Being a goth doesn't mean that you're limited to one scene and one scene only. People tend to think of goth as a very isolated subculture, whose members hang out only with each other and have no outside interests. But this image couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, there are a number of different subcultures that overlap quite closely with goth and share a lot of members. Below are three of those groups that I encounter most often.
When steampunk first began to gain popularity in recent decades, people joked that it was what happened when goths discovered the color brown. While I have a number of objections to that sentiment, I understand where it comes from. Steampunk events are full of goths, former goths who have evolved into steampunks, and those that identify equally with both scenes. (They do not, however, all wear the color brown.) Steampunk has a lot to offer that appeals to the same type of people that are drawn to goth. One of the biggest areas of overlap is Victorian-inspired fashion. The gothic aesthetic has been highly influenced by Victorian mourning fashion, and many goths have been going about in corsets and ankle-length gowns for decades. With the rise of steampunk, more people are sharing in that aesthetic and the clothes are becoming more accessible. Goths and steampunks flock to the same stores and vendors, and many goths view steampunk events as a wonderful opportunity to break out their Victorian finery. With a shared love of fashion, it's no wonder these two subcultures intermingle so much.
But it's not just the fashion—Goths and steampunks have another element in common. Both are scenes with close ties to Victorian literature. Steampunk arose out of Victorian science fiction such as the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, while goth took much of its aesthetic from the Gothic literary genre from which it also takes its name. Several works straddle the line between these two genres, such as Frankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In this way, goth and steampunk can be said to come from a shared literary tradition, and both scenes tend to still be quite bookish.
The fetish scene has been intertwined with goth almost since its beginning. Most goth clubs feature monthly "fetish nights" to cater to the leather- and latex-clad crowd, but you'll probably see mostly the same people at these specialized events as at your regular goth night. Sharing an event space has made the barrier between the goth and fetish scenes quite permeable. And after decades of this kind of interaction, you can see how the two subcultures have influenced each other, particularly in their fashion. While fetishwear can certainly be colorful, black leather and black PVC continue to be wardrobe staples, giving the subculture's fashion an overall darker tone. Meanwhile, bits of fetishwear have become iconic elements of gothic fashion. Accessories like dog collars and body harnesses are largely divorced from their kinky context and are worn even by goths who don't participate in the sexual subculture of their nightclub neighbors. And one of the most pervasive pieces of gothic clothing in the 1990s and early 2000s were the fetish-inspired "bondage pants" sold by brands like Tripp.
But shared club space isn't all that the goth and fetish scenes have in common. The two scenes share some fashion icons, including the famous pin-up model Bettie Page. Bettie Page was one of the first models to popularize BDSM in pin-up photography and films during the 1950s. Photos of her bound with rope or posing with whips made her name synonymous with "fetish." But her pale skin and signature dark hair with bangs continue to influence gothic style, especially among those that lean more vintage.
Metalheads are members of another music-based subculture who frequently get confused for goths. Metal is a genre of music that evolved out of hard rock in the '60s and '70s, and fans of this music are called "metalheads." While the music is quite different from the gothic rock that gave birth to the goth scene, the aesthetic shared by the fans can be quite similar. Like goths, metalheads frequently wear all black, though this usually takes the form of band t-shirts. Another element of metalhead style is corpse paint, a type of black and white face paint popularized by bands like Mayhem. Though corpse paint is specific to metalheads, it's similar to gothic makeup styles that are often also inspired by the "corpse" look. Some metalheads and goths will get offended at getting confused for a member of the other subculture or at mixing up the music genres. But there are also plenty of people who are fans of both genres and inhabit both social scenes.
And then, just to make it more confusing, there's the subgenre of gothic metal. This music is a type of metal that incorporates some of the gloomy and ethereal elements of gothic music. Fans of these types of bands are where you'll find the biggest overlap of goths and metalheads.
Do you belong to any of these other subcultures? What other groups have you noticed overlapping with goth? Share your thoughts in the comments.