So You Want To Be a Goth?
A (Very Short) Beginner's Guide to the Dark Arts
Not Greatest How-To Guide by Cayce
January 3rd, 2016

Welcome, aspiring baby bats and raven chicklets all! So you want to be goths? The time to start is now! 

In all honesty, I can't believe I'm writing this article. Summing up all that goth is in one small article – I'm not sure it can be done! However, since goth is possibly the most misunderstood subculture on the planet, the only way to really learn is to learn from an elder, and as it's my belief that no elder should turn down willing students, who am I to turn down a request for tutelage when there are voices clamoring to be taught? Not that I'm as elder as an Eldritch, mind you, but I daresay I've been around long enough to know what I'm talking about. I was a goth before I was a Buck-Tick fan and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Anyhow, Goth is a big enough topic to fill a large and ponderous book, and to actually do it justice would require a great deal more time than I have at the moment, but perhaps I will write that book someday, so consider this a teeny tiny sneak preview.

First of all, a disclaimer: goth is not a religion, and neither is it a cult. It has no sacred text and no single leader (though it does have a few prophets and more than a few gods in alcoves...and if you see what I did there you probably don't need to read this article, after all!) Goth is a participatory subculture, created by the aggregate contributions of its members...which means that each goth has a slightly different opinion on what, exactly, goth means, and how, exactly, to be goth. Therefore, know that the following article represents my own opinions and observations from a lifetime of goth living, and not some mystical Absolute Truth. Despite all the cracks I've made about Goth School of late, most goths don't believe in Absolute Truth anyhow.

At the same time, just because different people have slightly different opinions on what goth is doesn't mean goth is whatever you want it to be. Goth is a culture, and cultures are made up of specific elements: history, music, costume, dance, sexuality, food, values, systems of etiquette, norms, mores, etc. If you do not participate in the culture by adopting its various elements, you are not a goth. It's as simple as that. As an astute Blog-Tick commenter already pointed out, Goth isn't something you “want” to be. You either are, or you aren't.

But how to find out if you are, if you're not sure? Let's talk more about the elements I mentioned above, and find out, starting with something goths absolutely love: remembrance of things past.

HISTORY

The word “Goth” has been around since the sacking of Rome, and even then, Goth was a culture – or more accurately, a cluster of European tribes who included the Ostrogoths (western Goths) and Visigoths (eastern Goths). These were actual ethnic groups with their own languages and cultures and they have little to nothing to do with the goth subculture that exists today...but the word itself was conserved for some very interesting reasons, as we shall soon see.

The Roman Empire was seen as the high point of culture in the ancient world, so it's no surprise that the tribes who dealt Rome its final death blows were reviled as barbarians by those nostalgic for Roman civilization – though in actuality, the Roman Empire had been in decline for centuries before the Goths arrived, and the Romans indulged in numerous barbaric practices themselves, such as gladiatorial games, public executions, and the conquest and subjugation of numerous indigenous peoples throughout Europe and the Middle East, so the barbarism is all relative.

In any case, as the days of imperial Rome faded into the feudalism of the Middle Ages, the Romanesque style of architecture (typified by rounded archways) was replaced by a new style, typified by pointed archways. You've all seen this style of architecture, as it characterizes some of the most famous cathedrals and castles in Europe, and perhaps some of you also know that it's called Gothic. Why? Because originally, the word Gothic was an insult, denigrating this post-Roman style which was seen as barbaric. In fact, the word “Goth” remained in use for centuries as a pejorative meaning “like a Germanic barbarian.” But the word itself won in the end – today Gothic architecture is celebrated and revered, and many famous Gothic cathedrals are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

(Gothic architecture: Chartres Cathedral, in France)

As with much cultural history, after several hundred years, Gothic architecture went from being the scary disruptive cutting-edge new thing to representing fond nostalgia for the past. Starting in the early 1800's, an artistic and intellectual movement known as Romanticism embraced nostalgia for Gothic styles and Medieval imagery in resistance to the terrifying rise of the Industrial Revolution and the pollution, factories, mechanization, and urbanization that came along with it.

(painting from the early Romantic period)

In rejection of the Enlightenment-era emphasis on reason and rationality, the Romantics embraced spontaneous emotion, awe of the sublime and appreciation of nature. And of course, an emphasis on feelings (and lots of them!) Of course, Medievalism and nature is bound to lead you to images of death. The Memento Mori and Danse Macabre motifs arose in the Middle Ages in response to the death tolls of the bubonic plague and the many brutal conflicts which took place during this period in history, but even in the 1800's, people were still dying a lot and having a lot of feelings about lovers and loved ones dying, so as an artistic movement that valued emotions above all, Romanticism was naturally very focused on the interplays of love and death and juxtapositions of beauty and decay, while often invoking the supernatural, as well.

(A danse macabre image. You can see more at this awesome website)

Famous writers of the Romantic movement include the Brothers Grimm (Grimm's Fairytales), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Faust), James MacPherson (The Ossian Cycle), Edgar Allan Poe (“The Raven” and many others), Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter), Lord Byron (Don Juan and many others), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Percy Bysshe Shelley (“Ozymandias,” “Ode to the West Wind”), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”), Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe), Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre), Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights), Robert Burns (“Auld Lang Syne,” “Comin' Thro' the Rye,” etc.), Alexander Dumas (The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo), Victor Hugo (Les Miserables, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Alexander Pushkin (Eugene Onegin and many others), and many, many more. Famous composers of the Romantic period include Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, and Berlioz.

If you already know a little something about goth and think that the above looks like a great starting point for a list entitled “Things Goths Like,” then you're not wrong. Modern day goth subculture has been enormously influenced by the Romantic movement, in part because of the next permutation of the word “gothic” - the Gothic novel.

Many critics argue that the first Gothic novel ever written was Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto. But whether or not you agree with this assessment, Walpole was definitely a gothic dandy before it was cool – Walpole is credited with reviving Gothic architecture with the construction of his villa, Strawberry Hill, which still stands today and has been open to the public since 2010.

(Strawberry Hill)

The Gothic novel as a genre tended to feature a lot of settings like Strawberry Hill, but creepier – lonely castles up on the misty English moors, and many other more exotic locales. Gothic novels often included ghosts, witches, black magic or some other supernatural element, and focused on psychological horror and themes of love, death and madness (see where this is going yet?) Stock characters included dashing, wealthy and brilliant but tortured men, virginal maidens, and highly intelligent and dastardly villains of many stripes. There was often a focus on the lives of the aristocracy and sudden reversals of fortune (rags to riches, riches to rags), and a use of dramatic plot twists such as faked deaths and miraculous survivals. A number of famous works of Romantic literature are also considered Gothic novels, in particular Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, John William Polidori's The Vampyre, and everything Edgar Allan Poe ever wrote.

