All About Gothic Fashion

What we should’ve learned from this subculture

I’ll start by saying that I was not a part of the gothic subculture. I loved the goth look and would wear random accessories like spiked bracelets and black clothing. However, I was never brave enough to go “full goth” like some of my friends did.

The gothic subculture became popular in the 1980s, originating in the United Kingdom after the popularity of the punk subculture waned.

The main influence of the gothic subculture was 19th-century films and literature and similar to other subcultures, its roots are in music. The Cure, Blue Oyster Cult, and Depeche Mode influenced gothic people in the 1980s, and they rocked out to Marilyn Manson, Orgy, Tori Amos, and Rammstein in the 1990s.

The goth style is all about darkness and contrast: The white powdered makeup, black hair, black lipstick, and the septum ring (nose ring that pierces the middle of the nostril).

A goth’s style is described now as eerie, artistic, and mysterious. When I was younger, gothic people were called “freaks”.

In 2020, many staples of goth fashion are now trendy.

The Septum Ring

The septum ring is actually a cultural symbol: The Mayans, Aztecs, and Incan people were the trailblazers of this accessory. The septum ring was seen as a rite of passage gained after a man experienced a soul-searching trip into the wild.

For many North American Aboriginal tribes, it was the symbol of a warrior.

When people in the gothic or punk subculture wore a septum piercing in the 1990s, it became a symbol of rebellion and also the butt of many jokes. I remember adults and kids comparing people who wore the septum ring to pigs.

In 2020, you cant walk down the street without seeing a girl with a decorative septum ring. Today, it is looked at as being beautiful, because Lady Gaga and the Kardashians wore one.

In the 1990s, the beach blonde California look was the “in” look. Anything that didn’t conform to this esthetic, was considered to be in the “freak” or “geek” category.

I will always admire my goth friends, many of whom were relentlessly tortured in school for being different and they could’ve changed to suit the norm, but they didn’t.

Pale Skin

The goth people used skin whitening makeup to appear pale. As a young girl who was ashamed of my pale skin, I never understood this fashion statement but I also never shamed anyone for it. Live and let live!

Gothic people want to achieve a contrast between their black hair and their skin so they whiten their skin to achieve this look.
In the 1990s, this contrast made a person “stand out”, it was another source of ridicule for the people in the goth subculture.

The bad zombie jokes were abundant.

In 2020, pale skin is not “in” and I don’t think it ever will be. People equivocate being tanned with being healthy and most people think everyone looks better with a tan.

Black Lipstick

Black lipstick was also a fashion staple in the gothic subculture. It created another contrast with their white skin and matched the black hair goth people liked to wear.

Black lipstick was worn by the Egyptian women in 4000BC. These fashion trailblazers even had their own makeup kits! Archeologists have found wooden boxes the Eqyptian people used to store their makeup. Typically, women in the Egyptian culture were buried with two pots of rouge in their tomb.

In the film noir days, black lipstick was a commonly worn makeup product, due to the grainy, grey film quality, the actresses needed to wear a lipstick that stood out on camera.

It was not worn in public, only in film.

In the late 1970s, Manic Panic created the first commercially sold black lipstick named Raven. In the 1980s and 1990s, black and blue lipstick made a comeback.

The gothic subculture brought black lipstick back but it didn’t “go over” well. It was another source of hilarity for people who liked to make fun of gothic people.

“What’s up with your lips? You look dead” — Every dad in the 1990s

Black and blue lipstick were cool then, and it’s less cool now. I think it’s because every young woman is wearing it.

When the mainstream adopts a fashion trend that’s unique like black or blue lipstick, it takes the unique rebellion out of it.

Especially when Kylie Jenner (Kardashian?) is responsible for its resurgence.


I LOVE corsets. They are not comfortable, but damn, they look good! I think it’s the lace-up back that I love. I definitely rocked a corseted dress with a sewn-in tutu in my 20s.

The corset was originally worn in Ancient Greece and was also a fashion staple of women in the French court. It was typically worn under dresses to give the illusion of an hourglass figure. The corsets of the olden days were VERY binding and even changed the shape of women’s bodies.

For the women who wore corsets, beauty equaled pain.

The corsets from the 1990s were a lot more comfortable than the ones worn by our ancestors. They had plastic boning as opposed to metal boning. They were also worn with the corset as the fashion statement instead of hidden under clothing.

In the 1990s and 2000s, designers such as Jean-Paul Gauthier used corsets in their fashion lines.

Corsets were also mocked in the 1990s, looked at as “slut fashion”. There was a sexual element to gothic fashion and the corset exemplified this.

In 2020, I still see young women wearing corsets while clubbing. I don’t think they ever went out of style. The fact that they are cute but also serve a purpose has made them a fashion staple for many young women.

With the new (and awesome) body-positive outlook society has embraced, I do foresee the popularity of corsets waning. The function of the corset is rooted in women having to look a certain way, but I still love them.

Combat Boots

There’s nothing cooler than a patterned pair of Doc Martins.

Combat boots are worn by men in the military. They are lace-up, usually black boots with a sturdy leather exterior, rubber outsole, and a steel toe.

The creator of the Dr.Marten boots, Klaus Märtens was a German doctor in World War Two. He injured his ankle while hiking, and found that his army-issued boots were not comfortable to wear with his injured ankle.

While he was recovering from his injury, he designed improvements to the boots, with soft leather and air-padded soles made of tires. He decided to market his creation to make money after the war.

Klaus did not have much success selling his shoes until he met up with an old friend from college, Herbert Funck in Munich in 1947. Herbert was intrigued by the new shoe design, and the two went into business together in Germany. They used discarded rubber from German airfields to make a new version of the boots, which garnered attention from the fashion scene in Europe.

In the 1980s and 1990s, punks and gothic people wore these boots as a fashion statement.

Today, in 2020, Doc Martens are still very popular and everyone is wearing them. In fact, I saw a pair covered in flowers in the Soft Moc shop window that I would love to have! (a hint to my husband).

It appears that subcultures have disappeared in 2020. We no longer see people walking around being purely punk, goth, or raver. The subcultures have blended together and everyone seems to wear what they want.

It’s sad that something like the septum piercing, which was so heavily ridiculed in the 1990s, is now worn by the mainstream and is considered “hot”.

Many people who made fun of gothic people in high school are proudly wearing the septum piercing and black lipstick in 2020, free from scorn.

The way this piercing was talked about in past decades was very racist and oppressive and I doubt some of the people wearing it in 2020 know about its roots in Aboriginal culture.

The gothic subculture was very controversial in the 1990s, people took one look at gothic people and thought they were sacrificing animals and drinking blood behind closed doors.

The gothic subculture was actually showing us that we can have fun with fashion and use our clothing to express an emotion.

In 2020, people are wearing whatever they want and having fun with fashion: Something we should’ve learned to do from the goth subculture long ago.

Amy Sarah is a freelance writer who hails from a small city in Canada. She enjoys interacting with fellow writers, dreaming of ideas for her next article, and researching a myriad of topics.

Originally published at on July 24, 2020.

Wife, mother, and researcher of a myriad of subjects. I love to write about anything and everything! Writer for The Startup, Better Marketing, & The Ascent👊

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