Goth: Going Beyond Black Lipstick

Humanity is fascinated by darkness, despite the constant drive towards purity and cleanliness in all aspects of life

Photo by Hannah Troupe on Unsplash

Do you ever feel drawn to black clothing, a dark room, or a good horror movie? Do you find solace in Tarot, Magick or understanding the darker complexities of the mind? If any person around you discovers these curiosities within you, the first word-as if to be a threat- thrown at you is this: GOTH.

The Goth subculture brings darkness to the forefront of societal cultures and acknowledges the fascination people feel regarding the “dark side” of reality. It acknowledges beauty in darkness, despite teachings from the very beginning persuading societies that darkness was akin to evil. Through the continuous human obsession with cleanliness and purity, there is a constant fascination with the forbidden parts of our deepest humanity. If humanity is to deny the darker parts of self, then they are to deny a significant part of their existence. This existence, explored by thinking, feeling and perceiving ourselves is greatly explored in the Goth subculture.

To Feel: Breaking the Shell of Purity

Photo by Austin Prock on Unsplash

Using music to express and explore oneself has been used for centuries, from when Indigenous tribes would sing to connect themselves with spirits, to present day where music is a continual flow of experimentation and expression of identity. The Goth subculture utilizes this by employing dark themes of night, death, and philosophical understandings to portray the feeling of darkness. Unlocking the beauty behind previously taboo discussions such as death, self exploration and sexuality shows our continual curiosity to continue to explore such concepts. There is a unique human awareness of death that many animals do not consciously have. As humanity explores religion, faith and life after death, there is a spectrum of emotions and experience that follow this realization. To some, this journey becomes a fascination and search for truth. Understanding the truly tragic nature of existence and the fear of life beyond death is commonly expressed through music.

Goth music often looks beyond contemporary (read: pop) topics of money, sex and acquiring partners, and instead often focuses on deeper aspects of humanity.

“The man whose eyes were sore from obscenities, Kept on looking
The man whose heart bled, killed by compassion, Kept on feeling 
The man whose legs buckled under exertion, Kept on running
The man whose ears burned to the sound of his own name, Kept on listening”
Bauhaus, Hair of the Dog

Listen to the song here

Bauhaus’ Hair of the Dog pushes beyond superficial desires and looks to more philosophical meaning. Despite hardship or perhaps despite insanity, they persisted. Above all pain and suffering, human beings persist.

I’m waiting for the night to fall
I know that it will save us all
When everything’s dark, keeps us from the stark reality
I’m waiting for the night to fall
When everything is bearable
There in the still
All that you feel is tranquility
Depeche Mode, Waiting for the Night

Listen to the song here

This song, musically and lyrically touches on the polar opposite of clean, bright and happy living. It describes this longing for the other part of themselves. There’s a literal description of how they are waiting for the night, but they are also waiting for the opportunity to access a part of life that makes them feel at peace. It discusses the concept that some people may be more comfortable with exploring the darker aspects of life. Although Depeche Mode is not considered classic goth music, it’s gothic roots follow the path of dark discovery in the subculture.

To Think: A Darker Side of Ourselves & the Full Spectrum of the Human Experience

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Carl Jung, although not a common influence on Goth subculture, also discusses the darker side of life, which he calls “The Shadow” archetype, and how this is the reservoir for creativity. In Jungian context, The Shadow is often projected as negative qualities in others, or in dreams as same sex antagonists. This is a part of our humanity that we must understand in order to harness and control properly. There is beauty in this ability to go beyond and understand this suppressed piece of our humanity. We cannot control something we do not understand. If we have no understanding, we have no choice.

“To become conscious of it [the shadow] involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore,. as a rule, meets with considerable resistance.” (Jung)

Another philosophical being, William Shakespeare, touches upon this feeling of darkness and the full human experience in a variety of his work. Although not necessarily an icon of the Goth subculture, the knowledge and passion for literature is a core aspect of the subculture. Shakespearean philosophies are not only classic pieces of literature, but form many dark characterizations throughout their bodies of work.

“To sleep, perchance to dream — ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause. There’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life.” (Hamlet)

During this monologue, Hamlet is alone, contemplating life and death among a complicated tragedy. He is seen referencing dreams, but fears of the afterlife. Hamlet fears that his earthly sorrows will follow him into the mysterious afterlife.

