I went to Whitby this weekend and it got me thinking: even though its wasn’t officially Goth Weekend (it was actually Whitby Folk Festival - lots of corduroy and fleece) there was still an unusual amount of goths which got me thinking about where it all started. Why do goths flock to Whitby?
The easy answer would be Dracula; Bram Stoker famously wrote his most celebrated novel whilst staying in Whitby, and it’s easy to see why. Whitby’s clifftops and headland, the abbey silhouetted on their tops, are the perfect setting for anything gothic. As you approach the abbey, the fading graves greet you with an eerie welcome, most names eroded by time and weather: blank stones over anonymous remains.
Stoker stayed in Whitby in 1890 and now, over 100 years later, Dracula is a common theme throughout the town, tacky tees and key rings every 100 yards, alongside serious gothic fashion. The Whitby Goth Weekend started out in 1994 between a group of 40 pen pals, they came together in a pub to discuss their interests. It now attracts people from around the world who come to share their fashion and music interests, just as that small group of pen pals did in the early 90s.
It’s not just Whitby Goth Weekend that attracts goths, although if you’ve ever been you’ll likely remember a pure sea of black and top hats. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Whitby and not spotted at least a couple of die-hard steampunks and a clutch of goths. The aesthetic of the seaside town sits perfectly with the Victorian velvet and lace adorning its visitors. Stark black makeup sits strong against the heady winds and the corsets and heavy materials won’t give way to them either.
Goth culture came about in the early 1980s, a byproduct of that post-punk era, and opened up fashion and music alike. So in celebration of Whitby Goth Weekend, Dracula, and all things gothic, let’s look at some of our favourite goth icons.
We couldn’t start any serious discussion of goth fashion without talking about Siouxsie Sioux. The androgynous Siouxsie look has been an influence on so many who followed from when she first hit the scenes on the Sex Pistols infamous interview with Bill Grundy. Wearing braces, white shirt, and oversized bowtie with theatrical eye makeup, it would be another year before she got her Banshees together and completed her raven-like look. Punk might have been an ephemeral blast of shock but Siouxsie would personify the dark sub-genre and become an icon for the disenfranchised masses that would follow in her wake.
Robert Smith, Siouxsie, goth. The three go naturally hand-in-hand; with his trademark lipstick, eye makeup, and big hair, Smith was Siouxsie’s unwitting male counterpart (he even played guitar with The Banshees). It’s odd to think of The Cure singer as ‘toned down’ but if you dissect his look - away from the hair and makeup - it’s almost ‘normal’: oversized shirts, black denim, and a pair of high tops. You could argue that his simple attire is thrown together, possibly from a local charity shop, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. The theatre of Robert Smith is every bit as iconic as Siouxsie: they were cut from the same (black) cloth.
Alice Cooper was painting his eyes black and bringing snakes on stage long before punk was a thing, never mind post-punk. His hair, black clothes, leather, and makeup were all part of what made ‘the original shock rocker’ such a draw, as he is to this day. While not directly tied to the goth scene that would follow, there is no doubt that Cooper’s look has had a longstanding influence on the goth legends that followed.
The Damned’s lead singer is goth through and through: his name is even derived from Dracula’s own country. With tight black tees, widows peak, white face with black eyes, and collar turned up on his leather jacket, he could be the vampire himself (100 years later of course). Vanian styled his look from 50s rockers and silent film stars to create something wholly original and memorable. He even married Patricia Morrison from Sisters of Mercy to fully realise the goth dream.
I was just going to talk about Morticia here but it’s fair to say the pallid mother and daughter duo could both easily take up their own section. Morticia’s trademark long black dresses, long black hair, and bright red lipstick was goth before goth was a thing. Her style clearly inspired Wednesday’s own choice of uniform with her large white collar adding a ghostly Victorian twist.
Not only style icons but feminist icons too: their influence has taken them beyond fictional characters to true goth legends.