Happy 2022 everyone! It’s been a while since the last update, but I’m resigned to see very little has changed.
I was delighted with the response to an idle Twitter thread where I excoriated an article in The Guardian for introducing the concept of ‘gothcore’. Essentially it’s celebs dabbling in corsets, boots and black tops and trying to pass it off as something new…
I have pointed out many, many times it’s really not a new concept at all. For example, here’s an article I wrote seven years ago when goldfish-memory fashion writers were celebrating, uh… the Kardashians for ‘going goth’. It’s all part of the Dark Wash Cycle, where the catwalk commandeers goth style for their Fall-Winter collections, and every journalist has to act like they’ve never seen huge boots or winged eyeliner before.
Crucially as well, they try and avoid any reference to a forty-year old subcultural phenomena with a world-renowned soundtrack, peopled by individuals who try and thrift, recycle or otherwise DIY styles that suddenly command bank-breaking prices in the major fashion houses of the West.
So I was initially surprised at the writers behind the Evening Standard article on ‘gothcore’ published yesterday. They have done some actual research, even mentioning the world subculture, and – in an unprecedented move – mentioning bands like Bauhaus, Siouxsie and The Cure however dismissively, even as two of those bands continue to perform to immense audiences worldwide and so are still scoring the subculture.
But this sole concession to the classic goth sound, and then never mentioning it again, is actually the key to resolving this whole dilemma, and more on that later.
Anyway, it all goes downhill from there, with mentions of repeat offenders Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker;
Their Christmas picture could be The Addams Family (but wearing new Givenchy), plus they got engaged in a ring of roses and flickering candles. Gothic 101.
Many weary commentators such as I might accept the aesthetic premise, but would point out there’s a bit more to goth than a well-posed greetings card from a reality TV star and a pop-punk musician. Indeed the core concepts of individuality, rejection of conformity, a preference for a unique and alternative musical style are intrinsic to goth and yet entirely rejected in the form of over-priced designs from people who spend the rest of the year sneering at the dark clothes they champion during the colder period.
There is of course a counter-argument to be made about the grim spectre haunting goth – the Gatekeeping. Insisting on people passing some kind of ‘legitimacy’ test surely runs counter to the all-embracing concepts of a welcoming group of individuals, allowed to express themselves however they like – right?
My response is we must at least have a minimum tolerance – some bare pass-mark of understanding the subculture you wish to be involved in, some knowledge of the history, soundtrack and core beliefs that have defined a surprisingly resilient subculture in its four decades plus of endurance. Splashing out at some upmarket shop with a line in unaffordable corsets and calling yourself goth is an unfair shortcut that contradicts much of what I love about this scene.
I suppose what really grates is seeing something I’ve loved for years, a subculture that envelops the people, places, music and feelings that encompass me … reduced to a ‘-core’ fashion trend article that doesn’t mention a single concept that matters to me.
However, I did have the sense enough to speak to Catherine Spooner, Professor of Literature and Culture at Lancaster University, a respected authority on academic studies into Gothic style and a genuinely lovely person. She has a more scientific approach than my gut rejection!
Yes, mainstream fashion does flirt with commercially acceptable rebellion every season.
Fashion headlines proclaiming ‘Gothic is back’ have appeared since the mid-90s on a cycle of every 2-3 years. However, they seem to be appearing with particular intensity this year and I think this is due to what is sometimes identified as fashion’s 20-year cycle.
There was a particular explosion of Gothic in high/mainstream fashion in the late 1990s, and the time to revive that trend has come round again – it’s a generational thing!. It’s the logical next step after the grunge revival we’ve been having for the last few years.
It’s worth pointing out that many of the designers that were part of that last Gothic high fashion surge, such as Alexander McQueen, are beloved by many Goths. And this new version represents a new generation and their values, tastes and ideals.
This assessment definitely agrees with my own experiences noting the yearly ‘surge’ in articles espousing a bit of goth-lite fashion around the end of the year, and I love the phrase ‘commercially acceptable rebellion’!
I asked her about these specific celebrities, recognizable trendsetters who nevertheless divide youth culture down specifically angry lines.
I think the way celebrities use fashion is always interesting and worth analysing, even when it seems like an irritating appropriation of a subcultural trend!
Megan Fox is currently reinventing herself as a grande dame of horror. Kourtney Kardashian is going out with Travis Barker, the drummer from Blink 182. Both of these celebrities are using Goth style in order to overhaul their personal brands.
This is a tactic often used by celebrities when they want to add some danger to their image – Madonna, Angelina Jolie and the Olsen twins have all done it in the past. It may be a passing phase, or it may signal a more significant reinvention – we will have to wait and see!
I mentioned above about resolving the dilemma of articles like this, and Professor Spooner’s cool dissection of the PR strategy in celebrity reinvention only confirms it.
It is goth in name only! It mentions nothing more about our subculture because it has nothing to do with it – merely surfing on the (admittedly sweet-looking) coat-tails of a rebellious subculture to try and score some ‘dangerous individuality’ points.
Indeed, we should be grateful they don’t try and appropriate anything further from our subculture, and look for the silver lining of this annoying black cloud – as Professor Spooner concludes,
In the meantime, mainstream fashion going Goth will mean more cool stuff to buy on the high street for all of us…!
See you all next time a PR consultant thinks PVC bustiers and chunky boots are going to claim a few more column inches in the jaded world of the fashion press!
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