If you look up "goth" in the dictionary, you'll probably find a definition like this one from Merriam-Webster: "a person who wears mostly black clothing, uses dark dramatic makeup, and often has dyed black hair." While this statement would be accurate for many people in the goth scene, it's rather superficial and not every goth will fit this description. If you ask an actual goth to define what "goth" means, you'll likely get a much longer, more complex answer. Prominent members of the gothic community are always trying to answer the question "What is goth?" Aurelio Voltaire wrote a whole humorous book on the subject, and esteemed eldergoth Jillian Venters of Gothic Charm School has done one of my favorite videos in answer to the question. Today, though, I want to talk about my personal definitions of goth.
For me, there's two aspects to the definition: goth is both having a certain mindset or aesthetic and participating in the wider subculture. The mindset of goth involves embracing the taboo and finding beauty in darkness. Goths reject mainstream ideas about what is important and beautiful, instead choosing to explore things that mainstream culture finds disturbing. This is why goths are fascinated with death and the macabre. This fascination often develops into a recognizable aesthetic involving dark colors, remnants of Victorian mourning fashion, and skulls or other spooky symbols. Many people come into this aspect of goth on their own, perhaps even before knowing anything about the wider goth subculture. We can also recognize this element in figures that lived before the modern goth subculture arose in the early 1980s. In this sense, Edgar Allan Poe exhibits a very gothic mindset even though the concept of being a goth did not yet exist.
To truly be considered a modern goth, however, one must participate in one way or another with the larger subculture. Goth is a culture that gets shared from person to person. You can have a gothic mindset all by yourself, but you’re not part of the gothic subculture until you engage with other goths in some way. One of the most prominent aspects of this culture is the music. The early goth scene evolved around specific bands like Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees that drew like-minded people together. Today, many new genres have emerged, but listening to the music is still an important part of the subculture. Other ways of participating in the scene include consuming gothic media, wearing clothing from gothic brands, going to goth clubs, or simply interacting with other goths. Taken together, having the gothic mindset and participating in the gothic subculture is what makes someone a goth.
How would you define goth? Do you agree or disagree with my description? Let me know in the comments!