The gothic novel continued to develop in the Victorian period with Bram Stoker's Dracula, Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone and The Woman in White, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's shockingly progressive lesbian vampire tale Carmilla, Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (and also, in Cayce's opinion, Mr. Wilde's creepy as fuck fairytales – don't read “The Nightingale and the Rose” if you want to sleep tonight, or ever), the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, and arguably, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Bleak House and Great Expectations. And the list goes on.

The most famous gothic novelists are mostly British, but the Southern Gothic movement in the United States (associated with writers such as William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, and to a certain extent Harper Lee) echoed many of the same themes while playing up uniquely American imagery such as swamps, bayous, the brutal legacy of slavery, and supernatural elements derived in part from African superstition.

In the twentieth century, the tropes and melodrama of the Gothic novel were hashed and rehashed again and again in popular culture, sometimes in seriousness, sometimes played up for camp and cheese, and sometimes walking a fine line between the two. With the advent of film, gothic horror made the transition from page to screen with silent films like Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, Femme Fatale and many “talkies” to follow.

Then came the counterculture of the 1960's, which set the stage for the punk movement in the 1970's. Punk rockers like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones, Patti Smith, The Damned and many more aimed to smash the formulaic repressive sameness of capitalist consumer culture, embracing a DIY fashion aesthetic that employed brightly dyed hair, and hand-painted, hand-distressed, hand-altered clothing full of safety pins and hardware in an effort to shock and offend easily jarred mainstream sensibilities. The punks played simple, loud, brash music that rejected elitist ideas about who was allowed to be a musician and what constituted “real” music, and also transmitted messages of resistance to corporate brainwashing and nationalist war-mongering.

What many people these days don't seem realize is that punk was never just about aimless teenage frustration, but a serious intense critique of authoritarian capitalist society...and though the trappings of punk may since have been co-opted by corporate interests many times over, the punk movement is still going strong all over the world, from off-the-grid anarchist communities in Berlin to an underground punk network feeding the homeless in Myanmar. But I digress.

The point is, another thing many people these days don't seem to realize is that modern day gothic subculture was born out of the British punk movement, and at first, it wasn't called “goth” at all. Siouxsie Sioux and the early members of the Banshees got their start as a chaotic group of ardent Sex Pistols fans, who wore outrageous outfits they had either made themselves, scavenged from vintage shops, or rented from theater costumiers, and attended Sex Pistols shows to join in the spitting, fistfights, and general mayhem. Soon enough, though none of them had any musical experience to speak of, they decided to start a band, with Siouxsie as the singer, though rather than sing at their first gig, she reportedly taped five microphones together (for a louder sound!) and screeched the words to The Lord's Prayer while the other band members clanged on their instruments, aiming not so much to make a melody as to be as loud as possible.

So how did they go from aimless screeching to the signature goth sound we know and love? To find out, let's talk about goth music.

MUSIC

The goth subculture grew up around goth music. As with any movement, it's difficult to say who exactly came up with the sound that later came to be known as goth, and when. But these days, people generally agree that the major progenitors of the goth sound were the bands Joy Divison, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Sisters of Mercy, and to a lesser extent, The Cure. Of course, many other bands played a role in developing the sound and subculture – the bands listed above are merely some of the earliest and the most well-known, and each found goth in a slightly different way.

Joy Divison, like the Banshees, were influenced by the Sex Pistols, but after forming the band in 1976 the band members quickly veered away from the typical punk sound to something darker and more atmospheric. Though their first album, Unknown Pleasures, achieved widespread critical acclaim, and its iconic cover art still appears today on the t-shirts of hipsters who in all likelihood never knew a band called Joy Division even existed, Joy Division's career as a band was short-lived. Their troubled vocalist, Ian Curtis, who suffered from epilepsy and depression, committed suicide by hanging at the tender age of 23, and though the other band members later went on to fame and fortune with their new project New Order, Joy Division itself was gone forever...yet at the same time, the band had cemented their cred in the goth world to come – because death at a young age by tragic suicide is just about the gothiest death there is. Joy Division's hits “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” “She's Lost Control” and “Atmosphere” (among others) are still regularly played at goth clubs today. For more info on Joy Division, watch the film Control.

(This is Joy Division)


(Kristen Stewart has probably never actually listened to Joy Division)

Meanwhile, up in chilly Northampton, England, three art-school buddies, Daniel Ash, David J and Kevin Haskins, joined together with their friend Peter Murphy to form Bauhaus. The band's breakout single, “Bela Lugosi's Dead,” told the story of famed vampire actor Bela Lugosi as a real vampire. Though the band had intended the song to be partly tongue-in-cheek, Peter Murphy's high cheekbones, slim figure, sepulchral voice and intense stage charisma made it easy for audiences to believe he was a real vampire, and he soon began playing up the image, appearing on stage wearing capes or climbing out of coffins, darting in and out of dramatic spotlights. With their signature echoing, atmospheric, string-scratching sound, Bauhaus exerted a huge influence over the sounds of the bands that came after them, earning Murphy the nickname “Godfather of Goth,” though the other band members, particularly J and Ash, made extremely significant contributions to the band's work, so Murphy should not be allowed to hog the credit. Fun fact: David J, the Bauhaus bassist, and Kevin Haskins, the Bauhaus drummer, are real-life brothers, just like Yutaka and Toll.

(This is Bauhaus)

(This is a picture of Peter Murphy I found on the internet while looking for a nice picture of Bauhaus to post. In case you didn't know already, Mr. Sakurai is a huge fanboy of Mr. Murphy, but Mr. Murphy doesn't look like this anymore. Sorry, fans.)

Near Manchester, The Sisters of Mercy got their start around the same time, but though they later went on to be considered one of the definitive artists exemplifying the goth sound, they had some growing pains, and went through numerous member changes due to arguments and infighting. After the release of their first album, First and Last and Always, guitarist Wayne Hussey left the band to start his own group, The Mission, who are regarded as a goth classic in their own right. While Wayne has been widely ridiculed for only ever having written one song over and over again (hint: it sounds like “Sacrifice”), post-Wayne, Sisters continued to develop their sound in a more electronic direction with gospel-inflected backup vocals. Their hits “This Corrosion” and “Lucretia, My Reflection,” among many others, are still beloved by goths throughout the world, and if you walk into any given goth club on any given night anywhere on earth, you're likely to see at least one person dressed like Sisters' vocalist Andrew Eldritch or bassist Patricia Morrison (whose contributions to the band are often sidelined due to Morrison being a woman #gothladiesmatter). 

