A trio of goths at the world-famous Goth Weekend in Whitby, UK, in 1992.
© PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images

Follow the evolution of goth fashion through the years

Goths have been backcombing their hair into gravity-defying styles ever since the subculture emerged from punk in the late '70s. Here are 5 different goth trends that have prevailed down the years.
Written by Chris Parkin
5 min readPublished on
So what is a goth? No, we're not talking about the Germanic Visigoths and Ostrogoths, who controlled large swathes of Europe in the very olden days. We're talking about black-clad, eyeliner-wearing fans of downbeat rock music who enjoy traditional mythology, sci-fi and horror films, dystopian philosophy, and the gothic literature of Horace Walpole, Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley and H.P. Lovecraft. This often nihilistic subculture first sprang out of late '70s punk, but it probably existed even earlier in the wake of darker ritualistic rock 'n' roll bands of the '60s and early '70s.
Whenever it really did begin, goth is a subculture that refuses to die. It adapts with the times to stay alive, from the vampy look of Leeds' mid-'80s goth-rock scene, featuring The Sisters Of Mercy and The March Violets, to a surprising hybrid of sportswear and dystopian outlooks that is health goth. Below is a cut-out-and-keep guide to some of the key developments in the story of goth fashion.

Traditional goths

The look that defines goth started to develop in the late '70s with the advent of punk and emergence of bands like Siouxsie Sioux And The Banshees, The Damned and Joy Division. Young people across Europe and the US shunned the respectable and the bushy-tailed and took on a visual identity – the essence of any subculture – that was anti-establishment, morbid, black and heavy on the kohl eyeliner. 
Regulars at London's Batcave club and fans of US deathrock took this idea of facing the darkness head on and distilled it into what, by the early '80s, became the standard goth look of huge backcombed hair and dark clothes that range from overcoats and drainpipe jeans to short skirts and fishnet stockings. It's been the uniform of choice for fans of bands such as Bauhaus, The Cure, The Sisters Of Mercy, The Birthday Party and Einstürzende Neubauten ever since.
The original traditional goth emerged from the punk scene of the late '70s and is synonymous with Siouxsie Sioux and London club The Batcave.
Traditional goths

Romantic goths

As in any youth scene populated by people who want a niche tribe to belong to and yet, paradoxically, are also trying very hard not to fit in, goth has given birth to many sub-subcultures.
The romantic goth was an early one to emerge, in the '90s, with Morticia Addams's look in The Addams Family movie pretty much nailing the idea. Romantic goths took the dark concepts of goth culture, like hanging around in graveyards, collecting dead flowers and studying gothic architecture and literature, but wore flowing black dresses, gothic jewellery and supplemented their enjoyment of classic goth-rock with the more ethereal sounds of 4AD bands such as Cocteau Twins and classical music by Brahms and Wagner. Romantic goths share a similar aesthetic to Victorian goths, who in turn inspired Steampunk.
Closely aligned with the rise of the Victorian and Steampunk goths, the romantic goth wears sweeping dresses inspired, in part, by Morticia Addams.
Romantic goths


The main thing that sets cyber goths apart from their traditional goth cousins is the music they listen to. This new type of goth emerged in the late '90s in Germany, as many music fans turned away from rock and began listening to electronic music.
To begin with, the cybergoth borrowed sartorially from the bright look of rave kids, but by the early years of the 21st century the colourful hair extensions and neon fur were replaced with industrial-inspired accessories such as over-the-top protective googles, bulky boots and black clothing. The electronic music of choice for cybergoths has always been trance, gabber, industrial dance music and increasingly obscure sub-genres, like neurofunk.
When dance music began to become the norm, goths flocked to the darkest, most banging strands of electronica and gave their threads a futuristic makeover.
Cyber goths

Nu goths

The nu goth trend emerged at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, when young, nascent goths wanted a stylish everyday style that didn't require hours of backcombing and pulling on corset strings. Inspired by the similarly casual pastel goth scene in Japan, black is still de rigueur, but nu goth is a chic contemporary look that pitches up somewhere between The Craft and New Girl. It hasn't been without controversy, though.
Traditional (and other) goths believe nu goths are simply hipsters appropriating their subculture, while many nu goths identify as being more than just goth. They like punk rock and metal, and have an interest in the occult, tattoos, David Lynch films, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds and other dark introspective stuff.
The hipster goth look took off towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century. A sleek, cool but dark look without all the faff of backcombing and khol make-up.
Nu goth

Health goths

This latest development in the story of goth is also one of the most fascinating. Health goth takes its name from a Facebook group started in 2013 by US pop duo Magic Fades (Mike Grabarek and Jeremy Scott) and artist Chris Cantino, where the trio uploaded images of hi-tech, dystopia-inspired style and art. For them, the concept of health made them think "of sterile environments, biomechanics, trans-humanism."
This internet meme eventually became real-life streetwear, as it spawned a style based around black, futuristic, sci-fi sportswear that looks like it's been made by the costume designers who worked on The Matrix and Blade Runner. Like nu goth, it's not just worn by goth-rock fans, but also by fans of hip-hop, grime, techno and obscure electronica. This is a goth look for the 21st century and beyond. As a post-script, though, health goth isn't a million miles away from the sports goth look worn by US metal bands like Korn in the late '90s.
Picking up the baton dropped by the late-'90s sports goth, this trend is the simplest of all the styles and appeals to hip-hop, grime and techno fans, as well as goth-rockers.
Health goth