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What Is a Goth? A Guide to the Goth Subculture.

Updated on April 10, 2020
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Metromain got years of self-education in fashion, music and subculture and knows a lot from synth and rock to cybergoth and dieselpunk.

Goth is not:

  • A satanic worship circle.
  • About scaring people.
  • Only dressed in black.
  • Always depressed.
  • Only dressed in clothes labeled as alternative.
  • Listening to metal because amateur sees it as "goth".
  • An attention seeker.

Goth is born from a music genre in the 80's, but had evolved to something much bigger since then. It's not all about "Goth rock", it's a lifestyle...


In the later part of the 19:th-century, blues come to be in the southern states in USA. It was a genre by the African-American for the working class. It was music made of a mix with cultural music and work-songs. And blues was a very important genre that gave us jazz, R&B and (most important for goth) rock & roll in the late 40's. Rock & roll gave us the electric guitar.

In the 70's, the punk genre came to be as a revolt towards everything, including the greasers with their rock & roll. Punk took the greasers music equipment and made something clearly homemade. If it hadn't been for the punk movement, we haven't had the subcultures we have now. Sure, there was fappler, greaser and hippies before punk, but how wildly spread are those now?

In the 80's, punk reached the post-punk era and got divided in a large amount of subgenres. Three very important is: industrial (synthesized with aggressive tones), new wave (synthesized with livelier tones) and goth rock (mature with darker tones). And the followers of goth rock was goths.

But there is more to that now. Goth rock band (such as Bauhaus, The Cure and Sixous and the Banshees) is fundamental in the goth subculture, but there is also a more electronic genre under the gothic umbrella, called darkwave.

Blondie pioneered the new wave movement and introduced the synth to punk. And because of that, band such as Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode could push new waves limit by taking back some harsh sound from punk. And that inspired to create industrial from punk. And industrial later evolved to darkwave (like goth rock, but more electronic).

But it's even more to the modern goth than goth rock and darkwave. And it's a genre that actually isn't considered goth, but many goth listen to it anyway. It's the alternative rock.

Rock have and will never die. It had evolved since rock & roll. And in the 80's, when rock had to coexist with punk for a decade, some of the rocker liked the thought from the punk about a revolt and being unique. And thus create the alternative.

So I would say that the modern goth mainly consists of goth rock, darkwave and alternative. But one genre that is not goth in any way, is metal. A goth may listen to metal if he/she likes the sound, but knows it isn't goth.

Metal is blues that took inspiration from its child, rock & roll after the 60's and the psychedelic era.

The description of a goth

In addition to being a subculture, it's also a building style from the medieval and a literature style in horror. And those are big parts of the goth subculture today.

A goth embrace the dark side of things, but don't deny the bright side. When the world tries to stay bright and stay away from depression, a goth knows that it can't get bright if it wasn't dark before. Evil forces must exist for someone to do good. How can you be happy about life if you haven't had any obstacles.

If you ask a real goth if they are a goth, they will try to avoid the subject or deny it. And that is because they don't want the label, even if it's positive. They are just themselves without suppression. They might be depressed, but they ride it thru untill happiness occur.

A goth is open-minded to other cultures. They aren't seen as less goth if they have Taylor Swift in their playlist.

Because of this open-mind and not suppressing the sad things, a true goth are more mentally stable than a mainstream person. And that allows them to get rather intelligent and creative.

Busting stereotypes

  • That weird kid over there is a goth - False - He may be a goth, but he isn't weird. He just thinks it's beter to sit by himself instead with some fake losers.
  • A goth always complains about not having any friends - False - That only occurs in your head when you see him alone. Matter of fact, he may have lots of friend, both goths and non-goths.
  • A goth only listen to death metal - False - Metal isn't even associated with goths. They may listen to it anyways because they like it tho. But it sounds like you should educate yourself in different music genres.
  • Satanist worshiping is a regular Friday-night activity - False - Why on earth would that be so? Sure, God is a nobody without the devil. But you don't even have to be a christian to be a goth. It's ridiculous that you can't think of muslims and hindus as goths.
  • Everything needs to be black - False - Black may be a beautiful color, but so is white. And white needs to exist to create depths in a black world. And purple, red, green, copper and blue are also needed if you don't want to be so black and white.
  • Every clothing item need to be bought from an alternative store - False - Why? If you think so, you miss all the wonderful clothes from H&M's basic collection. It's great and cheap and can be pared and modified with so much.
  • A goth is depressed and suicidal - False - How then can the goth been around since the 80's if they all had killed themselves? A true goth is a happy goth with a sense of humor and is great to be around.
  • You can't be a friend to a goth if you don't like morbid stuff - False - Goths are humans with real hobbies. Do you really think every goths are only into cemetary picnics and reading horror at the library. No. And a goth embrace the whole life-cycle. Death and morbid stuff are equal to birth and fun things. Romance and bitter-sweetness is both a part of the culture.


A goth is mainly dressed dark and wears a thick eyeliner, regardless of sex. But the rest is dependent on which type of goth you are. There aren't one style, it's bigger than that.

I had divided the culture in six different subculture which I'm about to write down. But I know that there is more, this is just to get you started. And keep in mind that these are my my words and not sets of rules.

  • Original - Listening to The Cure - Dresses like an original punk (not like one that does it as a fashion statement that over-decorate with safety-pins and padlocks), but more self-aware. They don't dress with something random but rather real mens clothing like a shirt and tie with a blazer over.
  • Classic - Listening to anything gothic played on an organ - This is the one that fancy the clothes worn by the classic Vladimir Dracula. Timeless, but really stands out.
  • Occult - Listening to Switchblade Symphony - These are the one that isn't complete without at least some pentagrams on their outfit. And these ar probably a product of the fashion industry fed on stereotypes.
  • Industrial - Listening to Skinny Puppy - The clothes are a mix between military clothes and industrial work-wear with a hint of fetish-clothes. Think thick cargo-pants and a welders jacket, accessorizes with lots of chains.
  • Elegant - Listening to SRSQ - A female dominated subculture that prefer to look classy and elegant with dresses with lace and decorative leather-bands.
  • Cyber Listening to VNV Nation - These are the one with long trench-coats and welding-goggles. They lives in the future and lives for movies like Tron Legacy and The Matrix.

Goth in media

As goth is more than fashion and music, there have to be more. Like movies and books.

Movies (to name a few):

  • Underworld
  • The Matrix
  • Tron Legacy
  • The Addams Family
  • The Exorcist
  • Sweeney Todd
  • Tim Burtons Batman
  • Corpse bride

Books (to name a few):

  • Mary Shelley - Frankenstein
  • Bram Stoker - Dracula
  • Robert Louis Stevenson - Strange case of dr. Jeckyll & mr Hyde
  • Robert Bloch - Psycho
  • Washington Irving - The legend of Sleepy Hollow
  • Stephen King - The Shining
  • Victor Hugo - The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
  • Edgar Allan Poe - Ligeia


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