(Sisters of Mercy frontman Andrew Eldritch. He looked so much like someone from the Japanese goth scene, but I can't think who...and also, he doesn't look like that anymore. Sorry, fans)

(Andy and Patty, when Andy had a beard)

And what of Siouxsie and the Banshees? After releasing two records that were still very much in the punk vein, they finally learned how to play their instruments properly, and quickly began developing an all-new sound centered around minor-key melodies and dramatic, narrative lyrics heavily influenced by horror films and ghost stories. For a period of time, Robert Smith served as their lead guitarist, even after going on to found The Cure, the goth-associated band that found the most long-term mainstream success. While Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus parted ways after only a handful of albums each, the Banshees (despite rampant alcoholism, cocaine use, serial chewing up and spitting out of guitarists, and epic acid trips that very nearly took them out of this dimension entirely) were improbable survivors, releasing eleven albums before they finally split in 1996. With her distinctive Egyptian-style eye makeup and ever-evolving wardrobe of wild costumes, Siouxsie Sioux probably did more than anyone else to define the gothic fashion aesthetic, and her reverberant alto voice and uncompromising challenges against an indifferent, male-dominated world still serve as an inspiration to female rock musicians today.

(Siouxsie, Steve and Budgie)

(Siouxsie with Robert Smith)

However, like I said, at the beginning, none of these bands thought of themselves as “goth.” If anything, they considered themselves offshoots of the punk movement, hence the term “post-punk,” which is often applied to this early gothic sound. The word “goth,” as usual, was applied by critics after the movement was already underway. The first instance of the word being used to describe the new sound is a matter of debate, but some claim it came from “gothic rock” used as a descriptor for The Doors (who did indeed have a strong influence on many of the early goth-associated artists). In any case, just as with Gothic architecture, the term “goth” was initially intended as a pejorative, before being reluctantly, then enthusiastically embraced by members of the budding subculture themselves.

In contrast to the fast beats, major chords and screamy vocals of punk, the goth sound was defined by minor key arrangements and slower beats that meandered between mournful ballads and medium-tempo, hip-swaying dance numbers. Instrumentation was usually spare, with the bass taking center stage over minimalist drum lines, heavily distorted, jangly guitar and ethereal synthesizer. Bass lines were usually simple and repetitive, evocative of sex and heartbeats. Low, mournful vocals were common, with some vocalists preferring a spoken-word style delivery heavy on the echo, while others sang beautiful sad melodies – overall, the emphasis on melody was much stronger among post-punk bands than among punk bands.

While punk lyrics were often simple and easy to remember, goth lyrics tended to be dense, intellectual, and abstruse, difficult to parse on a single hearing and thick with literary allusions. Veering away from the political messages of punk, the goths preferred to focus on the human psyche, especially themes of fear, depression, anxiety, loss, despair, love and all the pain that comes along with it. Punk was a political rebellion, but like the Romantic movement before it, goth was an emotional rebellion, against the tyranny of mainstream pop that required people to deny their negative feelings and put on a false happy face.

Goth bands were also often very creative in their use of ambient noise, especially wind, bells, footsteps, breaking glass and other creepy haunted-house sounds. Synthesizers were very popular, especially strings and organ. Bands also made extensive use of sampling and backing vocals, sometimes trading vocalists, depending on the song.

The early goth-associated artists took a great deal of inspiration from the glam rock of the 70's, especially artists like David Bowie and Marc Bolan of T. Rex. Meanwhile, synthesizer technology was growing more advanced by the day, and centered in Germany, electro, techno and industrial music were rapidly developing as new genres. As the 70's gave way to the 80's, artists in England began combining the colorful, androgynous beauty of glam with the electronic sounds of techno to create new wave, and many artists who are generally classified as new wave were widely appreciated by the goth community. For the most part, lines between genres were blurry and artificial, and everyone went to the same nightclubs.

Therefore, many of the artists beloved by goths today weren't considered “goth” in their heyday, and never considered themselves goth at all – but what they all share is a melacholy affect, an appreciation of beauty and romance, and a desire to look beneath the surface into the dark recesses of human psychology – common threads which define the soul of the goth philosophy.

Some classic and contemporary artists who are commonly associated with the goth movement include (in no particular order): Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Clan of Xymox, Skinny Puppy, Killing Joke, Kate Bush, Danielle Dax, The Psychedelic Furs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Xmal Deutschland, Tones on Tail, Love and Rockets, Sex Gang Children, Malaria!, Alien Sex Fiend, Specimen, The Glove, The Danse Society, Public Image Limited, Christian Death, And Also The Trees, Cocteau Twins, Japan, The Creatures, Dali's Car, Curve, London After Midnight, Cinema Strange, The Prodigy, Sopor Aeternus and the Ensemble of Shadows, Switchblade Symphony, Rasputina, She Wants Revenge, IAMX, Jill Tracy, The Cruxshadows, Voltaire, and many, many more...the list is almost endless. If your favorite artist isn't on this list, that doesn't mean they're not goth, it probably just means I forgot to list them.

(Specimen)

(Malaria!)

(Clan of Xymox)

In addition, many artists who are not generally defined as goth also appeal to fans of various aspects of the goth sound, whether it be new wave (Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, The Culture Club, Visage, Duran Duran, The Human League), Medieval and folk-inspired music (Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Loreena McKennit, Medaeval Baebes), cabaret (Lydia Lunch, Nina Hagen, Klaus Nomi, The Dresden Dolls), electro (Tangerine Dream, Cabaret Voltaire, Die Form, DAF, Delerium), industrial (Einsturzende Neubauten, Ministry, KMFDM, Front Line Assembly, Pig, Laibach, Rammstein), shoegaze (My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Smashing Pumpkins), actual punk (The Damned, The Misfits, The Cramps, The Kills) jangly pop and indie rock (The Smiths, Julian Cope, etc.), grunge (Nirvana, QueenAdreena, etc.), 90's girl-rock (P.J. Harvey, Garbage) trip-hop (Portishead, Massive Attack, Lamb), dream pop (Goldfrapp, Cranes, St. Vincent), EBM (VNV Nation, And One, Blutengel, Icon of Coil, one-hit wonders Wolfsheim), and bands that straddle the line between goth, metal, nu-goth, and nu-metal (Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, Lacuna Coil, etc.) Again, the above is far from a comprehensive list, more like some illustrative examples to help you get the idea. If you feel like I put a band in the wrong genre...chill out, genre is mostly an artificial construct anyway.

