Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: goth from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Member of a youth movement characterized in fashion by black, dramatic clothing and black-and-white make-up, and in music by portentous, swirling synthesizer riffs and angst-ridden lyrics. Goth began in the north of England in the late 1970s. Goth bands include the Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Cure.

Summary Article: Goth
from Boy Culture: An Encyclopedia

They always tend to wear black clothes and seem to be in a dismal mood. This could be a common description for people considered to be goths. Goth culture or the dark scene opens a great variety of possibilities for self-expression and identification. In the 1980s goth split up from the punk scene and the development of its own subculture started. The term goth was first established in the United Kingdom for this subculture. Today the gothic scene has become international but great inputs still come from the United Kingdom, Germany, and North America. The scene offers many possibilities for goth boys to transcend gender expectations.

During the 1990s the dark society grew and goth music became a fusion of gothic rock, dark wave, synthpop, electronic body music (EBM), industrial, medieval music, and neo- or dark folk music. Popular international bands were, and still are Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, Depeche Mode, The Cure and VNV Nation. Generally goths meet each other in special clubs, at home, or organized events in mystical places. The biggest events are the “Wave-Gotik-Treffen” in Leipzig, “The Whitby Gothic Weekend” in the United Kingdom, and the “Chamber's Dark Art and Music Festival” in the United States. As the names imply, these events are meetings to watch favorite bands as well as to share and buy gothic art, furniture, and, of course, fashion.

In addition to the different types of music available, the various styles of fashion can also be separated. It is possible to name six main styles: the wave style, the 1980s style, the medieval or romantic style, the common style, the gothic-punk style and the fetish style. The wave style and the 1980s style consist of wide clothes, spiky shoes, and wild hair. Males often wear the so-called Mohawk haircut. The wave style integrates a military look, and the 1980s style incorporates capes and a lot of chains. The medieval or romantic style consists of a fashion reminiscent of days gone by, such as Victorian and Edwardian modes of dress. The common style indicates people who just wear black clothes, such as leatherwear. Leather is also part of the gothic-punk style and the fetish style. Gothic punks wear boots, leather jackets, and frazzled clothes. The fetish style also incorporates black, latex, and leather and veers toward the erotic. Within all styles goths tend to apply a contrasting approach to makeup, such as white powder for the face, black eyeliner, dark lipstick, and/or dark nail polish. Piercings and tattoos are also wide spread among the subculture. It should also be noted, though, that there are numerous styles differing from country to country, and almost from individual to individual.

What could be classed as unique and particularly individual for goth men? For men, it is possible to mix feminine and masculine looks and create a personal style, for example, wearing skirts, boots, and makeup, as well as having long hair. Furthermore, the scene offers the possibility of showing emotion, which is not generally seen as being a part of a strong masculine stereotype. Suffering and sadness as emotions go along with a reflection on personal problems, life, sin, and mortality. In modern societies, these topics are often looked upon as taboo. Displaying oneself as the walking death could be interpreted as a provocation or schism.

Being a goth can also be enjoyable, taking pleasure in the music, the clothes, and one's own particular status in the world. Besides fashion and music, there are a lot of other pastimes within the scene. Goths spend their leisure time with several activities, for one example, reading. Favorites range from classical literature such as Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, or Bram Stoker's Dracula to modern fiction or fantasy literature such as J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings or Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire and others in that series. Goths are very creative, and not only in the arrangement of their own individual style. Nearly all Goth magazines contain extra sections where poems, artwork and pictures can be published. Computer games and live-action role-playing are common activities, too.

In contrast to other subcultures, goths do not want to change society as a political movement. In most cases, goths are seen as apolitical. Another important attribute is nonviolence. Sometimes journalists connect the goth scene with violent behavior. The school shootings of Columbine and Dawson are an example of such false connections. Later investigation showed that the perpetrators were not serious goths.

Beyond that, there is also a darker side to the dark scene suggesting hints of Satanism and racism. Symbols as aspects of simple yet somewhat sinister decoration can be misinterpreted. Religious and mythical animals are favorite symbols, such as Celtic crosses, ankhs, Wiccan pentacles, dragons, bats, skulls, and many more. Wearing such symbols does not have to extend to a deeper meaning or significance, even though some symbols do have ancient religious origins, and some carry more the burden of an additional secondary provocative connotation; for example, the inverted cross, which could indicate Satanism as well as being an early Celtic symbol, or Thor's hammer, which could be interpreted as a relatively modern symbol for racism, as well as having a completely different meaning in mythology. Although such minorities might call themselves goths, there is no real connection to the common gothic subculture.

The mood and aesthetics of the dark side of life have overwhelming importance for those involved in the gothic subculture. Also typical for goths is their fascination of and attraction to ancient times, as well as the world of fantasy and darkness. This documents a reflection of one's own personal life, containing both the good and the bad sides of goth culture: its history, practices, stereotypes, religious connection, and other aspects.

Further Reading
  • Kidzworld, Get the Goods on Goth style [Online April 2008].
  • Morrison, Richard. Whitby Gothic Weekend Is a Lesson in British Tolerance.
  • Porter Smith, Alicia. A Study of Gothic Subculture: An Inside Look for Outsiders [Online April 2008].
  • Koehler, Sina-Mareen
    Copyright 2010 by Shirley R. Steinberg, Michael Kehler, and Lindsay Cornish

    Related Articles

    Full text Article GOTH
    Contemporary Youth Culture: An International Encyclopedia

    The subculture of the goths (in Germany called “grufties”) started in Britain in the early 1980s and derives from the gloomy, resigned side of...

    Full text Article Gothic Rock
    The Penguin English Dictionary

    noun = Goth (2a). ...

    Full text Article Goth Culture
    Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture: A New Companion to the Gothic

    Goth Histories In August 1979, an art school band from Northampton named after a German aesthetic movement released a nine-minute single, recorded in

    See more from Credo