History of the Gothic (Goth) Subculture

Most people in society today are basically familiar with the goth subculture – at least to the point where they can identify someone wearing the stereotypical goth garb as a “goth”. But not nearly as many people really understand what it means to be goth or what the history of the goth subculture is. Like many other subcultures, the true goth style has changed over time as the goth subculture has been adopted by more of the mainstream culture. To really understand what true goth individuals are all about, you have to go back to the beginnings of the goth history.

And to understand goth history, you have to have a basic understanding of the punk rock movement, particularly as it played out in the late 1970’s in European countries. That’s because the history of the goth movement began as the 1970’s turned into the 1980’s and some of the people who associated with the punk rock movement moved on to form their own social niche group within punk rock – the group that ultimately came to be known as goth.

So, pre-dating the goth history was the punk rock history. The most important thing to understand about this is that the punk rock subculture was formed around the central idea of a group of young people rejecting the society from which they came. They rejected mainstream social values and religious values in favor of questioning the norm and establishing their own subculture. This rejection of the mainstream society in favor of a different approach to life was not only at the core of the punk rock movement but also at the core of the goth subculture.

Popular history disagrees somewhat on the origin of the term “goth”. Some sources say that the label was first applied to this subculture of people by a man named Anthony H. Wilson who was the manager of the band Joy Division. In a description of the band’s music, he used the term “gothic” as an anti-thesis to the mainstream culture’s popular music. Other sources say that the term first arose in a 1981 magazine article about the post-punk movement that was written by a man named Steve Keaton. Whatever the origin, the term began to be used regularly and soon was shortened to “goth” and associated with a particular subculture of the punk rock movement.

By 1982, a club had opened up in London called The Batcave which appealed specifically to the people who were coming together as part of the goth subculture. This club was a place where the messages of the goth people were advertised and the individuals interested in those messages could gather together. In effect, it served as a meeting place for the early movers and shakers of what was coming to be known as the goth subculture. This was also a place where the fashion and music styles of the goth subculture were more firmly established.

So what does it mean to be goth? As a general rule, this subculture has certain fashions and musical preferences associated with it. In fact, it is important to note that the history of goth culture can’t be separated from the musical history of the people who came to be known as “goth”. The devotion to certain “goth” bands was strong at the start of the subculture’s emergence and remains a key part of being goth today – although there are now more and more varied bands to choose from as a member of this subculture. Certain strong fashion preferences have also been highly associated with the goth culture.

The word most commonly associated with these styles is “dark”. The people who identify as goth usually wear dark clothing and dark make-up, watch horror (or “dark”) movies and read horror books and listen to “dark” bands that may also self-identify as part of the goth subculture. Beyond this general image of what it means to be “goth”, it is highly difficult to define what “goth” is due in part to the anti-political, anti-social nature of the group and in part to the fact that there are now many different subcultures within the subculture of the goth movement.

What has happened as the goth subculture has grown is that there have become smaller groups within the group that are defined by the people who self-identify as goth to further individualize themselves from one another. These different groups may have varying beliefs, different preferred styles of dress and tend to like certain “goth” bands more than others. In other words, the two-decade-plus history of the goth subculture has given it enough time to grow large enough to have splitting within the group itself. And enough time has passed that we can reasonably look back on the history of the subculture to try to better understand what it’s all about!

 

 

 

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Comments 24 comments

limpet profile image

limpet 2 months ago from London England

Greetings Darklings!

New on the Goth scene is BJORK after almost 4 decades entertaining us in 'pop', punk rock, grunge and eclectic music. For her current stage appearances Bjork could not be more outrageous (senses provocking) with such as her ostentatious costumery. Bjork has had a symbol tatooed on her left arm which a the Icelandic 'vegvisir' a mystical directional signpost sigil.

sweet dreams!

the limpet


limpet profile image

limpet 11 months ago from London England

I'll take the Goth sub culture over any of the other diversions. Their 'bohemian' style attitudes are take us for what we are, we mean no harm to any one.


limpet profile image

limpet 2 years ago from London England

Greetings Darklings

Today i viewed the short film clip 'Darling, do you love me?' (1968)

depicting a Germaine Greer as a Vamp outrageously attired and heavily made up for the part. Ms Greer's dance routine predates that of Kate Bush by some 15 years but for it's time very surreal and quite bizarre to say the least. The sinister apparition this Lady portrays is taunting a male mutant too docile for a reaction!