Edgar Allan Poe, a popular Goth poet, speaks widely about death and the contemplations of life among the human experience. In many of his works, we see prominent thematic influences of the human condition. From the tortures in the The Pit and the Pendulum, to the macabre nature of The Raven, to the deepest cellars of Amontillado, and intertwined into The Premature Burial, we see these themes. We see the unlocking of the human condition- the discovery of the darker side of ourselves.

“The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the ones ends and where the other begins? […] But where, meantime, was the soul?” (Edgar Allan Poe, The Premature Burial)

This quote is one of thousands throughout Poe’s dark short stories and poems.

To Be Perceived: An external medium to explore internal values

Photo by Darren Nunis on Unsplash

Fashion is one of the main pieces of the Goth subculture along with the music and philosophical values. The external factor of identification and defying the herd mentality, Goth fashion experiments with shock value. There are many types of goth fashion (a subculture within a subculture, if you may) but the most common type is “Trad Goth” which explores extreme makeup, and multiple textures amongst primarily black clothing.

Anjelica Huston as Morticia Addams

From classic Goth Icons like Siouxie Sioux, Peter Murphy and Morticia Addams, we see a trend of black clothing that plays with texture and silhouette.

Siouxie Sioux in Trad Goth Makeup and Clothing

In beauty, we see men and women expressing themselves with makeup that includes dark lips, blackened eyes and pale skin. Created using theatrical beauty products, makeup is a common characteristic of Goth that continues to be utilized today

Darya Goncharova in a modern interpretation of Trad Goth

Modern interpretations of goth are filling the pages of many fashion blogs, and becoming increasingly popular in younger age groups. Brands like Killstar, Widow, and Punk Rave are some of the largest brands in the alternative and goth scene and push the nu-goth and modern interpretations forward around the world. Simplifying a complex culture of fashion leaves many “Elders” (Elder Goths: established goths normally older in age) feeling lost with the direction of the current subculture, but these more simplistic fashion directions bring a unique juxtaposition of simplicity amongst a variety of textures and materials commonly seen in the dress of those who are a part of the subculture.

Sarah Dee wearing NuGoth fashion and Makeup

One of the many things that nu-goth and goth lovers struggle with is the relationship to when goth is appropriate. Some people, myself included, wear normal (or “normie”) attire in specific environments to prevent excessive scrutiny. Nu-goth does attempt to bridge the gap to create a more accepted and more modern take on the subculture. In this photo I am wearing a simple black tank top, layered with a loose crocheted top, and a waist cinch in place of a traditional corset.

*Authors Note: Yes, this is me! One of the main reasons why I wrote this piece was because of how much love and respect I have for the subculture.*

Conclusion: A Lifestyle of Understanding

The Goth subculture becomes a creation and exploration of some of the deepest curiosities as human beings, and many can argue that in the exploration of such darkness, we find a deeper connection to ourselves. We find ourselves amongst the immense societal pressures of cleanliness and modern trends, and continue to learn the beauty of the finer and darker things in life. Amongst darker contrast to normal societal trends, we see a group of individuals that value art, introspection, a good black smoky eye and how their presence relates to the world around them. To feel, think and perceive this way of expressing ourselves allows us to completely experience the human condition.

Further Reading and Exploration:

If you would like to dive deeper into the Goth subculture, here are some of my favourite Gothic treasures:

  1. Collected Tales and Poems: Edgar Allan Poe
    (The holy grail of Goth literature, in my opinion)
  2. Angela Benedict
    (My personal favourite. An Elder Goth that I follow on YouTube who discusses Goth related issues and educates people on the subculture.)
  3. Kat Von D
    (Political views aside, she makes some beautiful goth inspired art and music)
  4. The Sisters of Mercy
    (A great Goth band with heavy ties to the subculture. Lucretia My Reflection is a personal favourite from their discography)
  5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
    (Aside from anything else goth related, this ties beautifully into many philosophical concepts. Highly recommended reading!)
  6. Punk Rave Clothing
    (Beautiful Goth and Punk style clothing that, in my opinion, accurately represent the textures and silhouettes of Goth history)
  7. Freyja aka “ItsBlackFriday”
    (One of the most popular Goth vloggers in the world)