When you hear the word “goth,” you might think of cultural icons like Robert Smith of The Cure, the death-obsessed Beetlejuice character Lydia Deetz, and the dark camp of Elvira. Goth is synonymous with wearing all black, reveling in melancholy, and celebrating the macabre. But it’s also often incorrectly thought of as a subculture that’s rooted in whiteness or comprised mostly of white people.
What began in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a rejection of the mainstream and capitalism’s co-opting of punk, gothic subculture has continued to evolve and flourish over the years. Its influence has altered the landscape of pop music, fashion, and art. Almost 50 years later, contemporary goths embody the representation they yearned to see when they were younger. For them, beauty is a way to center marginalized voices and live their truth, a way to look beyond whiteness and uplift the many identities and histories that exist within the goth community, past and present. By doing so, they remind us that people of color have been a part of the scene since the very beginning—from Glorious Din’s frontman Eric Cope and the Cure’s drummer Andy Anderson, to more recent icons like Princess Nokia and Light Asylum’s Shannon Funchess to name a few—and that they are inarguably a part of its future.
In celebration of that future and the legacy that precedes it, we asked 10 goths of color about the power of the goth aesthetic, their favorite products, beauty routines, and why diverse representation within the goth community matters to them.
“Badass Brujas like me exist, and you should see more of us.” —Melissa Castro Almandina
Chicago-based poet and artist Melissa Castro Almandina’s definition of beauty has always been shaped by gothic subculture. “In high school, I wore a lot of black lace and velvet and my everyday lip color was Cyber by MAC,” she recalls. “I still wear a dark lip today, but [I’ve switched] to Bésame’s 1930s Noir Red and love how decadent it makes my lips feel. It’s a great formula and the company is owned by a woman of color, so I appreciate supporting it.” In addition to finding the perfect crimson lipstick to incorporate into her everyday look, Almandina enjoys pulling inspiration from the past to cultivate her own aesthetic. “I like to mix anything from the Victorian Era, the 1920s, 1940s, [and] the costume design in Interview with a Vampire and Penny Dreadful,” she explains. Like a contemporary riff on the glamour of Vanessa Ives, old Hollywood, and the poetic decadence of Anne Rice’s Lestat, Almandina’s essentials include “a dark pout” and floral scents. “I really love the smell of flowers, especially roses, so I carry rosewater in my bag and use Arabian Rose by Kuumba Made,” she says. “Folks say I smell like a funeral home or an old lady or just divine af and I’m here for it all.” Whether reapplying her favorite Bésame lipstick or spritzing herself with perfume, being goth not only brings Almandina comfort, but also gives her strength. “Badass Brujas like me exist,” Almandina says, “and you should see more of us.”
“I invented my own aesthetic, because there aren’t many Paki chicks in the goth scene, not to mention bands or entertainers that are of a similar skin tone.” —Maheen Lemon
For Bewitched Boneyard’s founder Maheen Lemon, goth aesthetic is as much about celebrating inclusion and the fluidity of identity as it is listening to quintessential acts like Sisters of Mercy or Bauhaus. “A certain misconception that many people have is that to be goth, you must have fair skin.”
Lemon explains: “That is obviously a racist point of view, but it also doesn’t help that many movies, television shows, and imagery of the goth aesthetic usually showcases fair-complexioned [people]. But I am here to tell you that there are plenty of darker skinned goths.” Lemon, who is Pakistani-American, cites Siouxsie Sioux as an early source of inspiration but attributes the evolution of her style to her desire to cultivate something of her own. “I invented my own aesthetic, because there aren’t many Paki chicks in the goth scene, not to mention bands or entertainers that are of a similar skin tone.” For Lemon, cultivating her signature look begins with six essentials staples. “I tend to get oily over time during the day,” she says, “[and] if I am going to a goth event where 9 out of 10 times it is bound to get hot between dancing and bodies filling up the room, [so] I can’t live without Colour Pop’s All Star Matte Primer.” Whether out at a dance night or running errands around town, Lemon considers it her “secret weapon.” Another go-to staple for this NYC-based creative is Tarte’s Shape Tape Concealer. “I have dark circles, thanks to my Pakistani heritage,” she explains. “I love using Tarte’s Shape Tape Concealer in Medium.” Another must for Lemon is Benefit’s The Porefessional Shine Vanishing Pro Powder, which helps keep oiliness and shine at bay “which tends to happen often at goth events because of the fog machine,” Lemon notes. “I [also] use Kat Von D’s Lock-It Powder Foundation lightly all over my face and neck to ensure that my complexion will remain matte while I enjoy my cocktail on the dance floor.”
