A History of Counterculture: Goth

Exploring the darker side of society through the decades.

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From poodle skirts to Instaglam, and cloche hats to bell bottoms, the history of mainstream fashion is well-known to the everyday fashionista. But not all aspects of fashion are mainstream. This semester, I’ll be exploring the history of counterculture movements – and how they differ from the fashion history you already know.

This week, I’ll be talking about a subculture that emerged in the late 1970s. While the world was rocking halter jumpsuits and platforms to disco clubs, the early goths were wearing dramatic makeup and black clothing to read Anne Rice’s famous vampire novels.

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Table of Contents


The earliest influences of the goth subculture come out of the Romanticism movement centuries earlier. Authors like Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, and Bram Stoker did not shy away from such topics as the supernatural, the macabre, and the undead – which was unsettling and shocking to their readers. Gothic rock musicians took these themes of darkness, loneliness, and gloom into their lyrics.

The goth aesthetic grew out of post-punk, which was an avant-garde offshoot of the punk movement (which I’ll be discussing at length in a few weeks). Punk style contributed spiked-up hair, rebellion against society’s norms, and fashion elements such as fishnet and combat boots, to gothic fashion.


Gothic fashion notably includes dramatic silhouettes emulating Victorian mourning clothing, including flowing sleeves, long skirts, and corsets – all, of course, in all black. Popular fabrics include lace, leather, and velvet.

Accessories may be dark or silver, and could be studded – often featuring either mythological or anti-religious symbols such as Celtic crosses and pentagrams. In its early days, goth fashion was hard to find in stores, so wearers had to make their own clothes.

Gothic makeup features pale skin, dark eyeliner, dark nail polish, and dark lipstick applied to emphasize the cupid’s bow and the corners of the mouth; and is worn by both men and women. Brows are often plucked off and drawn on in a different shape.

Hair may be in a punk-inspired style – i.e., teased, spiked, and partly shaved – or long and smooth (especially with a short, v-shaped bang), but is always dark and dramatic.


Today, many elements of the goth aesthetic have moved into the mainstream. Many current fashion trends, such as corsets and bell sleeves, have gothic influences. Current makeup trends also reflect Gothic sensibilities, with dark colored lips, dramatic winged eyeliner, and precisely tweezed brows coming back into style.

The goth aesthetic itself has broadened considerably since its inception, with looks such as pastel goth, steampunk, and cybergoth putting their own spin on the original dark, romantic, and moody style.


Are you interested in the dark, arcane, or occult? What countercultures do you find most interesting? Let us know in the comments below.

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