However, it's important to note that metal is NOT goth, which is why there are no metal bands on the above lists. While it's true that goths and metalheads are generally friendly with one another, often date one another, and may look superficially similar due to their mutual love of black and dark things, goth music and metal music are structurally very different, and the two subcultures have different origins and life philosophies. Think of Goth and Metal as two countries that share a border and friendly diplomatic and trade relations, but speak different languages and practice different religions.

It's also important to note that emo/screamo/pop punk are also NOT goth. Emo was (is? Is emo still a thing?) its own distinct subculture with its own origins and ethos. There was a time when mainstream people tended to conflate goth and emo, but I'm here to tell you now: Evanesence, Panic! At The Disco, My Chemical Romance, Fallout Boy and Tokio Hotel are NOT goth. Listen to the music and you will hear that they sound nothing alike even if emo bands tended to appropriate gothic fashion and iconography from time to time. Consider yourself educated. 

Likewise, so-called “pop punk” bands got a lot of crap for being “sellouts” to corporate interests, but it's highly dubious that they ever even considered themselves punk in the first place...at least not in the same way as the Sex Pistols. Anyhow, Avril Lavigne, Blink 182, Green Day, Good Charlotte...none of them are goth. Never were, never will be. And I will also take the time to mention that Linkin Park is not goth, either. No one in Japan seems to understand this, but over here in Gothdom we never wanted those people and we still don't want them.

So if metal, emo, and pop-punk aren't goth, what about Gothic Lolita? After all, it has the word “goth” right there in the name! Sorry, fans, but Gothic Lolita is not goth, either. It, too, is its own distinctive subculture that arose entirely separately from goth. At this point, goth and Gothic Lolita may have influenced each other to enough of an extent that there are overlaps and crossovers, but Gothic Lolita is still not goth and never has been. As for what Gothic Lolita is, that's a topic for another article.

Why has goth been so misunderstood, then? Why have all these other unrelated subcultures been conflated with goth? Since people are superficial creatures, it's likely that it all boils down to fashion, which brings me to our next topic.

COSTUME

Many people unfamiliar with the goth subculture seem to believe that goth is nothing but a fashion style. While it's true that goths place a high value on fashion and aesthetics, fashion alone does not a goth make – as I said in the previous section, the goth subculture grew up around music and music is still the unifying force in Gothdom. Fashion is secondary. However, it's pretty much impossible to be a goth unless you observe gothic fashion at least to some extent. So what is gothic fashion, really?

In the early days, no commercial brands of goth-style clothes were available, so the early goth kids had to do it all themselves. Many people sewed their own clothes or picked up cheap clothing from goodwill shops and altered it to their liking. Safety pins were popular because they allowed even people who didn't know how to sew to alter clothing quickly and easily. Fishnet stockings were also popular because they were cheap and easy to convert into sleeves, masks, or whatever else you wanted. Vintage formalwear such as old tailcoats and cocktail dresses were also a go-to option, especially when altered to look more outre. At first, the really important part of the look was the hair and makeup. Teased hair was a must, and mohawks and long sideburns were also popular, but makeup could be almost anything, so long as it was bold and strange-looking. Glam rockers like David Bowie and Marc Bolan had already made it okay for boys to wear makeup, and the men of the goth tribe took up the tradition with a vengeance. Many of the early goth bands performed with their faces painted fully white, with black lips and black-ringed eyes. 

Stylistically, goth fashion borrowed from many different influences, including BDSM, burlesque, military uniforms, film noir, Victorian mourning attire, Medieval garb, and of course, horror movies. Staple items of a goth's wardrobe might typically include trench coats, frock coats, long black skirts, dresses or robes in various styles, corsets, combat or cowboy boots, copious scarves and silver jewelry, black hats of many varieties, and anything made of black leather or trimmed with black lace, black beads, black fringe, black feathers, or black embroidery.

All the same, while it's commonly assumed that dressing goth means wearing nothing but black, this is far from the case. Shades of grey and silver have always been acceptable for adding dimension to goth outfits. Red, with its connotations of sex, blood, wine, and roses, has always been popular for dramatic accents, while purple, and its association with royalty and passion, is used nearly as often. Shades of blue can effectively evoke mystery, sadness, and the sea, while greens, especially emerald, olive and pine tones, have often been favored among hippie-inclined goths or those with an interest in Medieval Pagan history or the occult. Metallic shades of gold and silver look great onstage if you're in a band, and also call to mind visions of ruined ancient grandeur of fallen empires like Greece and Egypt. Animal prints carry an innate image of wildness and sexuality, so it's hard to go wrong with leopard or zebra prints, either.

Though dark colors are generally heavily favored over lighter shades, a ruffly, lacy white blouse in an otherwise all-black ensemble never went amiss, and “white goth,” built entirely around tints of white, cream, beige, sea foam and cherry-blossom pink, has long been a viable pale-spectrum alternative color scheme, evoking corpse brides, consumptive waifs, and madwomen from Victorian novels. In addition, several offshoots of goth have emphatically embraced bright colors, most notably the cybergoths, goth-raver hybrids who love hardcore electro and take great pleasure in the playfulness of day-glo and neon accents (plus, holy fuck do neon colors look fantastic when you're high!) Recent years have also seen the rise of the so-called “pastel goth” look, which combines classic gothic motifs and cuts with the Care Bear and My Little Pony colors of fairytstyle and Sweet Lolita (fashion evolves like recombinant DNA).

One traditional hallmark of goth fashion is the re-purposing of corsetry and other vintage undergarments as outerwear. Consequently, it's perfectly acceptable to go to a goth club in underwear, so long as it's the right underwear – vintage negligees and nightgowns in black lace, black satin bras and knickers worn under sheer lace dresses, bodysuits, and garter belts are all de rigeur, as are the trappings of BDSM, such as latex, whips, gags, masks, thigh-high boots and shiny vinyl gloves.

Vintage and historical styles are another hallmark, but there's no need for historical accuracy – Victorian, Edwardian, Medieval and Jazz Age styles may all be mixed and matched with complete freedom. Full floor-length dresses with hoop skirts, Medieval-style dresses with long trailing sleeves, cloaks, frock coats, tail coats, Renaissance-style poet shirts, and fringed flapper dresses are all particular classics.