Lemon also understands the versatility and drama that one can create with eye shadow and a bold eyeliner. “One of my essential eye products is Kat Von D’s Saint & Sinner Eye Shadow Palette because there are so many colors you can choose from and it’s so much fun to create different looks with such a diverse palette. Plus, you can’t get any more goth than the Kat Von D makeup line.” For eyeliner, Lemon’s go-to is NYX’s Epic Ink liquid liner in black. “I get the best control with this liner due to its felt tip and it doesn’t flake off or rub off at all,” she says. “It stays put all night and you can make some wicked wings with it, too.”
“We [have] the freedom to be our dark selves without having to meet a quota…” —Sandra T.
Brooklyn based poet, writer, and self-ordained “elder goth,” Sandra T. views goth beauty as a way of revealing what’s within. “I think [it’s] an outward expression of what you feel inside,” she explains. “Goth at its core is romantic, dark, sublime and decadent…” For T., embodying her definition of beauty is rooted in the elements she loves most about of goth music, which she defines as “dark, minimalistic, simple, but dramatic” and sometimes even “bright.” Inspired by goth-rock legends Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance) and Anna Varney (of Sopor Aeturnus), Sandra’s beauty routine begins with selecting the right lipstick. “A good lipstick can really make and break a look,” she says. “You can have a simple eyeliner, but a black or blood red lip could really set it off… personally, I like muted antique colors like Dead Roses by Anastasia Beverly Hills [and] of course, I love a good red lip like Rituel de Fille’s Envious Inner Glow Crème Pigment.”
“From a corset and a Victorian dress, to black cigarette jeans and a patched leather jacket we… [have] the freedom to be our dark selves without having to meet a quota,” she explains. “There were people of color [in the goth community] from the very beginning ‘till now,” says Sandra. “It’s counterintuitive to have goth be represented by paleness and whiteness when the mainstream culture does that already. Plus no one pulls off red and black like [us]… You’ve seen Lupita lately, [right]?”
“Opposing normative standards of beauty can be the beginning of opposing other oppressive forces in our society…”—M. Lamar
M. Lamar—a NYC based artist, composer, and writer—considers goth more than just a look. It’s a way of life. “I created the term ‘negrogothic’ first as a way to talk about the music I make, but it soon became a way to talk about my entire approach to life.” Embodied through his music and art, Lamar compares negrogothic to “the gothic novel where romance and horror coexist.”
Lamar’s aesthetic is an essential part of his identity whether he’s onstage or off. “I can’t leave the house without at the very least two things on my face: black eye liner and sunscreen,” he explains. “For eyeliner, I wear Kat Von D’s Graphite Browstruck Dimension Powder and the gel. For years, I have always worn a dry and wet product around my eyes… I just feel naked without lots of black around my eyes.” To protect his skin from UV damage, Lamar relies on Supergoop Play SPF 50. As a form of personal empowerment and creative expression, being a part of the goth community has helped Lamar cultivate a definition of beauty that embraces what the mainstream often labels as grotesque or strange. “As a teenager, I started hanging with both the goth and punk kids,” Lamar recalls. “That scene helped me to understand at an early age that beauty was in the abject. I always understood that one could be disgustingly beautiful…Opposing normative stands of beauty can be the beginning of opposing other oppressive forces in our society like income inequality or mass incarceration,” he says.
