwise.
Second, goth is often a very feminine style full of rich textures and lovely jewelry and elaborate hair and makeup. But it’s very different from the soft and pliant “traditional” femininity I grew up with. It’s a very dominant and powerful sort of feminine energy. Goth fashion for men is laced with “feminine” sensual elements as well. Goth is almost the only subculture I can think of that plays up this kind of energy for all genders and I would love to see elements of it catch on with a wider range of people.
The last statement goth makes in my mind is also the most basic and general. To my mind, style should be about what an individual likes and feels good in. I feel good in black. I like skulls and blood. It shouldn’t matter whether some magazine thinks I look good in black or what some celebrity wears or doesn’t wear. I don’t care about getting attention and I’m not interested in shock value, but I’m stubborn about my right to like what I like and wear what I want to wear.
And that brings us to what frustrates me about fashion, goth fashion included. Fashion can be such a great tool for expressing yourself, saying something to the world, finding your people, having fun and feeling good. Fashion is an art, and it takes talent and time and skill to be really good at it. And yet, sometimes it’s exactly as shallow and silly and conformist as critics say it is. Goth fashion is no exception to this. Buying status brands, whether it’s Chanel or Hellbunny or whatever is hot in your circle, is a poor substitute for creativity. Glorifying a certain (tall, thin) body type doesn’t exactly celebrate individuality and self-expression. Judging people’s gothiness based on looks alone is just . . . ironic. A subculture that gets so much judgment from mainstream folks ought not be replicating that awful system. If we bring that kind of bullshit into alternative fashion, well, that ain’t much of an alternative. And that would be a shame.