Goth: A Very Visual Subculture

Archived Blog post

Goth is an unashamedly visual subculture.  The visual impact of Goth identity remains one of the core characteristics which attracted me (and many others) to the scene and which generates curiosity.  Where other subcultures such as Hippies or Skinheads adhere to a social or political ethos, Goth for the most part relies on its spectacular[1] visual representations and aesthetics to express its culture.


Goth music undoubtedly plays a vital role in the scene, a topic which I will discuss in future posts, however, the visual elements of Goth hold significance for subcultural identity in isolation from music and influence a broader spectrum of mediums independent of musical connections[2].

Moreover, non-Goths are often familiar with the various visual characteristics of Goth without awareness of the nuances within the diverse musical styles and subgenres of the subculture.

For outside observers, the striking appearance of Goth is what sets it out as a subculture in its own right; typified by a visual language reminiscent of the melancholic decadence of the Victorian era, with primarily black clothing accented with lurid hair colour and opulent, heavily ornamented footwear and accessories.  To undertake any discourse on the Goth phenomenon without first reflecting on this very visual nature would be to devalue its primary cultural signifier and give a partially occluded view of the style, design and preoccupations of the subculture.

As a starting point for this research, I have been collating a library of imagery intrinsic to Goth as a point of visual reference and as a catalyst for discussion.  Using the social networking image site Pinterest I have sourced indicative images from all over the world under various categories (boards) to articulate the preoccupations of the scene; some themes are very familiar to me, and others are entirely new which in itself is exciting.

Establishing this archive as an articulation of the visual language of Goth in this early phase of my research has been unexpectedly fruitful and has helped illustrate the evolution of the scene and its participants.  Using the images as a source of research foci/categorisation has assisted in crystallising my foundation points of inquiry, starting with is Goth a phase?  The evidence collected to date, preliminary though it is, supports the case that for many, Goth is indeed a lifestyle choice rather than a phase.

A brief scroll through the images tagged with “Goth” on Pinterest (as well as other sources) provides insight into the changing sensibilities of the subculture not just over time, but between generations and across geographical locations.  The images collated by participants/observers on Pinterest demonstrate the global variability of the subculture as well as its enduring inclination to embrace difference within the spectrum of Goth, with participants actively espousing open-mindedness in terms of style variants and diverse influences, even within their own boards.


This complexity is representative of the overall maturation and associated commodification of the culture which over time has enabled an unprecedented increase in the volume, quality and variety of products designed specifically for the subcultural market.  In parallel to this maturation, expression of involvement within the subculture has undergone an evolution since the formative 1980s, with members now more freely able to transition between styles and social networks.

Affiliation with the subculture is now able to be efficiently demonstrated through online connections using the visual language of the scene as a source of validation, independent of social behaviour and physical appearance[3]. A proliferation of online stores servicing the alternative/Goth scene provides a ready source of visual identity through which patrons can then project globally recognisable representations of the subculture in both the virtual and physical world.

Through Goth subcultures’ openness to a range of spectacular styles, sexual diversity, social networks, and extremes of appearance as evidenced on Pinterest (etc.), participants are enculturated to welcome society’s outsiders irrespective of musical tastes, political persuasions or other social stratifications.  This predisposition for adaption appears to be fundamental to the longevity of the culture; the very differences and complexities which make up its visual styles in turn make it an accepting and convivial subculture in which experimentation and evolution are embraced.

[1] Hodkinson [2], P. (2011) Ageing in a spectacular ‘youth culture’: continuity, change and community amongst older Goths The British Journal of Sociology, Vol.62 (2), pp.262-282

[2] Goth: Undead Subculture. Edited by Lauren M.E. Goodlad and Michael Bibby. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007. 442 pp. ISBN 9780822339212

[3] Gelder, K (2007) Subcultures: cultural histories and social practice London; New York : Routledge