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What is the goth aesthetic in 2021 and how has it evolved?

At Attitude, we’ve been thinking long and hard about one question in particular: what does it mean to be goth in 2021? With so many pockets of the goth aesthetic and subculture exploding and evolving over the last few decades, the word goth has become synonymous with multiple cultural and social milestones. So let’s examine what it means to be goth in 2021 and look back at how the goth aesthetic began! 

What is the goth aesthetic and how has it changed over the decades?

Black female goth poses in black alternative clothing in a foggy setting

The goth aesthetic is hard to pin down. For starters, being goth is so much more than just an aesthetic. It’s a culture that has birthed multiple subcultures across decades and taken many misfits and those who feel like outsiders under its wings, giving them a space to feel comfortable. Despite there being an endless spectrum of goth aesthetics and culture, each part of the movement shares one key element: a passion and love for what many would consider dark and macabre. While the song ‘Bela Lugosi is Dead’ by Bauhaus has often been credited with starting the goth subculture, it’s very easy to also see gothic influences stretching as far back as the early 16th and 17th centuries in art movements like the vanitas, baroque music, and literature such as Frankenstein by Mary Shelly. Victorian mourning attire has also been a huge part of the goth aesthetic over the decades, while early silent film stars like Theda Bara are seen as very early goth icons. This appreciation of darkness, melancholy and macabre bleeds into the aesthetics of each goth subculture across the ages. However, from the eighties until today, there have been massive changes to the goth aesthetic in a very short time. So, let’s explore the rapidly changing goth aesthetic from the eighties and beyond. 

The 80s and 90s: goth aesthetic blooms in the shadows

Woman wearing gothic makeup including black lipstick and winged eyeliner looks through a gap

Born from the punk scene emerging from the seventies, the goth subculture we know today emerged from the music scene shaped by Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, Joy Division, and The Cure. During the seventies and eighties, people who marched to their drum were more isolated than today. Imagine a world without the internet, where the landline was the height of technology and the only places you could hear the latest tunes were the local bar or Top Of The Pops. Those who became enamoured with all things goth began going to clubs like The Bat Cave in London, while the north of England became a real hub. It’s not hard to imagine why with its brooding hills, archaic buildings, and thriving music scene. 

The eighties goth aesthetic is where the culture’s love affair with black clothing began and the iconic ‘trad goth’ look was born. Think big hair, winged eyeliner, and long black clothing. While this may not seem so shocking in 2021, in the eighties it would have been quite a surprise for those unaccustomed to the subculture which caused many goths to be harassed for their appearance.

By the nineties, the emergence of grunge and alternative rock like Nirvana, Marilyn Manson, Depeche Mode, Placebo, The Manic Street Preachers, and Nine Inch Nails, evolved with the goth aesthetic over the decade. Cinema and television also began a love affair with all things goth. Vampires and witches became very en vogue with Interview With The Vampire, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and The Craft becoming the antithesis to the mainstream’s obsession with all things preppy and pink. The monochrome palette of the trad goth aesthetic began to incorporate pops of colour with bright lipstick, chokers, piercings, chunky boots, and beaded gothic jewellery. Skirts grew shorter and shorter, underwear became outerwear with lingerie-inspired slip dresses and hair became rainbow bright with the arrival of Manic Panic and Stargazer hair dyes on the market. Little did anyone know that goth culture was about to change thanks to a major advancement in technology.

The 00s: Goth aesthetic evolves online

white woman with bright red hair poses with a mask

With this huge technological shift, goth culture splintered off into numerous subcultures and movements. The cybergoth aesthetic emerged and took notes from both the rave scene of the 90s, the gothic lolita aesthetic and steampunk influences. Rainbow bright hair dye was contrasted with masks and corsets, buckles, belts, and chunky alternative footwear like platforms that made a statement. Makeup was suddenly bold, bright, and dark, a real mix of fantasy and the original trad goth palette that made cybergoths appear like real-life Andy Warhol pop art prints. With the arrival of the emo and scene kids on MySpace, each isolated group could come together and form their own connections. However, this new renaissance of goth culture was still overshadowed by the prejudices faced by goths and the tragic death of Sophie Lancaster caused the mainstream to realise the difficulties faced by the community. Goths became recognised as a group affected by hate crime and The Sophie Lancaster Foundation started their work educating people about accepting subcultures and minorities.

The goth aesthetic in 2021

What is the goth aesthetic in 2021? It’s whatever you want it to be. As the internet opened doors to other subcultures and opened minds, in general, our identities have changed to become more fluid and the same can be said for the goth aesthetic and cultures. Even the mainstream culture has begun to accept goth culture with soaps like Coronation Street including goth representation with one of their most beloved characters, Nina. After initially a bumpy start embracing all these different subcultures, the trad goths are now accompanied by the younger generations of nu-goth and pastel goth. The hair may not be as big and there may even be less monochrome in their outfits, but the eyeliner is still winged and the passion for all things macabre remains in the younger generation of goths who were raised on the internet. The nu-goth movement in 2021 breaks the mould by blending trad goth aesthetics with the current mainstream trends for a sleeker, subtle yet still monochromatic aesthetic. In contrast, the pastel goth barely wears any black. This particular gothic aesthetic emerged from the kawaii style in Japan and has swept across the globe with its ‘creepy cute’ look. Instead of dark colours to showcase their appreciation for the darker elements in life, the pastel goth prefers the preppy pastel palette of baby pinks and blues that is cute, with smaller hints of elements of the macabre. While these are just two of the main subcultures emerging in 2021, there’s now also psychobilly goth which is a blend of rockabilly and goth, health goth that takes inspiration from athleisure, and the most meta of variation of cybergoth, the Tumblr goth. 

Pretty pastel goth with purple hair, blue eyeshadow and green eyeliner poses for the camera

Whichever goth culture and goth aesthetic you feel at home in, you’ll able to find your look right here at Attitude. Check out our gothic aesthetic style guide and then find your clothes, shoes, accessories, homewares and gifts that showcase your take on gothic culture.

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