As we develop new platforms and forms of communication, we benefit from seeing the proliferation of thought among online communities. Communities that are niche, and would not normally have a sizable community where they live, can connect online and share their interests. It was in this way, that goth and alternative fashion have come into the mainstream in a positive light and their popularity has gone so far as to have even carved out new niches within the sub-genres. However, this new interest and enthusiasm hasn’t always been the attitude towards these subcultures and the new, generalized interest sometimes muddles the waters of people’s understanding of how these newer alternative cultures came to be and what they stand for.
Before we discuss the new styles that are emerging, it’s important to distinguish how these subcultures originated in order to see how they evolved off each other- and potentially see how they will lean in the future. All of these darker subcultures have roots in music. Before there were specialized niches, the rebellious youth who didn’t conform to the strict behavioral values of the generation before them- whether it be gender, race, sexuality, or religion- would find solace in nightclubs and underground music venues.
The start of these subcultures originated with British goth and punk music in the 1970s and 80s- first, growing through underground nightclub scenes mainly in London, and then later spreading all over. The real starting origin being the punk movement of the 1970s which then evolved to the post-punk movement- what would later be called goth. Goth music reflected a more romantic and less aggressive tone- bands such as Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees paved the way for the darker aesthetic theme that would come to be goth and alternative styles. These types of music were counter-culture in nature- either protesting or rebelling against strict norms yet accepting of most marginalized groups. They acted as safespace environments for individuals who felt they didn’t fit “the mold’.
Goth and punk were genres of music that came with a specific lifestyle, outlook, and style of dress. These communities originated from a younger non-conforming generation and the style was more than just an outward aesthetic, but came with it a lifestyle that reflected core beliefs. As time progressed, a second wave of goth subcultures came around in the 90s-2000s and there became some conflict as to who fit into what label and by what standards. However, most of this was due to the evolution of the music, creating more diverse genres such as emo, scene, and hardcore.
The Emergence of Emo
Emo started as a music genre that took hardcore music but put emotional lyrics over them- later coining it’s own music- emocore. Instead of being aggressive like hardcore or punk bands, these types played into emotion, vulnerability, and femininity. This led to the fashion style having a more feminine aspect with the heavy makeup, tight clothes, and long hair. Bands like My Chemical Romance and Panic at the Disco are associated with this style of dress due to their effeminate leads and popularized the emo genre- even though the music they produce is not considered emo-core. The leads of these bands helped iconize the “emo” look to the public with dyed swooped hair and tight clothing with big graphics. This, in some ways, marks a difference in when these subcultures start to be identified more by the look and aesthetic they presented rather than the music or group they were affiliated with. Emo, as a genre and style was highly criticized and shamed when it first emerged, many youth following this trend were bullied or ostracized by their peers and it was seen as “lame” or “weird”. However, as pop-punk bands started introducing and glamorizing the emo look to popularized media, emo started to become a fashion trend and was used more as a blanket-term. This, in turn, started to open up the genre of dress and music for people to explore and start integrating with other styles and influences- not just confining or labeling people as to who was a “poser” and who wasn’t.
The New “Goth”
As we start to notice newer alternative styles develop, such as the e-girl, we can see a shift into a general third wave of alternative subcultures. Originating from the og goth/punks, now newer subcultures develop with a modern focus on pop culture and specialized internet niches. A resurgence of early 2000s post-punk bands by generation Z and TikTok led to a general, overall categorization of emo- lumping in bands that would not have been considered emo a decade earlier by grouping them by their look, rather than sound. This starts new alternative subcultures to form through these online platforms solely based off of their aesthetics. These styles might have music or interests tied to them, but it will usually develop retroactively in the community after exploring the visual style, as opposed to the earlier method of developing an image after a lifestyle already lived.
This can be seen mainly on tiktok, a sphere where we are exposed to niches of people we would never have been able to connect with before. As newer generations grow up normalized to this spread of content, they are able to participate in subcultures that normally would be few and far between. It becomes only natural that newer versions of the goth/punk styles would emerge to fit the modern digital lifestyles of generation Z- the new youth reinventing and building on the backs of original goths and 2000s emos. Two examples of newer alternative styles that developed this way are nu-goth and e-girl styles.
Nu-Goth is a newer genre of goth dress that uses black and dark colored versions of everyday-styled clothes. Nu-goth, in a lot of ways, is an olive branch between normal clothes and specialty goth attire. It is a more casual and sleek version of goth that is inspired by a lot of anti-fashion and streetwear- typically being less overstated and decorated compared to most other goth styles. It works well for people who want to dress it down but still participate in the subculture or people who want to just add a dark edge to their overall image without standing out too much. With the commercialization of fashion, this style lends to be a very affordable version of goth- being able to incorporate fast fashion and over-the-counter, store-bought clothes into the style easily without having to pay for specialty-made goth items. Even though there is a more minimal and modern edge to this goth, most of the clothing still plays homage to older goth interests and traditions- including lots of occult and celestial themes. Some people describe this style as an interpretation of a modern witch.
The E-girl is an alternative style, propagated through social media- mainly Tikitok, that is edgy but has a heavy focus on anime and gamer pop culture. Because this style emerged from social media, there is a heavy focus on internet culture including social/beauty influencers and glam makeup as opposed to a heavy gothic full-face. This gives this style a heavier focus on cute rather than creepy aesthetics and is one of the few alternative subcultures that has a specific focus on color- being mainly pink, neons, and pastels. E-girl/boy/non-binary styles are a blend of nu-goth clothes with pop culture and internet trends; some of the fashion including pleated skater skirts, striped long sleeves, crop tops, chains, middle-parted dyed hair, and fishnets.This new genre is most similar to scene and emo styles with its focus on anime and cartoon characters, such as hello kitty and other sanrio characters. Overall, there is a playfulness and childish theme to this style that is absent in previous ones and this attracts the younger generation who may feel emotional and hormonal (leading to an edgy expression) but are also still young and reflect the interests of that.
Where it could go in the future
As alternative subcultures evolve, there seems to be a broadening and change in connotation. As these styles become more popularized, instead of being previously associated with depression and suicide, the narrative has switched to a more positive one in regards to the dark and unusual. This preoccupation with darker themes used to ostracize individuals from their peers, but now is more widely accepted as a form of personal expression which, in turn, leads to more acceptance of individuality in society. Originating from a place of discontent and despair with the social and political climate, alternative cultures seem to be shifting toward being more inclusive spaces for everyone that give a glimmer of hope for inclusion and community going into the future.
Some forms of goth are also reframing spirituality away from a strict binary of good and evil and toward a more holistic view of living- one that honors the dark alongside the light and acknowledging that they are both equal parts of life. This could be a refreshing break from the binary morals or Christianity- a religion which most goths have been rejected from. This renewed interest in faith and spirituality could focus on the supernatural in a positive, friendly, and safe way which, respectively, could help distance harmful goth stereotypes while bringing more attention to spiritual health- something that is currently lacking in our society right now.