Photograph courtesy of BABY SUCCUBUZ

But this time, he invites more diversity into his darkness.

Curiously, the two most formative films of my youth were Interview with the Vampire and Bring it on. In the shadows of my teenage bedroom, I gorged on ghost stories, but in the light of day my cheerleader uniform and study sweats masked my macabre interests. While I secretly coveted mesh tops, Tripp NYC pants and lace necklaces in my dark sanctuary, I was always too scared to put down my pom poms. Not because I didn’t care about the clothes (far from it), but because I thought the styles I liked were off-limits to black girls — especially those who led school pep rallies.

In the mid to late 2000s, gothic was widely seen as a “white” thing. Although I’m sure there were colored children prowling around with eyebrow piercings and velvet corsets, I never saw them in daylight. In fact, the only Goths I saw fit a very specific stereotype: pale skin, straight hair, and all-black Morticia Addams outfits. As a preppy Jamaican girl, I wasn’t included in that aesthetic, so I buried it instead.

A decade (and a 2000 revival) later, my desire to gothify myself has come back from the dead, thanks (in part) to the Spring 2022 runway shows. Balenciaga showcased plenty of black styles, bringing the drama goth in cape dresses and oversized outerwear. LaQuan Smith’s sexy mesh silhouettes seemed to celebrate the fetishistic and once-taboo nature of goth. And Marc Jacobs incorporated jagged fringes and dark patterns into his spring collection.

However, the real goth-aissance is happening on TikTok. Tags like #goth, #gothic and #gothcore currently have 10 billion, 1.9 billion and 15 million views respectively. Content creators like Xowie Jones, Baby Succubuz, Nerdy Winter and Vocally Shook have gone viral for their descent into darkness. And with social media sweeping away the proverbial cobwebs, goth has transformed from a nonconformist lifestyle into a mainstream movement. But make no mistake, this isn’t the whitewashed Gothic of my teenage years. This time around, goth is accessible to everyone.

Xowie Jones. Photography by LINDSEY RUTH

When asked for her definition of goth, Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, describes it more as a sensibility than a style. “Gothic is a strange beauty,” says Steele, who curated the 2008-2009 FIT exhibition Gothic: dark glamor and wrote the accompanying book. “It’s a dark romanticism.”

The subculture began in the late 1970s to early 1980s in the UK, when English gothic rock, a more volatile subset of punk rock, gained popularity. While both movements were originally a rejection of the conservatism, materialism and elitism that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan had come to embody, the Goths were ultimately more brooding and poetic than angry and violent. British Bauhaus band anthem “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”, released in 1979, is often cited as the real start of the trend, with glam rock icons Siouxsie Sioux and American Patricia Morrison pioneering ashy skin, long hair blacks, fishnets and Victorian corsets that have come to define the style.

Although many shunned the country spirit of goth, post-punk designers like Vivienne Westwood leaned into the uncanny glamor of it all. In the early 90s, designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Rick Owens and Alexander McQueen were following in his fetish footsteps.

Goth challenged order, trend and ownership of traditional beauty. The subculture aimed to build safe spaces for outsiders to society, but its rigid fashion and beauty “rules” were, by default, often exclusive. The Gothic preoccupation with corpse complexions, for example, is a beauty standard literally rooted in whiteness. It rejects the prevailing preference for healthy color under tanned skin by supporting an aesthetic that dark-skinned people could never achieve. Goths reject the norm, but black beauty wasn’t the norm to begin with.

In 2022, Gen Z goth enthusiasts face fewer hurdles than I do, and Steele thinks COVID and lockdowns may have played a role in this sudden interest in morbidity. “With the constant threat of death and destruction, some people want to have bright ‘dopamine fashion’ while others say, ‘This is a dystopian time; I don’t feel like that,” she said. “It works both ways.”

As the goth community grows, TikToker Victoria Maddox — known professionally as Baby Succubuz — says she’s seen more black alternative creators here than on any other platform. “It made me feel less alone,” she admits, reflecting on the process of becoming friends with other like-minded creators for the first time. Goth activist and lifestyle coach Jamila Anahata – known professionally as The Soulful Veganista – agrees, describing the amount of comments she has received from her popular Instagram account, where she posts about fashion, veganism and spirituality. Over the years, young black girls have reached out to thank the influencer for her stunning portrayal of the afrogoth fashion they’ve always wanted to wear.

Content creator-turned-music-artist Jones adds that the Gothic rules are more accommodating than they once were. The 22-year-old has over 7.3 million TikTok followers who watch her go from glam to gore in a single transition. “It doesn’t have to be super extravagant,” she shares. “You can wear a black t-shirt and jeans and still be goth.” Other gothic designers have moved away from the all-black brand and opted for lighter interpretations. “I consider myself a Bubble Goth,” Maddox says. The 29-year-old influencer livens up her looks with colorful hair, makeup and accessories for her 108,000 followers. “With Bubble Goth, you take a light aesthetic and a dark aesthetic and kind of mix them together,” she says of her current color fixations.

When asked how much someone has to play by the rules to consider themselves goth, Steele comments on the naivety of those looking for a “100% real and authentic thing” in the subculture. She says, “That kind of authenticity is a pipe dream – it doesn’t really exist.”

I can understand very well. In early 2020, I did something I’ve wanted to do since I was 13: got my septum pierced — one small step for your average goth aficionado, one giant leap for a former goth aspirant. Since then, my overall style has gotten a lot darker (and a lot more me) too. In 2022, I wouldn’t say I’m goth, but I wouldn’t say I’m not goth either.

Goths aren’t monoliths, and neither is BIPOC. The evolution of the subculture in the age of TikTok promises that this remains true for both. The different representations of Gothic – whether of race, age or style – do not diminish what already exists. Instead, these new additions create a fuller, richer community that’s stronger than what existed before. Rather than struggling to protect a past less inclusive than we remember, let’s celebrate the present with those who find beauty in darkness.

Click through the gallery below for some gothic inspiration, courtesy of the tracks.

This article first appeared in THE FASHION Can emit. Learn more here.

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