Code Black: Dress Codes in the Goth Subculture

Its been a while since I have written anything for The Belfry Network. First article for the year.


Part of it has been due to being busy. Some personal stuff happening, gigs to prepare for and so on. And how about so many dead celebrities in January?!? The other part being a few ideas in my head but nothing I really thought was worth running with. I want to start the year with something positive instead of controversial for a change. 

WTF is this? Lift your game Aytakk! You turn hippie or something?

Anyway on with why I'm here. A thread I found on reddit got me thinking. Rather than post a long winded response full of personal anecdotes there, I'm going to post a long winded response full of personal anecdotes here.

I did post one thing. Couldn't help myself. I know Count will get a giggle out of it, I may have told him about that in the past. I'm not sure.

True story. Ahh, the joys of being young and rebellious.

As you can see, we're talking dress codes in Alt/Goth clubs. To be clear I'm using the word club however it can also be a gig, event, club night, festival - whatever.

Lets start by dispelling a myth. That myth being you must wear black to a goth club. You don't have to.

Many people do wear black for whatever personal reason, subcultural affiliation, style choices, they like a band that happens to have a black t shirt, they want to blend in, you can piss yourself and it doesn't show - whatever.

In truth you can pretty much wear what you want to most events within reason. At least make some sort of effort. Don't turn up looking like you just finished working on a car or slept in a gutter.

Well, I guess the rockabilly types that could be their thing. But they will have made some effort and put on clean clothes. Punks and deathrockers may look like their current address is 1 Gutter St, Skid Row. But it takes a lot of effort to look that way. And there is a difference.

It's worth pointing out that traditionally, wearing all black to a goth club was never really a requirement. Take a look at photos from things happening in the post punk and early goth eras and you will see while black is being represented, there is also a lot of variety in other colours too. It was underground, it was alternative. People were themselves.

Robert Smith and Siouxsie. Not wearing black.

A lot can also depend on if a club is goth by nature or reputation.

A goth club by nature is a goth club. It was set up to be a goth club, to play actual goth music (I'm not debating this point right now - go find an internet forum somewhere if you really want an argument about it), to cater to goths with an atmosphere and music no one else provides. In short, a goth club. 

At the goth club by nature dress codes can be stricter to keep the riff raff out. If you happen to be cosplaying a certain Rocky Horror Picture Show character, this might not apply to you.

What do you mean I can't come in? Its astounding...

A dress code may be enforced or they may use a cover charge. Generally a cover will keep undesirables away as they aren't willing to pay and want a cheap drinking pit. Or they just want to go stare at the freaks and hit on goth chicks. Plus a lot of the time cover charges are needed just to keep the club alive.

A goth club by nature will have mostly people... well... dressed goth. And it will be expected you conform to some degree. And people may pick at you, make snide remarks and so on if you don't. But they probably will no matter what you wear anyway because fashion-focused people can be like that.

The fashionistas in a goth club

A goth club by reputation is a club that is frequented by goths.  (or people who look like goths, or think they are goths, who in reality aren't goths - another argument for an internet forum elsewhere) So people assume its a goth club by default. Reality is it's most likely an alternative mixed genre night or a metal gig. Maybe a burlesque show.

For goth by reputation clubs it's not so simple. As they cater to a wider range of people the rules will be a lot more relaxed. Cover charges may still be in place but dress codes are less strictly enforced. Though they may be more strictly enforced in other areas like spiked collars/wristbands and so on.

In most clubs wearing steel-capped boots is a big no no - alternative, goth or mainstream. Just thought I'd point that out if you didn't know.

Generally though, the club attendees are more a mix of styles with some goth in the mix. You are less likely to have people pick on your attire at events like this but it may still happen.

We can all look depressed together :D

Fun story time! I was working the door at Proscenium around 2000. A couple of guys wanted to come in but I had to stop them as they were dressed like homeboys - white striped tracksuit pants, hoodies, sneakers. totally out of place. I explained I couldn't let them in dressed like that but if they came back wearing black or more formal I'd let them in. The next week they came back in black button up shirts, black pants and I let them in. They became regulars. I remember seeing them at the occasional hip hop shows we used to run at the venue later on too dressed as they were that first time.

