Goth Style

The term goth, short for gothic, was used beginning in the 1980s to describe certain rebellious youths who had a very distinctive way of viewing the world, and an equally distinctive style of dress. The term gothic had been used since the sixteenth century to describe medieval northern European architecture and later to describe novels that had a shadowy, mysterious atmosphere. That dark atmosphere, as well as the fashions worn by the characters in gothic novels, became attractive to many young people who did not feel connected to the modern society in which they lived. These young people adopted the pale skin, dark hair, and dark clothes associated with gothic novels, as well as a gloomy, mystical outlook on life.

Modern goths, with their fondness for pale skin, dark hair, and black clothes, were inspired by the mysterious gothic novels of centuries past. Reproduced by permission of © .

Goths borrowed some of the fashion styles from the punk rock subculture of the 1970s, including the punks' big black Doc Martens boots and shredded clothing. However, while the punks seemed ultramodern, the goths were drawn to a gentler, old-fashioned style. Along with ripped black stockings or T-shirts, a goth might wear a crushed purple velvet skirt or vest, old-style high button shoes, or black work boots worn with fishnet stockings. Most goths wore only black or very dark clothes, and many dyed their hair black as well. Goths of both sexes often wore dark eye makeup, black lipstick, and black nail polish. As with the punks, piercings and tattoos were common among goths, and many chose ancient Celtic designs, all in black.

Most goths thought of themselves as rebels, misfits, and outcasts and were proud that their style of dress was viewed as very strange by mainstream society. In the early twenty-first century, however, goth style began to make its appearance on fashion run-ways, at Hollywood parties, and at the mall. Designers like Marc Jacobs (1964–) included elements of goth style in his 2001 show, and actress Gwyneth Paltrow (c. 1973–) wore a black goth-style gown to the 2002 Academy Awards. Many young goths are proud of being outcasts and dislike what they call "weekend goths," who wear goth styles but do not live a goth lifestyle.


Acker, Kerry. Everything You Need to Know about the Goth Scene. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2000.

Schoenberg, Nara. "Underground Goth Cult Rising to Surface." Chicago Tribune (January 13, 2003).

[ See also Volume 5, 1961–79: Punk sidebar on p. 946 ]

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