Gothic Culture And Modern Fashions Cultural Studies Essay

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Towards the end of the seventies there emerged a new youth subculture that stemmed from the fragmenting Punk scene commonly referred to as Goth. Goth appeared to assume the trappings of Gothic literature and film which was primarily based on Baroque art. As such, members of the Goth subculture converted the characteristic features of this literature as well as film wherein they transformed them into a form of resistance to suburban Britain. Subsequently, this resistance by the Goth migrated to other regions including America as well as Australia which were presumably perceived not only to be small minded but also dull. The link between the Goth subculture and Gothic literature is not clear. This is because the translation of literature into street style has often been approached with bemusement or simply overlooked by a significant number of scholars. However, the two subjects draw a strong relation through the medium of fashion. In these respect, the designer Gareth Pugh has emerged out as one of the most interesting as well as unique figures in the world of fashion from London. Pugh's style entrenched in Goth subculture quite clearly depends on a spectacular style or sets of styles from which the artist invents his identity. This primarily represents another characteristic feature of Gothic's preoccupation with clothes and as such fashion. It is the presumption of this paper that the Goth sub-culture has had tremendous influence on fashion that has changed the way in which clothing is represented in Gothic discourses.

Goth History

A significant chunk of the Goth subculture and the resurgence of interest in this way of life emphasizes on the mutation of Goth into an autonomous youth subculture towards the close of the seventies. This explains the relatively young age of proponents such as Gareth Pugh who further the ideal of the Goth sub-culture through fashion. During the seventies, the Goth culture was led by post punk groups including the Birthday Party, The Sisters of Mercy, Bauhus, Siouxsie and the Banshees (Spooner and Spooner, 2004). The groups led other Goth adherents to the Goth style that combined the graveyard exorcism of 19th century mourning costume and perverse sexuality of fetish with the nihilism of Punk to create a macabre aesthetic. The garments that the adherents adorned were predominantly black. However, according to Spooner and Spooner, (2004)these were accessorised with memento mori motifs and vampire makeup as fig. 1 illustrates.

Fig. 1 Gothic Fashion

Although the main period of the popularity of the Goth Spanned in the eighties, the culture has proved to be remarkably long living as it has persisted both in the 1990s and ultimately into the twenty first century. In the mid eighties towards the late 1990s, there however emerged cultural figures that began heralding the revival of the Gothic culture by pointing out the increased number of bands that were largely influenced by the Goth subculture including Garbage, Marilyn Manson together with their black dressed acolytes (Spooner and Spooner, 2004). Commentators also often cited the resurgence of the Goth sub-cultural influence in haute couture, film, literary fiction, as well as fine art and other derived genres of music including hip-hop and techno.

Toward the end of the twentieth century, critical discourses that surrounded the Goth subculture illustrated a significant shift away from psychoanalytical methods towards historicism. In this regard, this discourse exhibited an increased level of self-consciousness in relation to the processes of textual and fashion production. Baldwick and Minghall, (2000) pointed out a trend in which 20th century theorisations of the Goth subculture focused on the irrational, the spiritual as well as the subversive at the expense of accurate historical analysis. Such a strategy frequently constitutes a kind of idealisation whereby Gothic subculture is privileged with whatever contravening roles generally associated with the critic. Arguably, such a process of canonical rehabilitation as well as critical appropriation has recorded an increase with the advent of millennium celebrations (Stevens, 2000). Gothic art has developed a trend in which it resurfaces at the fin de siècle whereby as the fin to end all siecles approaches swiftly, the fervour of the subculture reaches a peculiar climax (Spooner and Spooner, 2004). This aspect was captured well by Grunenberg, (1997) who postulated that the modern society exists in a particularly dire time. This period according to Grunenberg constitutes the Gothic period of fear, moral disintegration, horror as well as the perverse indulgence in extreme pleasures. Gothic fashion as such, has evolved to be a quid pro quo for disturbing and sombre moods, events and places as well as cultural by products of the contemporary society in America (Steele and Park, 2008). Despite the fact that a low number of individuals carried with them the expectation of the world ending at the turn of the 21st century, a true fin-de siècle feeling wrought with elements of cultural pessimism as well as spiritual malaise permeated society at the time. This spirit persists in modern day society's fashion.

