The History of Leather Part 29 – Goth

Posted on 07/08/14

Back in black (mid 1980s)

Picture a goth, any goth. I’m willing to bet that whoever you have an image of in your head, even if it’s the most little-known goth figure imaginable, there will be an abundance of one key element – black.

The goth wardrobe gives you an embarrassment of riches, colour-wise. Would sir or madam like to go for the black today? Or possibly the black? Perhaps you’d like to try something a little different, like a charcoal grey? No? Black it is. Surprise, surprise.

We’ve visited and paid tribute to a whole host of subcultures along our illustrious leather journey, but none are as instantly recognisable as the goth. The goth trademarks of dark-as-night blacks, and nods to the Victorian cult of mourning are mainstays of the pop culture consciousness.

According to one of the earliest progenitors of the cult of goth, Leeds’ own Sisters of Mercy, the goth look was partly out of convenience and circumstance, rather than a conscious creation. Wearing only black meant that the band could lump all of their clothing into one wash load, for instance. (Honestly, that is one of the reasons that was given for the look by the group in an interview with The Guardian).

The Sisters’ Mark Pearman (now known as Marx) admits that the band originally looked completely “nondescript, like students”. Pearman himself only switched to black when he realised that his check shirts stood out next to his bandmates’ leather jackets. (Their jackets, incidentally, are alleged to have been homages to punk icons the Ramones.)

In many ways, the goth look and philosophy could be seen as a middle ground between the punk and grunge offerings. The all-black bundle of leather, vampire clichés, whiteface, buckles, velvet and so on, according to the New York Times’ Cintra Wilson, is a look that “simultaneously expresses and cures its own sense of alienation”. So like the punk and grunge wardrobes, the goth wardrobe alienates – only it does so without apathy or confrontation. That said, its very incorporation of occult imagery and pageantry could be argued to be almost confrontational in its overtness, rather than its content.

The goth Addams-Family-crossed-with-David-Bowie image sometimes does more harm than good, though. Modern shock goth king Marilyn Manson’s music became a popular scapegoat for a number of atrocities conducted in America, even in cases with more obvious influencing factors. It doesn’t help that Manson in particular looks more cartoon than human, like a Guillermo Del Toro creation left on the cutting room floor.

The goth willingness to explore the darker, leatherier side of the clothing spectrum is the defining feature of their reputation as well as their physical presence. It’s a double-edged sword, as Marilyn Manson will attest to, but as Steven Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees said: “…there’s room in pop [culture] for different languages, one of them being an exploration of the blacker side of human nature. There’s nothing to be afraid of in the dark”.

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