As we branch into new forms of content and communication, we start to come in contact with niches of people we were never exposed to or couldn’t connect with before. As newer generations grow up normalized to this spread of content, many are able to participate in collectives that they wouldn't have normally come across in their own communities. However with the wider reach that subcultures now have, some nuance has been lost between the darker styles of goth, punk, and emo.
Before itemizing a list of goth substyles, it is to be noted that all of these subcultures have general trends but no set defined rules. Many use similar elements and people also tend to follow more than one subculture style at a time or on different occasions. Most of these subcultures grow off of connecting to a similar community with similar lifestyle choices and values, so sometimes it’s easier to identify a subtype by looking at a person’s overall lifestyle and values rather than their individual clothing. With this said, alternative is a good catch-all label for any style that is not typically seen or is unusual. This can also include things that are not goth/ dark too, such as decora, cottagecore, or dark academia styles. However, in popular media it is typically used to describe gothic and darker subculture- which can be broken down into three main groups- emo, goth,and punk.
This style originated from music that was about outward aggression toward the injustice of the world. Happening as a reactionary movement after the hippie era, which emphasized love, acceptance and peace, a lot of punks were anarchists or had a lot of pent up anger toward post-war society. The fashion revolves heavily around DIY, holes and tatters, safety pins, studs, spikes and stitches. Colored plaid is also very common within this style and most of the hair tends to be teased, spiked, or put up in crazy, aggressive ways. The liberty-spiked hair and other mohawks are often seen on punks.
Subtypes of Punk-
This style originated from a sub-genre of science-fiction that combines Victorian lifestyle with industrial machinery powered by steam. The premise assumes that new energy was never invented and, all the Victorian gadgets that were planned to be powered by steam, became real life invention.This type of fiction is seen a lot at conventions-giving this style a big cosplay base, but many have taken it as a personal day-to-day style as well.
The fashion evolved to include mainly Victorian-style dress overlaid with gears, goggles, gadgets, and pouches but, instead of all black, this style includes a lot of browns and rich warm colors to reference brass, leather, and wood. It has a very utilitarian feel while being dressed in refined clothes like long dresses, waistcoats, blouses, lace, and tophats.
A lot of the fiction is based around invention and adventure so there is also a preoccupation with sea and flying themes. The makeup and hair is usually seen to be minimal and reflect the time period because the focus is usually on the dress.
This focuses on the 1930s- 1940s interwar period. It basically is steampunk but using diesel instead of steam as a power source so the focus is more on auto themes like bomber jackets, racing patches etc.
This style of modern punk is a mix of goth and punk. Like steampunk, this subculture evolved from science-fiction universes. However, instead of being focused on the past, cyberpunk focuses on a dystopian future with rampant AI, class wars, anarchy, corruption, mutation, and science advancing too far.
The settings are often urban jungles littered with neon lights and over-saturated commercialism but also strewn with poverty and crime.
This style is seen in the electronic/ rave scene, usually associated with dark electronic music called synthwave. The fashion included bright colors, bold and chunky accessories, a lot of pvc, utilitarian clothing, and tech themes such as cyborgs or circuit boards.
Solarpunk offshoot- This is a similar style but has a more optimistic future perspective that sees technology as a benefit that will uplift society rather than aggravating our worst qualities.
The visuals are less dark and dismal and focuses more on lighter colors with vaporwave influences.
This subculture came off of music that emphasizes social and political ills with an anarchist flavor to it. As a result, most crustpunks participated in a lifestyle of squatting in abandoned places and not keeping up with hygiene as a rebellious alternative to what society and the government urged.
A lot of natural dreads, mattelocks, and tattered layered clothing are seen in this style due to the unkempt nature.
This style has roots in 1990s rock, like Nirvana and The Grateful Dead. It focuses on a disenchantment with modern society and dirty visuals. It is a more casual style that can almost appear bummy or not put-together. Many grunge artists were poor, so a lot of the style comes from thrift stores- baggy shirts, ripped jeans, and combat boots. This later lead to indie and hipster styles developing as cleaner versions of this care-free style.
Goth is a subculture that developed around the post-punk music scene in the UK. Listening to music like Joy Division and Sioux and the Banshees defined what originally made a goth, but that specific term didn’t develop until the band Bauhaus became popular, which emphasized a more romantic theme. This culture developed around nightclubs, but as it expanded to the states and beyond, it opened the doors for a lot of specializations and interpretations. By the 1990s, first-wave goth, which was more rigid and gate-keeping, was ending and opening up to a second more diverse second-wave of goth. Nowadays it is mainly associated with romanticizing dark themes and finding beauty or fascination in the dark and unusuaL
Subtypes of Goth
Also known as “traditional goth”, this style refers to the original 80s goths and how they pioneered the gothic. The fashion typically included very dramatic black and white makeup that extends upward toward the temple, teased long hair- sometimes in a mullet, and layered dark clothing that is usually pretty covering.
This goth aesthetic is a combination of punk and goth styles. Deahrockers are typically more made-up punks that dress in mainly black and wear makeup similar to trad goths. This style is hallmarked by shaved heads, ripped clothing, mohawks, fishnets and lots of DIY clothing with spooky aesthetics.
This style is closest to cyberpunk but whereas cyberpunk is mainly applied to cosplay and science fiction, cyber goth is mainly applied to an industrial rave-type music scene.
The fashion is somewhat similar and also features bright neon colors paired with black and uses technological themes such as cyborgs and circuit boards as well as a focus on toxic waste and poison.
A defining difference, however, is that cyberlocks are popularized in this subgenre which are a type of plastic dreadlock and also more ravewear/ festival clothing is used (fuzzy legwarmers, stand alone hoods, miniskirt tutus, light-up accessories etc.)
