First off, there is no Gothic god that will ridicule you for explaining the term ‘Gothic’ incorrectly. It’s a word that is now open to interpretation and has changed its meaning numerous times.
In its unsavoury early beginnings the term Gothic related to a European tribe named the Visigoths. The Visigoths are thought to have played a major part in destroying the Roman Empire. Since the Visigoths existence the word ‘Gothic’ has taken up many guises. It became an Eastern German language and shares an important role within historical literature. It’s also a way to describe particular medieval architecture, as well as Victorian horror novels from the likes of Mary Shelly and Edgar Allan Poe. Nowadays? Well, the definition of Gothic is very different.
At least since the late 70s, Gothic has been the adopted name for a particular subculture, a subculture that started in England and stretching across the land. It’s embedded in dark power, a culture that embraces sombre, darkness, hurt and fully detaches itself from mainstream fabrication.
The undercurrent provided by previous eras still rings true within contemporary Gothic scenes. The romance and horror of 19th century Gothic literature is still connected to the modern day Gothic scene, but fashion and music are now the core factors in determining a Gothic style.
It’s a hotly debated subject but it’s suggested that the term Gothic was first applied to music by Siouxsie Sioux of the Banshees. She apparently used the phrase to describe her bands fresh new direction. Yet the significant breakthrough came when Anthony H. Wilson famously described Joy Division as Gothic. Although they were known for downbeat and emotional lyrics, the suggestion that Joy Division were Gothic soon became lampooned, and it was over to the likes of Bauhaus, The Damned, UK Decay and Sex Gang Children to fly the true Gothic flag in the late 70s.
In the 80s Gothic music began to boom and it saw a whole host of acts from across the globe pitching in. What was predominantly a UK scene had now stepped over the pond and impressed America. In the mid 80s Gothic and Industrial nights were advertised in many American nightclubs, these niche events attracted impressive footfall for such a new fad.
From 80s, 90s and more recent times the Gothic music scene has been split up into multiple factions. It is no longer a singular sound subculture with original Goth, miscellaneous Goth, mellow Goth, metal / industrial Goth, experimental / occult Goth and new Goth all playing a part in Gothic music. One thing that still remains intact throughout is that shady guideline of sorrow, attitude, romance and death.
Depending on the specification of the subculture, Gothic fashion pinches styles from an array of eras, you can find influences from Medieval, Elizabethan and Victorian clothing. Whether it’s deemed intentional and meaningful, many Gothic accessories show appreciation towards religion, paganism and Satanism, using symbolic features to decorate their outfits.
The archetypal Goth applies black hair dye, uses dark eye liner and paints their nails with black polish. They can sometimes have piercings, although it’s not thought to be a determining factor on whether someone is Gothic or not. Gothic fashion can sometimes be mixed up with heavy metal fashion and emo fashion, with many outsiders brandishing anyone with a long black coat as a Goth.
The consistent theme for the Gothic look is a mysterious, dark and a curious one. Just like Gothic music their appearance is far removed from mainstream popular culture. Having said this, the Gothic subculture is one of the longest lasting. It’s stood the test of time and has evolved in its own graceful way.
Unless you’re part of the group it’s unfair to pass judgement on what a Gothic is, feels or means. And even if you do, they probably won’t care.