Goth in the mainstream

Fenty x Puma in Harpers Bazaar Black Magic Goth inspired fashionThis week's blog is by guest blogger and Goth expert Steve Cotterill. I've been spotting a lot of Goth-inspired fashion in the mainstream press as it has been quite a feature on the Fall 2016 catwalks. So I asked Steve if he had a view on this. Here are his thoughts on:
  • How the mainstream proliferates Goth
  • Does the mainstream just see Goth as black?
  • The authenticity of Goth in the mainstream

How the mainstream proliferates Goth

Goth in the mainstream - Edward Scissorhands film posterFashion rarely evolves in any significant manner. Most of the time looks and designs are recycled, tweaked to convince the purchaser they are fresh, and then resurrected a few years later with the hope that they will sell anew. Sometimes that is a subtle process, sometimes not so much. Anyone who lived through the 1990s will probably have raised an eyebrow at what passes for 'Grunge' nowadays, perhaps I do not pay enough attention, but there seems to be a dearth of baggy jumpers and Doc Martens in the new range. While things must change, or seem to, the spirit of that movement seems to have been lost in a capitalist grab for a new label. So it is with Gothic, rescued from the wilderness in the 1990s, years after the music scene had gone back underground in the UK (and was picking up in Europe and America). A slice of our very own Fin de Siecle, Gothic clothing came back in a tour de force in the pages of the Observer magazine; though the designers of the time vehemently denied that their black clothes, or graveyard based fashion shoot were in anyway Gothic. This coincided with the growth of Gothic films from Hollywood in the form of Tim Burton's Batman films, and The Crow: the mainstream picking up a trend after it had vanished back into the underground elsewhere.

The same accusation could be made of fashion, with the exception of Alexander McQueen, whose designs consistently mined the grim and Gothic, and whose fashion house continues to do so in the years after his death. Most of what we see in the high street is a recycled effort to sell 'Gothic' as a concept. Like 'sexy' Halloween costumes, it is a poorly understood attempt to cash in on something that the industry does not fully understand, and for that reason alone I am grateful that it is largely a yearly event, black clothes dragged out in the Autumn; a sign that the end of the year is on its way more reliable than the changing colour of the leaves on the trees. There seems to be a misunderstanding that if something is black or purple (in some cases) it is Gothic, but this is rarely true. Black clothes from the mainstream are useful for getting your 'normal look', ways to smuggle your Gothic self into the work place or places where the full effect of the Goth look might not be appreciated.

Does the mainstream just see Goth as black?

In many cases the look is interpreted as 'black with some extra bits', for women, or as unisex Goth in the mainstream - goth-inspired fashion in Harpers Bazaar magazinetee shirts with skulls, dragons, vampires and other designs printed on them. This latter strategy has the advantage of giving the creator a product they can flog across multiple subcultures, encouraging a sad homogeneity in the fashion world of the alternative. Beyond that, accessories such as chokers tend to sell well across the market and, since they're cheap and easy to produce, they can be guaranteed to sell. Whilst I am judgemental on the matter, I do think its good some of the scene's tastes bleeds through into conventional society, even if it does feel like it's a yearly freak show in some respects.

For one thing I know that there are enough people out there who want to 'Goth up' their outfits on occasion, who would be Goths if they felt they could, but have either grown too old, or have too many other responsibilities to be able to carry it off (I am in awe of a couple I see who are Goth as a consumptive bride dying in a graveyard and who have a small child, the upkeep alone must be staggering: small children and subculture can be a difficult mix). For another, it means that my spouse can get clothes she likes without necessarily spending oodles on Goth clothes, which are frequently expensive. For men of course it is more difficult, mainstream society likes us to either get those silly tee shirts, or to stick to the options of wearing business casual, or dressing like our Dads: finding anything truly alternative out on the high street can be a bear.

The authenticity of Goth in the mainstream

Goth in the mainstream - Marc Jacobs in Harpers BazaarDespite these good points, there remains a question of authenticity. If our expression as Goths is prompted by emotions, how can they be replicated by Capitalism apart from in a move to exploit it? How can we look at these clothes and find them to be anything other than useful? They do not espouse the beauty that we seek, and while they look the part they lack authenticity, there is no love that has gone into them. They put me in mind of Hot Topic, an American chain which inadvertently triggered the Steampunk scene's birth when they started advertising themselves as a place where Goths could pick up complete outfits; overlooking that the hunt for your look and style was arguably more important than owning the clothes. While there are plenty of Goths who make do with skinny jeans and black tee shirts, with a pair of Docs of course, that's a look that has a long history, reaching all the way back to the Bat Cave days. It is part of the scene in a way that these outsiders' interpretation of the subject are not. Without wanting to sound precious, or protective, that is important. It is too easy to see the things we love, regardless of subject, diluted to the point where they cease to have any meaning at all, because someone else has decided to exploit them. Thankfully Goth has proved to be rather resistant to these attempts, especially when you consider that it's parent, Punk's, most famous band was manufactured. Existing in a halfway house between out and out rebellion and a mere sartorial expression has protected it, added to its authenticity, despite the yearly assault from the high street. After all the people who merely adopt it as a fashion will fade away, and we will remain.

This blog post was written by Steve Cotterill, a writer, gamer and steampunk/goth. His blog is called Shores of Night. Photos are screenshots from the Harpers Bazaar website. If you would like to become a guest blogger on this website, please contact us.

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Tuesday, 21 November 2017
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Jed Phoenix