Don’t fear the goths

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?


7 responses to “Don’t fear the goths

  1. Nice post. Yes, goths are typically harmless. They are more introspective, as opposed to being the type to look for trouble. Anyone who thinks of goths as a gang should not be an elected official.

  2. As you know, I have children (19 & 23), but you may not know that I was preppy enough as a young person to have strong views about children and black clothes. In short, the only reason anyone under A Certain Age should be wearing black is because there has been a death in the family. 🙂 As a result, my daughter grew up with rules about black clothing. In middle school, I relented and allowed her to own black clothes — something I didn’t have at her age — but she could only wear one article of black clothing at a time. Socks counted as one item. In high school, she was eventually allowed *two* items at a time, and eventually *three*, but by that time, she was much more interested in combining colors.

    According to her, were it not for this entirely arbitary (and to her mind, quite ridiculous) rule, she would have *totally* been “all gothed up” back then, because her BFF was already doing exactly that. This rule was one of a number of similarly specific and (depending on your point of you) mildly silly rules that she railed against. Others included No flip-flops, no pajama bottoms in public, and no shirts with sentiments that could be regarded as insulting, condescending, or rude towards others. (Happy Bunny was *right out*.) In my opinion, it gave her something harmless to rail against, her own windmills to tilt at.

  3. My parents only preference was for saving money. When I was a hippie and could go a year on one pair of overalls and a couple of flannel shirts, that was fine with them. Later, hanging out at CBGBs all in black (long before “goth” was invented), mostly a black T-shirt and black jeans I had dyed myself, they were fine with that, too. If I’d been into dressing up, in any style, there would have been problems.

  4. My gran refuses to let me be Goth. Not because she dislikes them, but because she likes all the bad publicity that comes with being put into that group. Once I’m older and have a name for myself (if i ever get one) then she doesn’t care, but for now, no.

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