It’s been 20 years since pallid faces, dark eyes and black clothes haunted UK secondary schools and shopping centres. While some might argue that they never left, merely retreating into the shadows, the consensus for 2022 is that goth style is returning to mainstream culture with a vengeance.
There are some differences this time. The modern goth is more likely to take inspiration from ultra-glam “hot goth girlfriends” such as Kourtney Kardashian and Megan Fox and the fashion world darlings Rick Owens and Yohji Yamamoto than the Marilyn Manson-loving self-proclaimed outsiders of the early 2000s.
They are also more likely to integrate elements of a darker style of dressing into their wardrobes than to subscribe to a whole culture and lifestyle, with shopping platforms and social media sites reporting huge increases in searches containing the word “goth”.
“At one point there was an idea goth was ‘strange and unusual’, but it doesn’t feel that way any more. I wouldn’t like to say it’s mainstream, but it’s much more visible,” said Catherine Spooner, a professor at Lancaster University who specialises in gothic culture.
Andrew Groves, professor of fashion design at the University of Westminster, sees the new goth style as a reaction to the preening, gym-honed, Instagram-filtered perfection of the 2010s. “It has become unappealing. Instead, smudged eyeliner, bitten oxblood lips, and a deathly pallor have once again become enticing.”
He said it’s unsurprising that people are looking for ways to express darker emotions aesthetically when “we have been overwhelmed with news about death, mortality, and illness” since the beginning of the pandemic, while school closures have lent themselves to a mood of “romantic disengagement, sullenness, and introspection” among teens.
The clothing resale app Depop, which is popular with Gen Z consumers, reported a 20% increase in “goth” and “gothcore” searches over the past three months, including a 200% spike for “black corset top” in October.
Sophie Daly, who runs a goth clothing business on Depop, said the new approach to goth style is to mix and match influences as online communities have connected previously disparate tribes, united by a love for sombre palettes and dark thoughts. She said: “Visually a goth could literally be anything now. In 2022, goths don’t even have to wear black.”
She said videos on TikTok, such as those under the #goth hashtag, which has 8.8bn views, are fuelling the interest in vintage goth fashion, with some sellers auctioning pieces for up to £350 due to high demand.
The shopping platform Lyst said searches for collections by the cult goth designer Rick Owens, which feature black leather and punk details such as rips and zips, have grown by 200% this year. Searches for black items have grown 169%, while chokers have grown by 81% and fishnet tops by 196%.
Pinterest data, meanwhile, points to the goth aesthetic influencing everyday life. Searches for “goth business casual”, described as “Wednesday Addams goes to the office”, are up by 90% this year, with goth baby clothes up 120%, goth decor by 85%, and searches for goth pyjamas up 185%.
This is echoed in the online communities building around the topic. On Reddit, the r/Goth community has grown by 35% over the past year to reach 101,000 members, while r/GothStyle had a 136% increase to 115,000 members.
The focus this time around has been on personal style and the way it has inspired and been lifted from high fashion, with cyber goths haunting the runway in Balenciaga’s spring-summer 2022 show, Givenchy showcasing 90s teen goths, and Olivier Theyskens taking inspiration from gothic brides.
There is also a goth influence on culture more broadly. Taylor Swift’s latest album references folk horror, Willow Smith has a subversive new look, and the 18-year-old singer-songwriter Olivia Rodrigo, who sports a “goth princess” aesthetic, references the goth-adjacent emo subculture of the mid-2000s in her songs.
Daniel Rodgers, a fashion and culture writer, said the new goth aesthetic taps into the early noughties revival that has defined youth fashion and culture in recent years. It’s not a return of the “deathly looking goth”, he said, but rather a way to “gesture at subculture more generally” by drawing on a blend of earlier dark style tribes, including emo, punk and strands of goth such as the Camden-inspired cyber-goth look.
Rodgers charts the current moment from the eboys and egirls phenomenon of the late 2010s, where young gamers popularised a style that combined elements of goth and emo with Japanese anime and cosplay. He sees this and the current iteration of goth as reflecting the way culture develops in the internet.
“We’re in a constant cycle of looking back and reproducing things, spewing up references on to the table, which is like a buffet young people can choose from.”