You've likely heard the term "goth", or seen someone wearing goth or alternative clothing. They are hard to miss walking down the street or in a nightclub; dark pants and jackets, dyed black lace and touches of militaristic fashion that set them apart are common. This type of alternative clothing style has been around for the better part of thirty years, and though it takes much of its inspiration from earlier trends, it is continually evolving.
Alternative clothing can trace its roots to the rise of the goth rock scene that began in the early 1980s with bands such as The Cure, The Cult and Bella Morte. Goth music was characterized by a heavier use of keyboards than its predecessor, punk music, as well as more introspective lyrics that were often dark or depressing. By 1983, the number of bands identifying themselves as "goth" had risen significantly, and entire clubs sprung up, dedicated to both goth music and goth fashion.
This fashion fits into the broader category of alternative clothing, which encompasses a wide variety of dress styles from punk to hip hop, cyberpunk or industrial. Alternative clothing was so named because at one time – typically at its birth – it stood significantly apart from mainstream style. Some alternative fashions such as grunge were focused around what was easily available and comfortable. Goth clothing, meanwhile, leans more toward the artistic – clothing that grabs attention and that has significant structural elements, in particular items from the Victorian Cult of Mourning, including top hats and fitted coats. In addition, religious or magical jewelry is common, as well as fishnet stocking and high boots for women. Makeup and hair styles are also an integral part of this alternative clothing style, with dark or silver-dyed hair being common, along with dark eye makeup. For goth, it was a rebellion against the slick disco fashions and happy disco-pop of the 1970s that drove its growth and grabbed the attention of the public. Although bands created in the 1980s ramped up interest in goth fashion, it was icons and characters from previous generations, such as Theda Bara, Bettie Page, and Morticia Adams, that helped define the new goth movement.
Goth clothing is often associated with dark energy and sadness, but while the music which inspired the fashion carried these kinds of emotions, the fashion itself should not be confused with "emo", a similar style that often comes with a highly-charged emotional outlook on life. Gothic fashion is now making inroads into the mainstream fashion world as well, and has been featured in a number of high-profile shows. The goth style seen on the runway was dubbed "haute goth" and designers such as Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen and Christian Lacroix have all used goth elements in recent fashion shows.
While this style originated thanks to a musical genre adaptation and as a rebellion against the styles of the previous decade, it has taken on a life of its own as those invested in it have added depth, and mainstream fashion has picked up elements to use for its own purposes. In a cyclical fashion, pieces of the goth subculture are borrowed by those who are outside it, even as those inside this type of alternative clothing style continue to refine the style itself.