Military and para-military styles may be most strongly associated with the industrial scene, but they've always been embraced as a part of goth, especially looks inspired by post-apocalyptic futurism a la Mad Max or The Matrix, or looks based around vintage uniforms. Combat boots are a must-have for any goth, and Nazi SS hats are another staple – most likely stemming from the enormous visual impact of the film The Night Porter, they've taken on a life of their own in goth fashion iconography. Though goth music is largely apolotical, goth themselves tend to veer far to the left, so military uniforms are generally worn in critique of fascism, not in support of it (see Laibach's tour of North Korea).

(Mr. Sakurai sports an SS hat during the Yumemiru Uchuu tour)

As for jewelry and accessories, nearly anything can be acceptable if worn right. Death-related motifs such as skulls, skeletons, crosses and coffins never go out of style, but life-affirming images such as flowers, trees, and animals (especially cats, spiders, beetles, birds, stags, butterflies, dragons, and krakens) are also common, as are celestial motifs like moons, stars, suns and planets. Silver is generally preferred over gold, but this is far from set in stone. Pearls are beloved, as are bangles, crystals, chains, padlocks, and dog collars. Earrings and rings are welcomed – the more and bigger, the better.

Makeup should be dark and dramatic, preferably involving black eyeliner, prominent eyelashes, and bold lips. For those of you with sensitive skin, I sympathize, but you really cannot look suitably goth without at least a bit of makeup. However, there are many brands of hypo-allergenic, non-toxic, all-botanical makeup available, so with a bit of searching you should be able to find something suitable for your constitution. Hair, on the other hand, can be almost anything at all – though you'll never go wrong with a well-teased tangle or a nice tall mohawk, and black dye is never a faux pas, either, natural hair can be just fine, so long as it's clear that you put some effort into making it look good. As for what “look good” means – it means, whatever looks good on you! A flattering haircut can make the difference between pitiable dowdiness and breathtaking beauty. If you get bored with having the same hairstyle but you also don't want to deal with hairdressers, wigs and clip-in extensions are two simple alternatives.

And if all this sounds like a lot of work, remember that goths are people too, and we all have lazy days. Casual goth is just one more goth look, and generally involves some permutation of band t-shirt + jeans + boots combo. Bonus points if you've worn the jeans so long they have natural holes in them, and/or if you bought the band t-shirt on the tour and cut holes in it yourself. Still more bonus points if you received the band t-shirt directly from one of the band members, and even MORE bonus points if you stole the t-shirt off another goth in the lonely hung-over haze the morning after a steamy midnight rendezvous (that reek of stale cigarette smoke, smear of black lipstick, and fading fragrance of amber and patchouli is all you have to remember her by!)

On a casual day, if it's too hot for boots, black Converse sneakers, black leather sandals, or Japanese geta may be acceptable – but NEVER let yourself be caught in flip-flops, Tevas, Birkenstocks, or (perish the thought!) Crocs. If we see you in those, expect to be thrown out of Gothdom forever! Alternatively, if it's cold, throw on a nice sloppy black cardigan and a big drapey scarf. If you still don't quite get what casual goth looks like, take a look at some off-stage photos of Mr. Sakurai to get an idea, since pretty much everything he wears fits the “casual goth” description to a tee.

(Lazy as fuck in casual goth and smug about it, too - 2007)

(Lazy as fuck in casual goth - five years later in 2012...I think he's wearing exactly the same clothes. Casual goth never goes out of style!)

Winter is easy for goths, because there's nothing more goth than a long black coat or cloak, wide-brimmed black hat, trailing black scarf, high lace-up boots, and shiny black leather gloves! Summer, on the other hand, can be a challenge. Cutting more holes in your favorite t-shirt can be one way to handle the heat, and loose and drapey Indian or Indonesian clothing can be another good solution, if you can find the right colors and accessorize properly (bone bead necklaces, anyone?) For the most part, goths do not go to the beach, at least not during the day. But if you want to go and you're pale skinned, make sure you wear a big sunhat and bring a robe to cover up with – nobody loves a sunburned goth!

Oh wait, do you have to go to work? Don't let that stop you from being goth! In contrast to many subcultures which belong to the young, only, goth subculture is welcoming to people of all ages, and many goths stay goth all their lives...but it's hard to be a functioning adult without a job, which has made adaptation of the goth style for the corporate world a necessity. Corporate goth, if done right, won't signal to anyone in the office except other goths – who will probably be able to tell right away. How? A silver tie bar, my friends. Or perhaps, some unusual cufflinks and carefully selected pattern of tie...or maybe a polka dot neck kerchief. A preference for gray shirts, black suits, pinstripes or maybe houndstooth if you're feeling festive. Or, for the ladies, that same old sloppy black cardigan (damn but they come in handy!) and a fine silk scarf patterned with some black roses. Generally, it's easy to remain fairly goth in the office and still fly under the corporate radar, because black is pretty much the most businesslike color there is. Just make sure you manicure isn't out of line with the dresscode and make sure, if you're a dude, to wipe off the remainder of Saturday night's eyeliner before you reach Monday morning!

Which brings me to another vitally important point about goth fashion: anything that is acceptable dress for goth ladies is also acceptable dress for goth gentlemen, and vice versa! If you are a goth man, wearing eyeliner, lipstick, skirts, corsets, or nail polish does not, I repeat, does NOT mean that you are gay, transgender, genderqueer, cross-dressing, or anything else. It simply means you are a male goth, full stop. Skirts, makeup and corsets are as much a part of the goth man's wardrobe as the goth woman's! By the same token, if you're a goth lady, but you prefer dressing like a gent in a suit and bowtie and pocket square, go right ahead. Goth fashion embraces and celebrates androgyny, and if you leave the house styled in such a way that nobody can tell the shape of your chromosomes or genitalia by looking at your surface appearance, well then so much the better.

Now y'all probably want me to name off some goth brands so you can go and do some goth shopping, but honestly, at this point there are too many brands out there to make them worth naming, and new ones keep popping into being all the time because a lot of the best producers of gothic fashion and accessories are individual creators or small independent labels. If you look for them, you'll find them. But I still think that the best way to assemble a goth look is to scrounge around anywhere and everywhere – yard sales, thrift stores, your grandmother's closet, ebay, normal people shops, the nearest dumpster – you never know what you might find if you start looking, and if you assemble your look this way, you're guaranteed to look unique.
 
Everyone loves a how-to guide, but ultimately, there are no real rules to goth fashion – only guidelines. However, whatever you decide to wear, be sure to wear it like you mean it. Owning individual pieces of fancy clothing isn't enough. What matters most is your entire look, including not only your clothes, hair, makeup, jewelry, and shoes, but also your nails, your socks, your bag and whatever else you're bringing along with you. Simple and casual is fine, so long as it matches. But if you go to the store and just buy whatever you see in the show window, then put it on willy-nilly without taking the time to develop a vision or an image for your outfit, everyone will be able to see you're a faker. And if you're too lazy to pay this level of attention to your look, you're probably not a goth. Goths care.

