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Gothic Fashion History: Everything You Need To Know!

Gothic fashion and culture are hard to narrow down. With so many branches and movements within this varied subculture, it seems like everyone has a unique take on what they consider gothic fashion. However, the million-pound question that everyone wants to know the answer to is: where did gothic fashion start? First, to understand the roots of gothic fashion, we have to analyse where gothic fashion came from by examining the influences which created it. So let’s dive into all the things we love about gothic fashion, the beautiful, dark, and different origins, by exploring its cultural and social history.

Where did gothic fashion originate?

A woman wearing victorian mourning attire on a beach

The Victorians

We couldn’t write this blog about gothic fashion history without mentioning the Victorians, their lifestyle and customs. While gothic fashion has evolved extensively into modern cybergoth and pastel goth, the classic Victorian goth style is still at the heart of the movement. 

So what is Victorian gothic fashion?

Essentially gothic mourning attire, Victorian gothic clothing is predominantly black but is often accented with dark hues of purple, deep reds, or greens. Due to high mortality rates, death was ever-present in the Victorian era. Whereas now society tends to view death and darkness as ‘taboo’, the Victorians considered these elements as being very much a part of their everyday lives and were very open about death. Their willingness to confront

mortality led them to use their clothing to express a state of mourning. Everything was black to express the deep sorrow of their loss, then as time went on during the ‘half-mourning’ period, the colours lightened to grey tones. Men wore black gloves, a dark suit, and if they wore a hat, it was notably accessorised with a black band. For women, mourning dress was very strict with lots of black, often scratchy crape material, and widows often wore a black veil that could be changed to white later on. While men were only required to wear mourning attire for a few months, women were required to wear theirs for two years. Since it was considered bad luck to keep mourning clothes in the house after the mourning period had ended, they were often disposed of and so it was commonplace for Victorians to buy new mourning attire. Since 1994 fans of the Victorian goth aesthetic have descended on the North Yorkshire town of Whitby for the annual goth weekends which have grown to become one of the world’s premier goth events. 

Glam rock, punk, and The New Romantics

Siouxie Sioux with red hair tips and dark eye makeup

These pioneers of gothic fashion arrived as a direct result of the punk scene. The glam rock era of the seventies with sequins, boas, and makeup was fading and the aggressive anarchy of punk rock was circulating across the UK. 

Peter Murphy shirtless and about to dive into a crowd

In August 1979, the dawn of the gothic movement as we know it today began with Bauhaus’ ‘Bela Lugosi is Dead’. An entire generation was suddenly exposed to the presence of one of the founding fathers of goth: Peter Murphy. Although Murphy now denies that he’s ‘all about’ goth and doesn’t consider himself to be part of the culture explicitly, his influence on gothic culture is huge, along with Siouxie Siu who is often credited with epitomising and creating gothic fashion. The glamour of David Bowie, the intensity of acts like Patti Smith and Iggy Pop, along with the melancholy anguish of Joy Division, and then the flamboyance of The New Romantics allowed the goth subculture to further emerge into the eighties. Despite this mix of influences, the fathers of gothic fashion are often cited as Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy and Robert Smith of The Cure. 

Who created gothic fashion?

There were proponents of the gothic style way before Siouxie Siu, Peter Murphy, Bauhaus, and Robert Smith. Plenty of proto-goth style icons purposely used the goth aesthetic to make a statement and not simply because it was a result of that period’s sartorial conventions or social movement. These gothic fashion icons existed before the well-known ‘creators’ and deserve a lot more recognition for their contributions to gothic fashion and subcultures.

Theda Bara

Actress Theda Bara wearing dark smouldering eye makeup and bold lipstick

Silent film star Theda Bara can be considered as an OG pioneer of gothic fashion and is known as ‘America’s first goth’. Her gothic fashion stepped outside traditional 1920s attire with her dark eye makeup, revealing yet spooky clothing, and general gothic appearance. She was the original Hollywood ‘vamp’ and created the vamp and femme fatale stereotype we can recognise today. Even her name was explicitly goth: born Theodosia Burr Goodman, the movie studio changed her name to Theda Bara; an anagram of ‘Arab death’. Her backstory was created to evoke even more mystery and intrigue. Publicity for the star mentioned her interest in the occult and claimed that she was ‘born in the shadow of the Sphynx’ and travelled to Paris to become an actress. In reality, Theda was an American born in Ohio, and well, she’d never even visited Paris let alone Egypt! She made herself the revealing costumes and wigs for her films, most of which were lost thanks to a fire at MGM studios. The surviving images of Bara have become iconic and showcase her love for long black clothing, revealing outfits, dark eye makeup, and an intense look. 

Morticia Addams

The Addams Family drawn by Charles Addams

Let’s not forget the original Adams Family! Morticia, Gomez, Wednesday, Pudsey, Uncle Fester, and co. have been goth since 1938. Created by Charles Addams, the world’s first gothic family had a profound effect on culture thanks to their attitude, dark humour, and wardrobe. However, it was the matriarch of the family, Morticia, who inspired goth style with her long black dress, pale skin, black hair, and dark lipstick. Not only was Morticia effortlessly elegant and always beautifully spooky in the comics, television series, and later the movies, she also was the main reason why our next gothic fashion icon propelled goth fashion into the mainstream from the shadows. 

Vampira 

Actress Maila Nurmi as Vampira in a black corseted dress

Vampira was the original princess of darkness. Born in 1922, Vampira was the brainchild of actress Maila Nurmi who created the character after seeing Morticia in The Addams Family comics. She hosted a late-night horror movie show on the newly born medium of television and her blood-curdling scream as she emerged from her coffin bed was beamed into the living rooms of thousands of Americans. No one had ever seen a human being like Vampira sipping on a ‘vampire cocktail garnished with an eyeball’ while bidding goodnight with ‘pleasant screams’. She’d introduce each horror film but her personality contrasted sharply with her look. She was aloof but friendly, sarcastic yet genuine, and her sharp puns were part of her charm. Her long dark dresses, heavily corseted waist, sharp eyebrows, and long straight black hair made her the antithesis of the popular rockabilly look often associated with the 1950s. Nurmi wasn’t just Vampira in costume, her interest in alternative subcultures, the occult, and all things unique shows that it wasn’t just her love for gothic fashion that made her a goth at heart. Vampira’s character and style influenced horror movie night host Elvira, who became a nineties icon in her own right by combining her Valley Girl schtick, wit, and the goth aesthetic. 

From the Victorians to horror icons and comic book heroes, our round-up of the heroes of gothic fashion, both unsung and celebrated, is as eclectic as the movement itself. Why not take inspiration from your favourite gothic fashion pioneers with men’s clothing and women’s clothing at Attitude? Finish off your look with our collection of women’s footwear and men’s footwear, as well as gothic accessories for women and men’s accessories online now.

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