A young goth at the Wave Gotik Treffen festival in Leipzig, Germany. Photo by Flickr user Grant Mitchell.
Parents may be uncomfortable, even worried, if their teenager adopts goth culture. Certainly aspects of it — the black clothes and hair, the extreme makeup, and so on — can be off-putting. Goths, like many subcultures, have developed a unique appearance that intentionally sets them apart from mainstream culture. It’s meant to say, “We are different from everyday people. Let’s celebrate that!” But sometimes, people are intimidated by it. That happened to Mayor Don Robart of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio:
What we’re trying to rid ourselves of are the people that are down their in their gothic garb, with their spiked hair, with their piercings, and it’s very — for most of you who haven’t been down on the boardwalk, I would suggest that it is a very intimidating atmosphere for the masses.
That meeting was held to discuss a curfew that would protect teens from gang activity caused by visitors from neighboring towns. Instead, the Mayor felt it should be used to protect “the masses” from goth kids.
He’s not the only one confused about the nature of goths. Years ago I attended a meeting in Redwood City, California, where police were explaining a current spike in gang-related activity to a group of residents. One officer had just finished describing that gang members tend to wear similar colors and hang out in groups. One woman raised her hand and said, “those kids who wear all black and hang out by the Safeway — are they a gang?”
“No, ma’am,” the officer responded. “Those are goths. They’re harmless.”
To help set things straight, there’s this light-hearted but not-inaccurate “Field Guide to Teen Fashion,” which will help you understand goths (and how to recognize them). For example:
Generally speaking, a goth is someone with a well-developed (if slightly twisted) sense of humor who looks for beauty in dark and unexpected places. Unlike the emo subculture, goth is not linked with being depressed.
Goth is split into numerous subcategories, including romantigoths, cybergoths, gothabillies (gothic rockabillies), deathrockers, gravers (gothic ravers) and many more. Goths love all things dramatic, so their outfits have a tendency to be elaborate. White foundation is traditionally worn, along with dark lipstick and elaborate black eyeliner.
One important aspect it leaves out is: despite their sometimes sinister appearance, goths are typically peaceful to a fault. They almost never get aggressive with anyone, even when attacked. Unfortunately, this combination makes goths exceptionally vulnerable to bullying. If your teen is exploring goth culture, and dressing the part, this is the thing to discuss and keep an eye out for.
For the goths out there: What’s most important for parents to understand about gothic culture? And for parents: has your teen adopted goth fashion or culture? If so, how do you feel about it?