But who are you dressing up for, anyway? The short answer is: everybody. Goths do not require special occasions for “permission” to dress up. Dressing up any time is not only fine, it's encouraged. People who only put on goth clothes for special occasions are probably not goths (see my above notes on “casual goth”). At the same time, it's always more fun to dress up if you've got a place to show off your duds, and for most goths, this place is The Club.

DANCE (At the Club!)

Since the goth subculture grew up around goth music, musical events are still the primary locations where goths gather. Concerts by goth bands and goth festivals such as Whitby Gothic Weekend and Wave Gotik Treffen are a given, but in between tours and festivals, most goths hang out at goth clubs. This has been true since the very beginning, when clubs like the Batcave in London served as places for like-minded weirdos to congregate, enjoy new music, show off their fashions and exchange ideas. Today, goth clubs can be found all over the globe – though the term “goth club” is a bit of misnomer, because for the most part, “goth clubs” are simply gothic music nights held at regular nightclub venues. Very few club venues are goth seven nights a week. Also, since goth music is quite diverse and eclectic, many goth club nights involve numerous DJs spinning various genres including everything from glam to trad (that is to say, first-wave post-punk) to new wave to industrial/electro and more. Goth-inclined music nights may also commonly be held at gay or BDSM clubs, since the goth scene has long been friendly with both the gay and fetish scenes.

If you think you might be goth but you've never been to a goth club and you also think you hate clubbing – don't jump to conclusions so quickly. Goth clubs tend to be very, very different from mainstream nightclubs. Most people may go to mainstream nightclubs primarily to binge drink and initiate sloppy sexual advances on similarly inebriated strangers, but goths usually go to goth clubs primarily to 1) hang out with other goths 2) enjoy dancing to the music while looking fabulous together. For the most part, goths love dancing, and they take it very seriously. The more creatively you dance, the better, but if you're shy, standing on the sidelines looking beautiful and haughty is also acceptable.

As for looking beautiful, though dress codes at goth clubs are generally no longer enforced the way they used to be, goth clubs are a safe space for goths to freely practice the rituals of their subculture, so if you attend a goth club but you're not goth, it's polite to dress appropriately (when in doubt, simple head-to-toe black will do just fine.) Showing up to a goth club improperly dressed ruins the atmosphere for everyone else and will earn you nothing but scorn from the club's regulars, so if you want to trespass on the gothic world, at least make a bit of effort! Nobody wants to see a polo shirt and blue jeans on a goth dance floor.

Also, look all you want, but don't touch anyone without permission! Goth dancing is most certainly NOT touchy-feely, so if you try to cop a feel of a goth girl at a club while she's dancing in the zone, prepare to get punched in the eye with a fistful of spikes, and/or kicked in the balls with giant steel-toed boots. Goths love sex at least as much as the average person, so of course, dance-floor romances do blossom, but unilateral sexual harassment is not looked on favorably, and if you bother one of the regulars, you might very well find yourself escorted forcefully out of the club by some very tall, intimidating men in leather jackets.

But what happens when your desire is mutual? To see what happens then, let's move on to the next section.

SEXUALITY & MATING RITUALS

Aside from the music and fashion, the most visible aspect of the goth subculture is probably the very loose and open-minded attitude most goths have about gender and sexuality. As I mentioned in the fashion section, androgyny of appearance and behavior is embraced, and going along with this, a wide array of sexual orientations and preferences are not only tolerated, but actively encouraged. These attitudes can be traced indirectly all the way back to the Romantics and their preoccupation with simmering homo-erotic subtexts, intense romantic friendships, forbidden love and taboo sex in general.

Over the years, many movers and shakers in the goth scene have been openly gay, bisexual, genderqueer or otherwise belonging to sexual minorities. Goths tend to take a “live and let live” attitude towards sexual preferences in general, and as I previously mentioned, goth culture and queer culture have long been closely aligned. Beyond tolerance of differing orientations, goths also tend to be very accepting of other alternative sexualities, including BDSM, fetish culture and non-monogamy. If you're a vanilla, hetero, monogamous goth determined never to experiment with anything more unusual, people won't bother you about it. At the same time, by refusing to experiment, you may be missing out on all sorts of unknown pleasures (omg see what I did there?)

The same thing goes for goths without piercings, tattoos or other body modifications – body modification isn't a requirement for being a goth, but it is an important part of goth culture. Most goths you'll meet have at least one modification somewhere on their bodies, even if they aren't willing to show it to you...so if you completely lack piercings and tattoos, they won't shame you about it, but they will probably wonder why you didn't get curious at least once and try it out.

Also, since goth has traditionally been intensely critical of religious guilt (Catholicism in particular), goths in general do not look on sex and lust as cause for shame or embarrassment. Casual sex is typically regarded as life-affirming and an act of love in its own way, though jealousy and heartbreak are universal human emotions which can never be avoided entirely.

But enough with all this talk of sexual philosophy...let's get down to the down and dirty here: how do you seduce a goth?

In general, goths are sensual creatures who respond well to an elegantly implemented seduction. At the goth club, when a special someone catches your eye, the best way to begin is by making eye contact, then offering a mysterious little Mona Lisa smile at your beloved before quickly turning away, like a cat who isn't quite sure yet if it loves you or if it gives no fucks. Wait a minute or so, then repeat. After repeating this dance a few more times, if your desired paramour returns your interest, he or she will likely come over to talk to you, or perhaps, if it's too loud to talk, simply kiss your bloodstained lips with the pent-up fervor of a fortnight of passion wasted upon the lonely cold of an empty room, and the rest will be easy. If, on the other hand, your desired love does not return your affections, best give up and look for someone else.

But for those who lack the boldness for this type of impulsive seduction, another tried and true strategy is to walk up to the object of your interest, give him/her a careful once-over (so it's clear you're appreciating both their fantastic outfit and their hot bod!) Then make eye contact, smirk, wink, and casually remark, “Nice boots.” If your partner winks back and compliments your own boots in return, you pretty much have a green light to hit the sack immediately.

FOOD (Choose Your Poison!)

When it comes to food, goths exhibit similar preferences to normal humans – which is to say that food preferences among goths run the gamut from sanctimonious veganism to shameless, vacuum-cleaner like inhalation of junk food to refined Epicurean devourement of choice succulent meats from all manner of fish and beasts. True, there are a fair number of goths with eating disorders, but no data exist to support the theory that the percentage of people with eating disorders in the goth scene is higher than that in the population at large.