We also used to have a group of Japanese businessmen who would rock up in an array of grey, blue and black suits. They'd come in, park themselves at the bar and leave a couple of hours later. They also became regulars as they loved the 80s music and the atmosphere.

A regular from then (who still attends events now and even DJs on local radio) knows more about post punk and goth music than most goths in the scene. He doesn't look even remotely goth and doesn't consider himself goth. Yet he's one of the biggest supporters of the local scene.

To be fair the nights in question were mixed genre/alternative nights but Proscenium ran goth nights (Thursdays), indie nights (Fridays) and alternative/mixed genre (Saturdays). Most of the goth crowd also came on Saturdays, some on Fridays.

Going back further to before I got into the scene. Proscenium had a pretty scary reputation. It was widely known as "The Goth Club" (in spite of goth only being one night and part of another) and that if they didn't like the look of you the patrons would carry you out and dump you in the street. Scary stuff. I can say after the years I attended nights at that place (and worked as a bouncer) I never saw anything like that happen. The closest thing to it was when a skinhead went off his head and three of us held him down while someone else fetched the bouncer to get him out.

Skinheads in a goth club? Oh Adelaide...

Anyway as you can see not all attendees at a "goth club" are goths. In fact the fringe crowd is good for business as it means your regulars can bring their non-goth/alt friends and the environment isn't hostile towards them.

Which is kind of funny as mainstream clubs are generally hostile towards goth/alt people. Not all but most. But you can always tone it down and abide by their rules if you must go.

Tapping into the fringe crowd is more important than ever as goth numbers dwindle and kids get interested in other things. Pure goth nights are rarer because of this in many parts of the world. Hell some places are lucky if they can get an alt night going at all.

A little snark is fine but if you are alienating people and driving them off you are doing it wrong. Times have changed. An arrogant event organizer/DJ who bullies their crowd won't last long now. From my own experience, while I am certainly a genre nazi and a bit abrasive online regarding what is goth, I can't do that in person unless I use a gentle touch. It can be hard educating people when they have the wrong idea. Hell I had to be educated when I got it wrong too. Sometimes I still do.

We've all been there. Most likely on both sides. Admit it.

I think I'm meandering and rambling a bit like an old man telling stories from his youth. Truth is I'm still a part of the local scene today and not a lot has changed. But nowadays there is much more emphasis put on black clothes than there used to be. I noticed this change since the early 2000s. My guess its a byproduct of the internet's influence homogenising the subculture.

Back in my day goths wore white and clouds were black!

If you do attend a goth club and people pick at your attire, consider this. Are they picking to be helpful or are they just being a jerk? If someone tells you what you are wearing looks cheap and tacky when cheap and tacky is the look you are going for, then its likely just a matter of personal taste. Some people are trying to be helpful but their method isn't good and comes across as condescending and rude.

People have this big hubub about what other people wear like its their business or something. In reality if you are comfortable in it then go for it. Even if it is a tie-dyed t shirt being worn just to piss these types off.

Thy mode of squalid attire hath me in a rage of most immense enormity!

Dress for you. Be yourself. But never dress as The Crow unless your name is Eric Draven.

-Aytakk has been active in the goth scene since the mid 90s both online and in real life. He firmly believes in the old line "if you don't get the joke, you are the joke". As well as this he produces music for a couple of music projects: Corpulence On The Catwalk (goth/darkwave/coldwave) and Hypnophile (aggrotech/power noise). He is also a club DJ and nemesis of DJ Jelly.

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Aytakk has been active in the goth scene since the mid 90s both online and in real life. He firmly believes in the old line "if you don't get the joke, you are the joke". As well as this he produces music for a couple of music projects: Corpulence On The Catwalk (goth/darkwave/coldwave) and Hypnophile (aggrotech/power noise). He is also a club DJ and nemesis of DJ Jelly.