Looking the Part

One thing I’m consistently thrown by is the focus on appearance in goth. “Black lipstick does not a goth make.” Someone will cry out at a Tumblr post, and in the same breath to someone else “This person doesn’t look goth at all.” You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t it seems. It’s not even limited to young trolls hunting for prey, people well into the culture start this madness too. So where and how do we draw the line. 

What are we saying when something isn’t goth? Here’s what I’ve learned so far. There’s a fair amount of wiggle room that radiates out from the core collection of familiar goth styles (Victorian, 80s, Tribal, Cyber, and Corporate there’s more but you get my drift). The further out you deviate from easily recognizable styles, the more likely you are to be seen as pseudo goth. This does not necessarily mean you’re doing it wrong, (then you would be seen as a  poseur or abusing the label) but it’s just not as recognizable. 

But then anything can be goth can’t it? Not quite. I’m going to say something, and some of you are going to not like it. People make the goth culture, the goth culture does not make people. In this way, particularly when it comes to appearance, it’s an indirect democracy. By sharing, liking, comment on the looks, we enjoy, as individuals who use the label goth, become a collective as accepting this thing as goth. The more approval associated with the use of the label, the more it’s accepted in the wiggle room we were talking about earlier. 

So if I like a few things consistently seen with the goth label, then I’m goth right? Nope. Goth is a label you choose for yourself. For many us, it means a great deal of the stuff we’re interested in also falls into the goth category. It also means we would be interested in those things even without their carrying of the label. The label is useful for conversations where we’re asked what we’re interested, goth is established enough that it covers a fair amount in a single word. We’ve probably read Dracula, we probably like Halloween a great deal more than a non goth, fall and winter are most likely when we do the most shopping. Note the “probably” and “most likely”. Our using the label narrows the possibilities of similar interests to a slightly smaller pool. So we can both identify as goth but we have different ways of interpreting that label, (i.e. I like Victorian inclined goth more than a friend who is heavy on the 80s, but we are both still goth.) 

Basically…We live in a world where appearance is heavily coupled with worthiness. If you look a certain way it can either help or hinder you. In Goth culture, a lot of things are considered important in the identifying as a goth. If you only focus on appearance, it will soon become obvious that’s all you cared about (and why I suspect some people “grow out of it”). Typically when you call yourself a goth, you are identifying with the lifestyle part of it which is made up of all these parts. That’s why you can’t accurately and shouldn’t even try to judge a goth by their clothing. 

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Until next time,



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