The gastronomic sector where the goth population starts to display its own peculiar tastes is not, in the strictest sense, gastronomic at all, but rather more like pharmaceutical. In plain English: goths love drugs!

When I say “drugs,” you're probably already thinking of things like speed and heroin, but I'm including legal drugs in this, too, especially that blackest of the black of legal drugs that's even legal in repressive  Arab countries – yes, my friends, I'm talking about coffee. Not only is coffee black and bitter (just like a goth's soul), but generally, goths hate mornings and, like bats, have a lot of trouble remaining awake during daylight hours, so at times like these, self-medication with liberal amounts of coffee becomes an absolute necessity. There probably is at least one goth out there who doesn't jones for the java, but even if those people exist, I've never met them.

And what drug goes best with coffee? Goth-in-a-closet film director Jim Jarmusch even titled a film after it: Coffee and Cigarettes. Cigarettes are indeed bad for your health, so we can't advocate smoking them, but most goths, even if they don't smoke now, have smoked at some point in the past. Plenty of goths smoke ordinary brands of cigarettes, but plenty others are picky about the look and smell of their tobacco, and favor unusual brands like Indonesian clove-flavored Djarums (originally popular because they come wrapped in black paper) and Garams (no black paper, but they taste good). A small minority remain ardently devoted to dark and heavy French brands like Gauloises or Serge Gainsbourg's beloved Gitanes.

Cigarettes are not only appealing to goths because they smell good and look cool, but also because goths commonly suffer from panic attacks, depression, and other related maladies, and are thus attracted to the romance of self-destructive behaviors like smoking, and also calmed by the way that smoking can help soothe stress and serve as a buffer against anxiety.

Though the image of the depressed goth may be largely a stereotype, the goth subculture has always been tolerant and welcoming toward people who struggle with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other types of mental illness. This makes perfect sense, considering that much of the goth philosophy is concerned with how to admit, discuss, and constructively process all types of negative emotions such as heartbreak, grief, anger, jealousy, despair, loneliness and fear of death (more on this in a moment). Rather than causing depression, goth culture offers a place for people dealing with depression and mental illness to own and express their feelings in an honest fashion, and meet other people with similar experiences – including experiences with prescription medication. Many goths have taken prescription medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, sleep aids, etc., and whether the experiences have been good or bad, use of medication is a common theme that crops up within the sphere of goth art.

Of course, when everything just feels like too much, the easiest way to deal is to drown yourself in whiskey (or whatever booze you choose!) It's no secret that goths LOVE booze, and while they'll generally drink anything that's available, certain types of booze tend to stand out as being more goth than others. Red wine is a given, of course, but if you want to drink the Gothiest Booze Ever, you should probably order absinthe.

Absinthe is a classic among goths not only because of its bitter, herbal flavor and unique color (the green of jealousy!) but because of the unique culture that grew up around the drink during the early years of the twentieth century in Europe – a time and place that spawned a huge number of artists and writers still popular among goths today. Absinthe was often drunk by artists and writers who gathered in cafes, and earned the nickname “the green fairy” due to its green color and reputation for bringing on a unique state of “lucid drunkenness,” or expanded consciousness, that was widely regarded as being especially conducive to creative work. Traditionally, the drinking of absinthe was a ritual in and of itself. First, a slotted spoon (often very ornate and made of silver) was placed over the glass, and a single lump of sugar was placed on top of the spoon. The absinthe was then poured into the glass over the sugar, soaking the sugar in alcohol. Next, the sugar was lit with a match so that it burned with a clear, almost invisible blue flame. Once the sugar was completely burned, water was poured over the spoon and the whole mixture was stirred together, causing the pure green color of the absinthe to quickly turn pale and cloudy – a phenomenon known as “louching” which is common to all anise-flavored liqueuers, including Pernod and Sambuca.

(An absinthe fountain shaped like the Green Fairy)

(Absinthe Bohemian style)

Though enormously popular at the turn of the twentieth century, due to a smear campaign by none other than the wine industry (who feared their product would be eclipsed by absinthe and become obsolete), absinthe was subsequently made illegal in most countries until the early 2000's. The wine industry successfully made the claims that the central ingredient in absinthe, the bitter herb wormwood, caused highly detrimental health effects, including hallucinations and murderous madness. Only recently have these claims been scientifically proven false, opening the way for absinthe to be legalized once more, much to the rejoicing of the goth community.

PHILOSOPHY

So now that we've talked about the history of the goth subculture, and all the external trappings of gothness, now let's talk a bit about what goth really means.

People often ask – can you be a goth if you don't want to wear black all the time? Can you be a goth if you don't like Bauhaus? Can you be a goth if you've never felt depressed, or if the idea of getting a tattoo creeps you out?

The answer is, of course you can. Why? Because at its heart, goth isn't about wearing particular clothes or liking a particular band. At its heart, goth is a life philosophy. You can argue all you want about the specifics of goth fashion and music, but ultimately, if you don't share the goth outlook on life, you'll never really be a member of the subculture.

So what is this outlook on life, exactly? At its core, goth philosophy it revolves around one main idea: accept the darkness, and learn to see beauty in it.

Darkness itself can take many forms. Of course, the nighttime is darkness – if you don't love the beauty of the night and feel attracted to the intrinsic loveliness of night creatures, I very much doubt you are a goth. But beyond the literal darkness of the night, most immediately, darkness is Death – inevitable, inexorable, unknown and unknowable. We see death, and we're confronted with the question, what is the point of being alive and conscious, if we're all doomed to die?

Human philosophers have been tackling this question since the dawn of the human race, but there is also a tendency in mainstream culture to sweep big questions like these out of sight, because they're too profound and too uncomfortable for most people to deal with, most of the time. Goth philosophy finds this kind of denial dishonest, and prefers instead to confront the problem head on. No one has any satisfactory answers, of course, but goths find it very important to wrestle continuously with the question anyway – hence the love of imagery related to death and decay, such as skulls, tombs, and scavenging or predatory animals. Perhaps, if we can get close enough to Death, we can stop feeling quite so afraid. Perhaps, if we can get close enough to Death, we can at last come to understand and maybe even love her.

Of course, once we begin to consider Death we must also consider murder, illness, and the brutality of existence as animals in nature who must kill to survive (vegetarians: eating plants involves killing them a lot of the time!) How is it that we can think and feel so much and yet illness has the capacity to turn us to nothing but flesh, writhing in agony? Why do we have such a tendency to feel such disgust at the blood and effluvia of our own mortal bodies? What is the nature of Evil, and why do we continue to commit evil acts against each other?  How to deal with the evil impulses within ourselves? Again, mainstream culture would have us deny the darker feelings of our nature, but goth says it's better to admit them and seek to understand them.