“Even at its most femme, goth isn’t sweet or precious or meek…”—Leila Taylor
Graphic designer, creative director at the Brooklyn Library, and lifelong goth, Lelia Taylor’s fascination with the gothic, horrific, and melancholy isn’t just the inspiration behind her debut book Darkly: Blackness and America’s Gothic Soul, it’s a form of artistic expression and resistance. Taylor, who considers herself to be a “minimalist bordering on ascetic,” revels in the understated drama of the gothic, rather than the overt. “I like the simplicity and severity of all black,” she explains. Although Taylor likes to keep things simple, the one product she can’t live without is Labello’s moisturizing lip balm. “It’s the best lip balm I’ve ever used and I’m pretty addicted [to it],” she admits. For the up and coming goth scholar, the subtlety and camp of glamour is inextricably linked to the goth aesthetic and its history. “Goth represented a kind of glamour that appealed to me, a powerful kind of Morticia Adams glamour that didn’t adhere to traditional forms of femininity… even at its most femme, goth isn’t sweet or precious or meek. It’s an audacious aesthetic and one that resists definitions of beauty,” Taylor says. “There’s a melancholic romanticism to goth that contradicts the stereotypes of a kind of hardened, practicality and stoic coolness that comes with blackness. Anything that disrupts preconceived notions of blackness is a good thing. There is this false notion that goth—or any subculture that leans towards whimsey or theatrics—is a ‘white people’ thing so disavowing that myth is important to me.”
“My skin is brown and I will never be pale, but I also have no desire to look like a ghost when I can be a daywalker like my black goth icon Blade…”—Bianca Xunise
Since as far back as Bianca Xunise can remember, being a goth has been a way to cultivate a less restrictive definition of beauty. “There’s been this notion [that] in order to be goth you have to be paper white, and I think that’s just silly,” the Chicago based illustrator and designer explains. When it comes to being goth, Xunise’s biggest goal is to “just have fun with it.” “My beauty routine is a simple fresh face of Fenty Foundation, Wet ‘n’ Wild eyebrows, Juvia’s Place blushes and eyeshadows, Coulourpop matte liquid lipstick and NYX Highlighter. If I want to go bold, I’ll add a statement cat eye, maybe a cut crease [and] I always contour [because] it’s important to look a little dead.”
For Xunise, finding the right foundation, blushes, and shadows for her skin tone are essential. “My Fenty foundation lasts all day and literally makes me look like the goth girl next door, and Juvia’s Place has pigmented blushes and shadows that aren’t chalky and actually show up on my skin tone. Plus, it’s so important for me to support black-owned businesses,” she says. To keep her face fresh from dusk till dawn, Xunise relies on Urban Decay’s All Nighter Setting Spray so that when she’s dancing the night away or at a show her makeup will still look flawless by 5 am. Whatever the occasion, being goth is a reminder of her personal power and the importance of celebrating who she is freely. “It’s taught me to not take beauty standards so seriously. As a Black woman, I don’t really fit into any definition of beauty, even with being goth. My skin is brown and I will never be pale, but I also have no desire to look like a ghost when I can be a daywalker like my black goth icon Blade,” Xunise says.
“If I want to draw on beauty marks and wear neon orange eye shadow, then it’s goth. If I want a natural face, that’s goth too, and I still feel otherworldly and untouchable”—Kiki
For Kiki—a Brooklyn based creative—gothic subculture has been a way pragmatic yet powerful way to subvert mainstream definitions of beauty and stereotypes about what it means to be a person of color. Like many goths of color, Kiki’s connection to goth’s aesthetics aren’t singularly white adjacent. “My beauty routine has become ritualistic,” she explains. “I use rose oil spray to clear my head, then apply argan oil while taking a moment to appreciate my completely unadorned face.” In addition to staying moisturized, the most essential part of Kiki’s look are her fierce brows, which are also a reminder of her roots. “My eyebrows are a large part of my identity,” she explains. “I’ve kept them full since my late teen years,” she explains, “Before that I was made fun of for having thick brows. I remember my mom taking me to have them waxed when I was ten after begging her. Naturally they grow in like a Latinx Vulcan.” To keep her brows dark and sharp, Kiki depends on Anastasia Dip Brow Pomade, which allows her to paint on individual hair strokes and proudly pay homage to her South American heritage. “Identifying as goth has helped me subvert the idea that as a Brazilian, I’m supposed to be overtly sexy in a way tailored specifically to the male gaze,” she says. “But I can create a look on my own terms, according to how I feel and what I consider to be attractive. If I want to draw on beauty marks and wear neon orange eye shadow, then it’s goth. If I want a natural face, that’s goth too, and I still feel otherworldly and untouchable.” A form of defiance and self-empowerment, Kiki’s look is as revolutionary as it is striking.
