Goth Definition


What is the dictionary definition of goth?

Alternately, what is the goth definition when it comes to the subculture?

Are they the same, or just similar?

The definition of “goth” according to the dictionary is “a person who wears mostly black clothing, uses dark dramatic makeup, and often has dyed black hair.” However, the true definition of the goth subculture goes much deeper than this.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics you need to know about the goth subculture of the past and present. You can use this information to better determine your own goth style.

Read on to find out more about the true goth meaning.

All About the Goth Subculture

1. When did the goth subculture begin?

  • The goth subculture started in the first part of the 1980s. It was originally centered in the United Kingdom, but it didn’t take long for the scene to spread to the United States and other countries around the world as well.
  • The punk rock movement led to the creation of the goth scene. Punk rock featured a subgenre known as gothic rock, which included artists such as The Cure and Bauhaus, among many others.
  • Early goths were heavily inspired by the aesthetics and styles of punk rock, which is why trad goth was so dramatic compared to modern goth.

2. Who started it and where was it started?

  • Although the punk rockers of the United Kingdom started the goth subculture, it took off quickly in the United States too. It was also extremely popular in western Europe, where night clubs that focused on the goth subculture were much more prevalent than anywhere else in the world.
  • Many of the influences of the goth subculture come from the 18th and 19th centuries, including Victorian fashion and literature. This inspiration is also why the goth scene focuses on the same elements as traditional horror, which came into popularity around the same time period.

3. What was the subculture like in its early days?

  • The fashion of the original goth subculture largely revolved around lots of black and leather. Metal studs and grommets were common in clothing of the time, and it was also common to wear t-shirts with band logos or offensive statements written on them. All of these elements came from the punk rock scene as well.
  • Early goth music and concepts were darker than they are today as well. The subversion of the expected and of societal norms was a major part of the goth scene in the 1980s and 1990s, and although these elements remain today, they are lessened.

4. How has goth changed over the years?

  • In general, goth really hasn’t changed that much over the years. However, the fashions of the goth scene have shifted slightly to keep up with modern fashion trends as a whole. The fashion and makeup both have a cleaner and more streamlined appearance with fewer colors and textures throughout a single cohesive look.
  • Goth is less extreme than it used to be as well. The goths of the past were more often likened to demons or witches, while the goths of today are usually compared to ghosts or shadows. The entire movement has softened without going completely soft.

5. What are some of the most important characteristics of the modern goth?

  • Light versus dark: In beliefs, practices, and fashion as well, modern goths focus on the balance between light and dark.
  • Fringe aesthetics: Although body piercings and tattoos are a lot more common than they used to be, they’re still considered fringe aesthetics and are an important part of the modern goth’s style.
  • Occult themes: Decorations and accessories based on occult symbols such as pentagrams and crystals are all the rage for the goth of today.
  • Pushing the limits: Goth has always been about pushing the limits, and goths today do the same thing. They are usually willing to voice their opinions about social issues as well.

6. What makes someone truly goth?

  • A true goth is, of course, someone who identifies strongly with the goth subculture! With that said, however, it can be tricky to figure out whether or not you can actually classify yourself as a goth.
  • If you are mysterious and a little eerie, if you wear a lot of black, and if you’re always on the fringe in terms of style and beliefs, then you’re probably a goth. Of course, no one but you can say for sure which subcultures, if any, you belong to.


This information should help you get a good start when it comes to understanding your inner goth. Although there’s a lot more to learn about the goth subculture, this quick guide should make it easier for you to determine where you fit on the goth scale.

Who are some of the most popular or famous goths, both fictional and real? Here are a few to help you get a better idea of what goth really means:

  • Edgar Allen Poe: He might not have known he was a goth, but his works are some of the most defining pieces of writing in the goth subculture. His focus on the macabre with a bit of humor thrown in here and there make for the ideal goth stories.
  • Elvira, Mistress of the Dark: Although she’s not quite as relevant these days, Elvira was a major part of the goth scene during the 80s and 90s. She dressed in a black skintight dress with a plunging neckline and wore big black hair, all in the name of looking like the vampire character she portrayed.
  • Anne Rice: As the author of the quintessential goth series “The Vampire Chronicles,” Anne Rice is responsible for creating Lestat, one of the most well-known and well-loved modern vampire characters. Anne Rice’s contribution to the goth literary scene has helped shaped the modern goth from the 1990s and onward.
  • Edward Scissorhands: Created by Tim Burton (an important goth himself), Edward Scissorhands is a character who fits solidly into the goth scene. His pale white skin and messy black hair make him aesthetically about as goth as possible, and his portrayal by Johnny Depp further positions him as an excellent goth fictional character. Additionally, the themes of innocence and guilt, sadness and joy, and of course dark and light are all at play throughout the film, which makes the whole movie an excellent rite of passage in goth film viewing.
  • Lydia Deetz: The protagonist of the movie Beetlejuice, Lydia is a classic goth. She wears goth clothing and is mostly seen in all black, and she keeps her hair dark and bangs choppy in fitting with the goth subculture of the time as well. Her moodiness and brooding nature all suit the goth scene nicely.

These people and characters really only scratch the surface of goths, and it’s important to start looking for examples of goths you like as well. This way, you can have a solid frame of reference for your own goth sense of style, and you’ll learn more about goth throughout the decades by following the way celebrities and fictional characters within the genre have changed over time too.

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