When confronted with the inevitability of death, people tend to waffle between wild indulgence in the immediate pleasures of the senses and abject terror and despair. Goth engages with both of these impulses as natural, rational responses to the absurd and irresolvable predicament we call Life. Why, if we love each other so much, and we're all going to die so soon, do we break each other's hearts so goddamn often? Why, if we're all going to die so soon, don't we all just give up right away and kill ourselves now? Mainstream society may tell you to suck it up, keep a stiff upper lip, get over it and keep smiling, but goth philosophy says: it's okay to feel terrible. Too often, the world is a terrible place. Maybe it's okay to go crazy. Maybe it's easier to be insane than to be sane. Or maybe you're the only sane one and it's all those furiously smiling mainstream people who are crazy.

These are all big questions, and even among goths, everyone has slightly different answers, if they have any answers at all. But overall, goth is not generally given to nihilism (though it may have its nihilistic moments – see The Mortal's “Pain Drop” for further info.) Ultimately, goth finds salvation by finding beauty and dignity even in fear, misery, and despair. Goth also finds salvation by cherishing beautiful things, moments, and feelings (like love), even after they break, die, or disappear in the sands of time. What can we do but savor the good things while they last, then accept that we must let them go?

In this way, goth philosophy is extremely similar to traditional Japanese Buddhist-influenced philosophy and its ideas of “mizu no awa” (“bubbles in the water” - a metaphor for the transience of all things) and “mujou” (“vicissitude” - uncertainty and inability to control the future.) When considered from this angle, it's no surprise that goth caught on in Japan. If anything, it's more surprising that under the current tyranny of cheap and fast capitalism, the majority of the Japanese population seem to have veered so far from these schools of thought so traditional to their culture (though aging Japanese goths love to sigh about this topic in bars)...but that's a topic for another article.

CONCLUSION

If you've been reading this article from the beginning, you probably have a pretty good idea by this point about whether or not you've been a goth all along. But if you're still not sure, ask yourself the following questions:

- Do you find mornings vaguely distasteful?
- Do you prefer clouds over sunshine?
- Do you like to take long walks alone?
- Do you feel at peace in lonely, windswept places?
- Do you feel relaxed and at ease when visiting graveyards?
- Do you love watching leaves fall and plants die in the autumn?

- Do you feel oddly comforted by sad songs and stories?
- Do you often feel pensive, sad or melancholy?
- Do you feel oddly comfortable with the state of feeling melancholy?
- Are you inexplicably attracted to things that other people consider creepy?
- Do you often feel at odds with mainstream society?
- Do you prefer Disney villains over Disney princesses?

- Do you prefer candles to electric light?
- Do you absolutely adore the color black and want it to be near you all the time?
- Do you feel compulsively drawn to symbols of death and decay?
- Have you ever been consumed with romantic fantasies about dying young?
- Have you ever considered suicide, even in passing?
- When you get sick, do you find the whole state of affairs vaguely fascinating?
- Are you apt to be entranced by the sight of blood?
- Do you feel excited by thunder and lightning?

- Do you care deeply about the beauty of your person and your surroundings?
- Are you intrigued by history, art museums, and antique shops?
- Do you often wish you could go back in time and live in a bygone era?
- Do you feel an affinity with ghosts and the spirit world?
- Have you dabbled in occult practices or divination methods, such as tarot cards?
- Do you feel strangely aroused when you're inside old architecture?
- Do you feel strangely aroused by Romeo and Juliet and La Boheme?

- When you have fresh flowers in your house, do you keep them around till they dry up, just so you can watch the process of their decay?

- Do you leave the dry flowers around because after all, they still look pretty even when they're dead?

- Do you love the smell of smoke, incense and sultry perfumes?
- If you could, would you live in a castle?
- Do you aspire to hang a chandelier from your ceiling?
- Do you think bones are beautiful?

- Is “Darker Than Darkness” the Buck-Tick album title which bests describes your outlook on life?

If you find yourself answering many of these questions in the affirmative, you should probably explore the goth lifestyle more fully, if you haven't already. If, on the other hand, this doesn't sound like you, maybe you're standing in the shallows – you like the sound of goth bands, and the look of black clothes, sometimes, but you're not prepared to jump wholesale into the black lagoon. Being goth isn't really an all-or-nothing situation – just as black comes in many shades, and some shadows are darker than others, some goths are more goth than others, and that's okay. Being goth is not a competition, and anyone who acts like it is is being silly and childish (and you have my permission to tell them so!)

Also, I said it before, but dressing in fancier, more expensive clothing does not (necessarily) make you more goth. Going to the most goth club events in a month does not (necessarily) make you more goth. Your level of gothness is determined by how deeply you engage with the subculture on all levels, including, but not limited to, music, fashion, literature (remember all those gothic novels I mentioned?), history (history is absolutely full of delicious creepiness that goths love to pore over), art (contemporary goth artists are legion, but many of the Old Masters were secretly goths, or at least their work was - Caravaggio, anyone?), dance (not just at The Club but actually as a serious art form - start with Butoh, tribal fusion, and pole dancing!) spirituality (noted goth author Storm Constantine has written several books on spirituality and the occult in addition to her prolific bibliography of fiction), DIY crafts (have you ever tried taxidermy?), and the list goes on forever. Your level of gothness is also determined by how deeply you feel yourself to be a goth. We can't choose the culture we were born into, but joining a subculture is a choice, so your own feeling about whether you are or aren't is also very important. If goth is an intrinsic part of your value system and world view and life style, put on Crocs whenever the hell you like (though they are still fugly and not allowed in my house!) Mr. Sakurai in Crocs would still be goth as fuck. Goth is in the soul, and the soul burns with a livid black flame.

Or maybe you're not goth at all – and that's fine, too. But at least now, you know what goth is, and what it isn't. So next time you hear someone pontificating about what they think goth means but you think they're wrong, you can set them straight, by sending them here to educate them!

Though at the same time...as I said at the beginning, goth is such a huge topic that it's very difficult to do it justice in the space of a little article like this. If you really want to know what goth is, I suggest you go out and experience it for yourself. And if you have more questions, feel free to ask – to the extent that answers exist, I'm happy to answer.

You now have my blessing to enter as novitiates into Goth School. But I warn you – the journey of study is barbaric, and full of pain, pain, pain, pain.

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