“Goth culture will always be thought of as a predominantly white and European subculture [and] this not only creates erasure for those who have come before us but creates a barrier for those who will come after.” —Pogo Pope
Pogo Pope’s iteration of goth is eclectic and bold, a hybrid of “traditional goth fashion meets Janet Jackson.” An avid music lover, DJ, and member of LA’s Bustié, Pope’s aesthetic has been a source of freedom and solace. Whatever the occasion, one product that’s crucial to Pope’s beauty routine is NYX’s Siren Matte Lipstick. “I absolutely love their shades, but this one especially. Not only are they easily accessible, but they’re also vegan and cruelty free.” So much more than just aesthetics, Pogo’s choice to wear a memorable shade of lipstick or bold black brows is as political as it is personal. It proves why diversity is so important. “Goth culture will always be thought of as a predominantly white and European subculture [and] this not only creates erasure for those who have come before us but creates a barrier for those who will come after. If we allow our backgrounds and those who set the rules to hold us in place, nothing ever changes and that itself is more depressing than all the black we wear.”
“I feel the most beautiful expressing myself and to some it may be too different, but it works for me.” —Dal
For Dal, a Brooklyn-based makeup artist and hairstylist, the goth aesthetic is all about converging darkness and beauty.” Pulling inspiration from music icons like Brody Dalle of The Distillers, Evanescence’s Amy Lee, Scary Spice, and the dramatic glam of visual Kei groups from the 1980s, Dal’s look is intentionally striking. “There’s something about taking the complexities of the dark and making them beautiful by transmuting that energy into self-expression,” she says. For her, it’s a way to tell a story. “It’s shown me that there is beauty in the unorthodox,” says Dal. “I feel the most beautiful expressing myself and to some it may be too different, but it works for me.” Although Dal’s definition of beauty is always evolving, there’s a few staples that she can’t live without. “I don’t feel complete without lashes, bold eyes, and highlighter.” Her favorites include Diamond Bomb by Fenty Beauty combined with a lush palette by Pat McGrath, and voluminous lashes. Dal’s subversion of conventional beauty isn’t just a form of self-expression, it’s an affirmation of who she always wanted to be. “When I was younger, I used to search on Photobucket, MySpace, and Google wishing to see someone like me with dark skin and piercings and tattoos and not just [be] labeled ‘urban.’ It was so frustrating,” she explains. “There’s much more genuine visibility now [and] it makes me so happy.”
“People should see you and either feel amazed or terrified.” —Lina
Lina’s connection to gothic subculture goes deeper than just wearing black. For her, it’s a way of life. “[The] goth aesthetic to me is to be dark and seductive, messy and glamourous,” she says. “It has to shock. People should see you and either feel amazed or terrified.” As an artist and fashion design student based in Morocco, Lina’s connection to the goth is a source of inspiration and a way to challenge the demands of respectability politics and traditional beauty standards. Lina started embracing goth back in 2012, when her local alternative community was still relatively small. Although she found solidarity amongst her fellow goths, those outside of the scene weren’t so welcoming. “Back then, people weren’t used to seeing [teens] dress [that way], so I’d get a lot of, ‘You know you’re blindly imitating Europeans, right?’ and various cliché comments about satanism from strangers on the street.” As time passed and Morocco’s goth scene grew, the negative comments and harassment about Lina and her friends’ aesthetics lessened. Lina—who likes to channel her inner Elvira and Siouxsie Sioux when she gets ready—relies on two classic goth essentials: black nail polish and heavy eyeliner. “I don’t use anything out of the ordinary,” she explains, “I usually just use drugstore makeup, but I love Elf’s Liquid Eyeliner. It’s [almost] unremovable. It’s great.” Often paired with crimson eye shadow, dark brows, and luminescent highlighter, Lina’s look is a reminder that goth beauty is fearless, global, and here to stay.
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