That seems to be the million-dollar question for goths, or at least for people who frequent goth clubs, wear the clothing, and listen to the music. There are a million different variations of multiple answers—the tendency to wear black and listen to bands who cultivated the goth subculture (Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure), clothing that evokes a sense of drama and mystery, architecture that implies phantasmagoria.
In the context of the world, goth has become a subculture of like-minded people who have an appreciation for the darker sides of fashion, art, and life. The implied nature of rebellion, derived from its roots in punk rock, takes the backseat to a more subdued and calmer approach to adjusting to society—perhaps reflective of post-punk’s slower and more somber approach to minor key, 3-chord arrangements with the addition of synthesizers and electronics. While the subculture has evolved to integrate with the larger alternative community, its traits and roots are undeniable in these modern times.
It becomes all the more complicated when people who suggest the gothic do not identify as goths, perhaps even being offended at how they are being boxed into a particular label just because of their interests. Even so, a person sporting dramatic makeup, ruffled shirts, boots, and a dark exotic coat can probably be safely branded as a goth without them taking offense.
Why Do People Become Goths?
The real question is, why do people become anything? It is essentially the same query. There are countless possible answers for people who walk amongst the shadows and listen to music of a more sinister breed.
One of the more obvious and stereotypical reasons would be the resentment for the bulk of society, the trends and norms, the incredible judgment and peer pressure that it relentlessly facilitates. It’s enough to drive a person mad—enough to make him or her wear black lipstick and long flowing capes! There is something alluring about this sort of aesthetic that’s been deemed maladjusted and dangerous by your average soccer mom in a suburban home. In those forms of art, music, and fashion that have been hastily banned by tunnel-vision thinkers, there happens to be a lot that is worthy of study and admiration, despite its sorrowful and sinister qualities.
It takes a free thinker and the ability to be the lord of one’s own domain to seriously assess why this type of lifestyle has been labeled as taboo. With such rich visuals and striking aesthetics, it’s certainly worth the average person’s time to analyze for at least a brief moment.
The need to find other people who celebrate these taboo realms of the world is the genesis of the community and the birth of clubs. It levels out the shaming that the mainstream imposes on people who don’t venture into Abercrombie & Fitch stores and look for thrills in local bars. It becomes just a phase for some people, while others stretch out their gothness through their 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond.
Don’t be deceived, though. Goths are still human, and as such are just as prone to narrow-mindedness and snobbery as anyone else. The subculture has the potential to offer people a different and more open outlook on life, but many are guilty of using it to feel a sense of superiority toward people who choose not to partake in midnight club affairs and witchy music. Parents and teachers might quake in their shoes at the thought of coming across a pasty-faced, corset-clad creature of the night out on the street, but it is dysfunctional to feed these people’s fears instead of treating them the way the average goth would prefer to be treated by someone.
Being part of the gothic subculture gives a person a chance to ease his or her judgments of others, regardless of whether those people claim to be goths. It would serve a goth well to take full advantage of this chance. Education of the world around us does not conclude when we find our rightful place in this or that community. Reserve that for politicians.
The Goth Stereotype
Inevitably, this is the most popular variety of goth known to the world, the misfit teenager wearing black and pasty makeup for no reason other than to burden his or her parents while being bludgeoned by the horrors of adolescence and high school. All stereotypes evolve from somewhere, and yes, even this unfortunate caricature has its place in some factions of gothic legions. But like any other group of people, goth is just as diverse in terms of personalities and career choices. There is no quantifiable formula that allows for immediate assessment of millions of people—that’s common sense, which, yes, applies even to the goths.
A stereotype is just a snapshot of the real thing—that is to say, the real human being behind the makeup and the façade, the publicity and the spectacle. It has always been that way, and it will never change. A goth should be held to the same standards as anyone else.
How Do I Get Into Goth?
There is no strict manual for becoming part of the subculture. Some people who partake in the events don’t even consider themselves goth.
If the music moves you and the events seem exciting, then you have no excuse for not hitting up your local goth club and easing your curiosity. Be open-minded and give yourself the chance to meet some of the regular scenesters. Embracing the gothic doesn’t happen out of sheer force of will; it’s something that evolves naturally and gradually, just like any interest. It pertains to your environment and your interests.
If you’ve ever had a fascination for the macabre and the dark, the surreal and the melancholy, then maybe you’re a full-fledged goth deep down and just need a bit of encouragement to flesh it out.
Try out some of the different music genres: post-punk, deathrock, industrial. Goth even branches out to new wave and synthpop. Find your niche and ease yourself into this or that genre. Bands such as The Cure, Depeche Mode, and Joy Division are world-renowned names that still enjoy play at goth clubs, and all are ideal starting points for the goth novice as well. The deep cuts will be unearthed in time, so long as you continue to find the music fulfilling and exciting. Throw on your Spotify or Pandora mix and let it do the searching for you. Goth has an incredibly vast and wide array of bands to ease your curiosity, and while there is no guarantee that it will all appeal to you, it is likely that a few will at least stick. (Of course, do not box yourself into goth. Always be open to other music genres, no matter how far they may stray from what falls into the realm of goth.)
If the clothing resonates with you, then there are plenty of shops to fulfill your material desires as well. Goth shops reside primarily online, in the form of stores such as Rivethead and The Black Angel. More upscale stores such as Shrine of Hollywood and Kambriel are worth your time if you are willing to splurge and go all out. Failing any of the above, a modest outfit of all black is never, ever out of style. Black is always the signifier, or at the very least the implication, of goth.
But I Don’t Want to Give up Society
And you don’t have to. A common misconception of goth (which, sadly, is perpetuated by even self-alleged ambassadors of the community) is that it is starkly set against anything that is socially constructed to be “normal” or “bland.” True, the willingness to be goth does imply a sort of desire to stray from the herd to a certain extent, but this is the real world with real people. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is not goths vs. everyone else, and it shouldn’t be that way. Goth is not the answer to greater enlightenment, no more than any other way of life. It is not becoming of a goth to look down on other people for following another path of life, for that is the very sin that is perpetrated against them every day. Two wrong do not make a right. Integrating with people from numerous and different backgrounds while staying goth is a beautiful act that should be welcomed, not shunned and certainly not feared. No one is forcing you to renounce your ways of doom and gloom; the only person who has that control is you.
Only enrichment and value comes out of getting out of your comfort zone. You will not forget who you are, you will not be banished from your local club, your favorite stores will not demand you return your items, and your music library won’t suddenly disappear. Be a goth. Be the gothiest goth who ever gothed. But do it with openness and curiosity for the rest of the world.