The Goth Culture

One problem that arises when discussing the Goth subculture is that it draws a profound connection to punk and also emphasizes on dramatic visual style (Spoooner and Spooner, 2004; Polhemus, 1995). Ultimately, this has resulted into the Goth subculture being regarded as a spectacular culture despite it being a fan culture as well. Fan communities have to a significant degree been regarded in relation to media texts for instance, the Star Trek series. However, there exist various similarities between communities described by Jenkins, (1992) and common practices usually associated with the Goth sub-culture. Fan communities actively develop their own ways of life from fragments and scrap that are usually scavenged from the media. Jenkins, (1992) describes this process of creative appropriation as textual poaching. Much in the same light, Goth fashion as an element of Goth subculture is particularly focused on consumption. This consumption does not only constitute clothing, but also includes cinematic and literary narratives, sub-cultural commodities and music. Much in the same way that television series fans like Doctor Who or Star Trek develop their identities through their love for the aforementioned series, Goth such as Pugh suture their identity from a complicated system of cinematic and literary affiliations through integrating several archetypes and characters they meet during their fantasy lives, ultimately realizing them through costume or fashion. While some Goths may come across as more literate compared to others in the overall tradition of Gothic representation, all have to either a lesser or greater extent constructed their identities, Frankenstein like, from the fragments and scraps of that way of life. This process of developing identity is demonstrated by Tim Burton's early short film by the name Vincent. In this production, Vincent Molloy, a seven year old boy imagined himself as taking the identity of another person, Vincent Price whereby he conducted himself as Price would. This fan tribute to the oeuvre of Price does not draw any contradictions in relation to attitude and the kind of fan fiction produced around fantasy series and science fiction.

However, this does not imply that Goth is a fan culture in any straight-forward way. This is because it is possible for an individual to be a fan of horror films or Gothic novels without necessary being a Goth. On the contrary, Goth is a combination of the elements of spectacular culture and fan culture ultimately creating a monstrous hybrid between the two ways of life. The resulting culture is one in which symbolic resistance is not only enacted through fashion or spectacular style but also embraces narratives that are generally perceived to be dangerous and as such, falling out of general societal conventions. The development of Gothic as an anti-canonical marginalised subgenre as such, propels the cultures sense of resistance to a cultural hegemony of the bland (Hannaham, 1997). Such acts of self-definition constitute the concurrent definition of a mainstream that has been developed as the other by its respective subculture. According to Thornton, (2008) this fantasised mainstream may or may not bear any link to what is real. However, it is the product of the subculture out of a desire for difference. Thornton contends that vague opposition can be outwardly stated to be that questioning the number of members of youth subcultures characterising their own activities. Significant to note is the fact that youthful discourses can not be taken literally. This is because these discourses are not mere transparent windows that reflect on the world. A significant number of cultural critics have been insufficiently critical of sub cultural ideologies. This trend is firstly attributed to the fact that they were diverted by the task of contesting and puncturing dominant ideologies and secondly owing to the fact that their biases have tended to agree with the anti mass society discourses of the youth sub-cultural groups they study.

This is to say, while the formulations of power in given subcultures are potentially fertile topics for research, investing in subcultures that have been known for their transgression as well as subversion has often proved to be problematic. This is because research in addition to leading to a better understanding of the phenomenon under study, also highlights such phenomenon from obscurity. This implies that aspects that were overlooked in the past owing to the low degree of societal subscription to such doctrines have the potential of becoming famous. This new-born fame is often attributed to researchers. Due to the fact that society loathes aspects of subversive and transgressing elements, researchers have the tendency to steer away from such elements and cultures including Goth. Holmes, (1997) illustrates this element in Gothic culture in his essay coming out of the coffin. He contends that punk and Goth cultures in contrast to exhibiting stability as many would like them to, exist by way of suturing both the anti-canonical and the canonical as well as the high and low, the romantic and cynical in addition to the straight and the queer. Embracing these aspects in most circumstances is through the Gothic tradition in general as well as through one of the cultures prominent figures, the vampire (Fig 2) (Auerbach, 1995; Goddzu, 2007). In many ways, this is an accurate evocation of Goth, capturing the complexity of its several poses.

