In the age of e-girls and e-boys, everyone and their mother seems to be running to the drug store to pick up black eyeliner and nail polish. Couture fashion houses draping their models in black lace, lipstick, and crocheted stockings are being praised, and Soundcloud rappers singing sad lyrics have labeled themselves “goth.” But is this adaptation of goth fashion muddying the waters and creating a misrepresentation of the music-based subculture that is goth? Since the early 2000s, attempts to capitalize on the “gothic look” have culminated in the cross-breeding of certain fads. From the mall goths of the early 2000s to the pastel goths of the 2010s to the current emergence of goth rap, the word “goth” has gotten quite confusing.
The fuel behind the fashion
Following the lionized punk era of the ‘70s, the shifting tides in music, media, and taste left England in limbo. With restlessness and room for creativity, artists previously in the punk realm were looking to redefine the music scene. It’s said that Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and The Banshees set the tone for the fashion of goth subculture. Her razor-sheared black hair, fishnets, and sharp geometric eye makeup fed the already-lingering romanticization of darkness. The overall sound of goth was shaped by a new-wave band called Joy Division. Lead singer Ian Curtis’ deep voice paralleled the surfacing visuals of the goth scene. Soon, more post-punk bands like The Cure, Christian Death, and The Sisters of Mercy began to soak their sound and image in a somber spookiness that turned the underground goth scene manic. The crossover success of goth led to the toppling of its popularity and acceptance. As goth mixed with third-wave emo and new metal in the late ‘90s, its public authenticity was drowned out and watered down into what many refer to as “mall goth.”
What’s mall goth?
During the early 2000s, the mall-goth craze sprouted in an attempt to market goth to young teens who’d only heard rumors of the true edge of the last two decades. Stores like Hot Topic and Spencer’s planted themselves in malls all over the nation and cleverly targeted young teens—all of whom were aching to express their hormonal rebelliousness. Walls full of post-punk band tees made it easy for anyone to admire the angsty artwork and end up walking out of the mall wearing the merchandise of a band they’d never listened to (and probably never would).
Although this trend caused an uproar in the goth community, I’d like to counter mall-goth slander by coining it as an aesthetic and separating it from true goth subculture. In recent years, mall-goth style has been used by many influencers to refer to the tawdry, gaudy air of the Y2K era. The notorious baggy chained pants from Tripp NYC and chunky Demonia platforms were signs of the times, and despite their historical arrogance, they can look really cute. I think there’s a way to pull off the mall-goth aesthetic—don’t take it so seriously!
Goth on the runway
This past year, you may have noticed designers’ moodier side taking the spotlight. During Milan's Fall Fashion Week, Prada shamelessly took inspiration from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstien. From black ‘80s-chic trench coats, to uber-long Wednesday Addams-esque braids, Prada hit each of its gothic references right on the bullseye.
One of my personal favorite goth-infused collections from London’s most recent Fashion Week was that of Dilara Findikoglu. Though she doesn’t exclusively stick to stereotypical goth attire, the ghostly and otherworldly essence of her designs works to combine different subcultures with politics, religion, and feminism, unveiling the true rebellion that emanates from goth’s core.
E-girls and e-boys
Heavy eye makeup, baggy, layered band tees, and black hearts drawn under the eyes of teenagers aren’t goth. While the goth subculture is music-based, e-culture is driven by a glorification of the lonely artist who happens to take fashion inspiration from anime, skate culture, BDSM, cosplay, emo, and of course, gothic style. Making a name for themselves from the comfort of their own bedrooms, these e-kids have crafted their very own version of Chbosky’s “island of misfit toys.” K-beauty, striped shirts, and loads of blush first became popular among cosplayers. Slowly, these animated ways of accessorizing then made their way into the gaming community and were adapted by so-called “gamer girls” like Belle Delphine—which explains why the “e” in “e-girl” stands for “electronic” and not “emo.” The confusion between these internet personas is likely rooted in their shared misfit quality. The use of “oddball” fashion choices by particular social circles and subcultures has typically an undercover form of political rebellion.
Despite its outlandish accessories and spooky undertones, the gothic subculture is beautiful. We like to wallow in its beauty by disguising it as other things and redefining its meaning, but maybe—just maybe—we need to learn to love it for what it is.