Sweet dreams


GreenDayLover61696 4 years ago

This article does tell what goths are basically about, but we are really about individualism. People tend to be afraid of what they don't know. And what people don't know is, that goths arent dark depressing souls who hang in the shadows and look dead all day. Goths express individualism. Most goths are actually Christian or Catholic, believe it or not (im a baptized Christian myself.) We dress the way we do to make they point that "I do this because i can. If you want to judge me, go ahead. I wont care. No matter how i dress, God loves me and I love God." Jesus Christ himself what rediculed for what he believed and how he acted. Goths are judged day in and day out, being called "emo" or "devil worshipper" or "suicidal." Because of the fear of the uknown. So next time your out and about and see someone who looks different, lay off. They are just being who they want to be. Much like you.


Chris Neal profile image

Chris Neal 4 years ago from Fishers, IN

Interesting article. A bit general, I would have liked a little more detail (I know, I'm being nitpicky.) I know that in-depth analysis of the evolution and history of goth is not the scope of this article, but I think you romanticized the roots of punk a bit. In England, the punk credo was "We have no future," because it developed at a time when unemployment was running amok and many thought Thatcher had sold them out. That's why the snarling, vituperative Sex Pistols were such perfect poster boys for it. And I always wondered how Siouxsie and the Banshees, which originally featured Sid Vicious on drums, had actually changed when they stopped being classified as punk and started being called goth.

Still, nice little overview.


main goths 4 years ago

It's very interesting. Thanks for info.


MPChris profile image

MPChris 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Its interesting to read about the subculture. I am big into metal, and often as a result, some people think I'm Gothic. I don't consider myself so.

However, I had a hard time defining what 'gothic' was, other than I wasn't apart of it.


RedxVelvet profile image

RedxVelvet 5 years ago from California, United States

This has been proven to be a very useful article. Thank you.


miss_jkim profile image

miss_jkim 6 years ago

Every era has its own subculture, the youth who want to rebel and be different.

The Zoot-Suit’s of the 20's & 30's, the beatniks of the 40's and 50's, the hippies of the 60's, punks of the 70's and Goth's of the 80's.

There is really nothing new under the sun. We now have generation X'ers and who knows what lay ahead. I’m quite sure it will be interesting to see.


Gothic 6 years ago

Cool, Love your hub.


girl_gone_mad 6 years ago

misunderstood by society. and so intruiging. thanks for the info; goth is my favourite subculture


Trohnjem profile image

Trohnjem 6 years ago from Oregon

I kind of dig the scene goth look lol not for me, not everyday lol but I chill with it and I definitely don't mind it. However, for teens, not for adults. I hate that they dress like that and they have three kids and 200 boyfriends and bitch about not being able to hold a job because "they get judged by the man" really? you got to look respectable to get respected. But I still think it looks cool lol.


brandyBachmann profile image

brandyBachmann 6 years ago

interesting hub! it's nice to know how "goth" came to be because there are a lot of people,mostly teenagers, who just adopted the fashion or belief of a goth without truly knowing it's history. great job!


Denny Saloon profile image

Denny Saloon 6 years ago from Surabaya, Indonesia

Unfortunately, in my country, Indonesia, totto has a negative conotations. A crime. But this article give me a lot of informations. Nice to read.


Suzanne Alicie profile image

Suzanne Alicie 7 years ago

This is a wonderfully informative hub, my son went through a goth phase and I was shocked by both the apparel and music, having a better understanding of the culture would have made me a more understanding parent.


sabbatha1 profile image

sabbatha1 7 years ago from patriciamccarty@rocketmail.com

Enter into the dark side of the Goth world very interesting. Nice hub!


gothic 7 years ago

nice dark hub, i have been gothic all my life and keeping it dark all the time :)


Kimberly Bunch profile image

Kimberly Bunch 7 years ago from EAST WENATCHEE

Very cool.


princessMAR profile image

princessMAR 7 years ago from Texas

Very interesting and exciting to read. I love to hear the origins of all things especially in relation to humans and their social aspects.


Ehn2 7 years ago

this an informative page.. this must be read by everybody so for them to learn how and why goths are there. and this must be helpful fos those who identifies theirselves as goths though they're damn not..

junesa


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa

Thanks for the interesting Hub. I have often wondered about the Goth sub-culture as it seems so foreign to me - all those piercings and things! But I like to understand and know about different things and people. Thanks again.

Love and peace,

Tony


Single Goths 7 years ago

Nice Hub, yes most people are familiar with the goth scene, familiar to the point of crossing to the different side of the road or cursing them out...


Reynolds_Writing profile image

Reynolds_Writing 8 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

I love the Goth look. Dark, black, tattoos.


Marson321 profile image

Marson321 8 years ago from Lenoir, NC

Very Cool!

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