This is a type of goth that involves medieval and historical imagery like churches, castles, crosses, mythology, dragons, magic etc.
The fashion will usually combine long skirts, corsets, blouses with dark aesthetics. Fairy Goth is a subset of this that will take a whimsical, magic, fantasy approach to this and Vampire Goth will take a sleeker, sexier, more refined look- usually focused on cursed and holy imagery. Creature aesthetics can also be added to this style such as elf or goblin ears, horns, wings, or tails to mirror the mythological fascination.
A type of goth that focuses on period wear from the Victorian era. Similar to Steampunk, a lot of vests, bustles, and bustiers are used. These types of goths tend to be more period accurate and many are seen with non-dyed hair to keep that accuracy.
This style is very similar to Victorian goth but focuses on the Romantic Era instead. The fashion includes a lot of belle sleeves, lace, high necks, blouses, and long layered flowy skirts.
There is a focus on romantic imagery found in poetry such as roses, ravens, the color red, architecture, gardens, and cemeteries. This style has a focus on art, poetry, solitude and creativity.
This style became highly popularized in Japan and combines a cute lolita style of dress with dark colors and spooky themes.
Gothic Lolita style works with a lot of doll-like clothing with lots of ruffles, puffy sleeves, and gathers. Aprons, gloves and stockings are added to give a refined but cute look.
These types of goths were seen in the early 2000s as posers who only listened to nu-metal and only copied goth fashion.
They would hang around at malls- especially in front of stores like Hot Topic and are the closest to emo styles. The fashion is reminiscent of early 2000s style but with a darker punkier twist- similar to that of Avril Lavigne.
A lot of low-waisted bottoms, miniskirts, colored plaid, arm warmers, and cargo pants were used and paired with characters like Hello Kitty or other Sanrio characters.
This subset takes inspiration from glam rock- people like David Bowie- with deep v-necks, teased hair, feathers, leather and fur. It has a more theatrical costume type of feel similar to the characters in Rocky Horror Story.
Animal prints, sequins, and colored leather were all deviations from average goth styles, but used in this one to enhance dramatic flair.
Gothabilly/ Pin-Up Goth
This is a type of goth that combines 50s-type dress- calf length dresses with long petticoats, halter tops, and high waisted bottoms with dark colors and retro creepy prints.
Many maintain a more simplistic look with retro makeup and hair and will opt for a kitten heel or pumps instead of a chunky goth boot.
This is an offshoot of victorian goth that goes for a more theatrical stage look- sometimes verging on carnival.
There is more of a focus on lingerie, pinned up high-low shirts, corsets, silk and robes. This style tends to be more provocative and sensual than normal Victorian goth.
This style is where goth meets BDSM culture. The fashion includes a lot of leather, latex, corseting and collars, however, it does not necessarily have to be sexual. A lot of these can be worn for just aesthetic reasons.
This is a newer genre of goth dress that uses black and dark colored versions of everyday-styled dress. It is a more casual and sleek version of goth that is inspired by a lot of anti-fashion and is less overstated and decorated compared to most other goth styles. 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.
Completely different from anything else on this list, pastel goth combines gothic styles of dress but instead pairs them with very bright and pastel colors. This style is sometimes characterized with overdecoration as it relies a lot on heavy accessories including colors, beaded bracelets, and plastic hair clips. There can also be babydoll, cartoon or other child-like themes. Sometimes this style bleeds over into lolita and has a lot of influence in japan.
Witchgoth/ wiccan/ pagan-
Unlike other substyles, this type of goth developed from a belief system that revolves around astrology and magic/witchcraft. This can also include voodoo and other tribal/ indigenous goths who focus on shamanism and the spirit. The fashion for this can differ in amount of decoration but always follows witchy and celestial themes. There tends to be a lot of wide-brimmed hats, bell sleeves, sigils drawn on the skin, forehead decoration, crystal jewelry, scarves, and veils.
Emo started as a music genre that took hardcore music but put emotional lyrics over them. Instead of being aggressive like hardcore 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. The style is characterized by mainly black tight clothing with occasional reds or purples, graphic band tees, skinny jeans, studded belts and accessories, heavy bangs, teased hair and heavy eyeliner.
Subtypes of Emo-
This subculture keeps a similar style to emo but with more color and childish themes which reflects in the music for this subgenre as it tends to be pop-punk or metalcore- taking some emo elements but mixing it with singing and bouncier beats. It can also be similar to some rave styles- focusing on pacifiers, kandi, Hello Kitty, Invader Zim, and other cartoons.
Most scene kids wear lots of merch from Hot Topic making them very close to mall goths. The fashion tends to be mismatched or overly decorated with clashing patterns and there is a lot of layering of clothes and accessories- almost to a gaudy level..
This is an alternative style, propagated through social media- mainly TikTok, that has evolved from goth subcultures. It is closest to mall goth or scene styles due to their interest in pop culture but with a focus on anime and gaming over cartoons and bands.
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- giving this style a heavier focus on cute rather than creepy aesthetics. E-girl/boy/person styles are a blend of nu-goth clothes with pop culture and internet trends.
The fashion includes a lot of pleated skater skirts, striped long sleeves, crop tops, chains, middle-parted dyed hair, and fishnets.
Even though this is a mostly comprehensive list, so many niche subgenres of these styles exist and new ones are forming every year. It’s interesting to see the differences in the presentation of “goth” and how it is evolving to be more multifaceted in order to fit a larger collective of interested individuals. Many smaller niches of alternative style are even starting to blend other styles and aesthetics, like western or clown themes, making for a very unique approach to the alternative scene and a new lens to gothic expression.