Fig 2. Barnabas Collins, Vampire: Jonathan Frid in the television series Dark Shadows


Gothic fashion is a form of clothing that is usually associated with members of the Goth subculture. It is a dark form of art which sometimes tends to be highly insensitive and morbid with some quarters terming it as an eroticised form of fashion or style of dress. In its typical form, Gothic fashion is characterised with black hips, dyed black hair, and black clothes (Grunenberg, 1997). Additionally, both male and female members of the Goths subculture wear dark fingernails as well as dark eyeliners.

The function of clothes within Goth subculture is largely dependent on who is wearing them (Spooner and Spooner, 2004). It was custom for the 1980s middle class individuals to enact rebellion only through implicit and stereotyped ridiculous dress codes while the avant-garde classless individual of the modern day fashion like Gareth Pugh is stylishly subversive of convention. Gareth Pugh as a new generation figure is both glamorous and confident. Pugh is constructed as an individual that is always aiming for the top and forward as opposed to relying on the past to provide him with a referral page for his design. In fact, his world of design is framed in a way that it conforms to utopian principles where both intellectual and irrational forces intermingle in the creation of form. When Gareth Pugh's work is perceived under a lens with such an understanding, it takes on a new significance for the designer's fans. The implication here is that other designers subscribe to conventional lines of thought and as such, design. An individual that adorns Pugh's design on the contrary is stylish and belongs to the new variety. In other words, wearing Pugh's design has the capability of transforming an individual from a conventional person to a Gaultier Goth (Spooner and Spooner, 2004).

Design in itself is an artistic impression integrated with certain tastes that the artist fancies as ideal (Gardner, Kleiner and Mamiya, 2005). These impressions as expressed in garments draw from a wide history in the long established tradition of art. As such, artists such as Pugh have the tendency to look back at elements that were embraced in the past to which they base their form of art. Subsequently, art and design integrate, ultimately combining inflatable garments, black and white colours as well as geometric shapes in addition to materials such as PVC and plastics (Fargis, 1998). These forms are characteristic of classical Gothic and baroque art.

Fig. 3


In conclusion, the complexity of Gareth Pugh's images is accompanied by an increasing sense of Gothicism in the design themselves. The designer has deliberately courted the Gothic in his work frequently returning to themes of automata, prosthesis and automata (Spooner and Spooner, 2004). While garments that were featured in earlier images in the 90s would be reasonably wearable by most of consumers in the mainstream, most of Pugh's are increasingly perverse and esoteric Fig. 3. These later images however particularly resonate Gothic themes. These are not only limited to the characteristic features of imprisonment, vampirism and torture but upon a closer scrutiny also resonate with the kind of structural conventions Eve Sedgwick identifies as characteristic features of Gothic literature (Spooner and Spooner, 2004). Vampirism as portrayed in these images is ostentatiously a surface effect implying no illusion of realism. By conflating the penetrating gaze with the penetrating fangs, Pugh's designs seem to have undergone what Sedgwick referred to as contagion or the manner Gothic literature contends that aspects of a given element are transferred to another.

List of figures

Fig. 1. Gothic Fashion.,, online

Fig. 2 Barnabas Collins, Vampire: Jonathan Frid in the television series Dark Shadows by William Patrick Day (2002), p.37

Fig.3. (2008) Wicked with a capital W by Gareth Pugh in Vogue Magazine Autumn/Winter 2008-9, online