Back in the 80s, when Dave Vanian put on white face and Siouxsie slithered into a black rubber skirt, part of the UK punk scene morphed into Goth. It was still just plain old post-punk then, maybe “deathrock” for reasons of trying to explain the fascination with vampires and spiders and fishnet, but it was all we had, and we were happy for it, if for no other reason than it gave an awful lot of freaks and weirdos a place, music, and style, that allowed an expression of their darker side.
Over almost 40 years, Goth has shape-shifted a hundred times in a thousand different directions. The classic post-punk style, now known as “trad goth” was forced to step aside for new and interesting variations and influences, from cyber and Victorian steampunk to perky, Lolita, nuGoth and for a while there in the late 90s, world music, folk music, and even Goan techno. All of these offshoots are valid (sub)sub-cultures in their own right, based on a distinct look and sound that sometimes only minimally references back to the original movement. But if you came of age in the 1980s, then that original post-punk style is still the only “real” Goth look, no matter how it might be dressed up otherwise.
Chronicling the decade of post-punk and Goth are Andi Harriman and Marloes Bontje in their 2014 publication Some Wear Leather Some Wear Lace – The Worldwide Compendium of Postpunk and Goth in the 1980s. Looking at the music, the style and the clubs, predominantly in the UK and Europe, that shaped the scene, Harriman and Bontje explore how Goth developed and grew throughout the decade.
Rather than approach the topic from a purely academic standpoint, the authors put out a call for support in the form of individual stories and photos. Similar to Sam Knee’s methods in The Bag I’m In, which documents different youth cultures over 3 decades, Harriman and Bontje have filled their book with submitted photos from back in the day, offering a genuine and charming picture of the post-punk scene.
While to the uninitiated, Goths of the 80s might all have looked the same: black leather jacket; “kooshball” haircut, probably black; and a multitude of crosses, ankhs and eyeliner, the interviewees all offer a common refrain of putting together cool outfits with individuality and personal expression as the main theme. Like preening cockatoos, we could all tell each other – and our outfits – apart, even if the normals couldn’t.
Before mall stores selling poorly made alternative fashions, and definitely before the Internet, Goths pulled together outfits by making their own clothes, scouring vintage shops, and using DIY ingenuity (what Canadian Goth didn’t have that canvas haversack – that came only in blue or green at the time – purchased at Canadian Tire and then dyed black with a good old box of Rit?). And who among us didn’t know someone who bought their kit in the Halloween section of the local discount department store? (No shade, people, we all did it at least once.)
The writing style of the various essays leans to a cross between flowery and academic, but shows an extensive knowledge of the post-punk scene, and a devotion to the topic. Sections on post-punk and Goth behind the Iron Curtain, and in Japan and Europe, show the extent of the subculture, and the sections on style reveal extensive interviews that detail everything from sourcing outfits to the amount of time spent doing make-up for a night out.
This is a book of photographs though, first and foremost (and last and always), and the joy of flipping through the pages is one of remembrance and acknowledgement. I had that scarf, oh, remember how hard it was to find good haircolour, whatever happened to my skull buckle boots?
I would bet that few of those beautiful, unique, intriguing folks pictured on the pages of Some Wear Leather Some Wear Lace still dress the same way today. And wouldn’t it be worrisome if they did? While I hope that most of them remained true to the ideals that led them to Goth in the first place, we’ve all changed a lot in the past 30 or so years. Books like this are not just about nostalgia, but about reminding us old farts about the energy, creativity and passion for life we once had, and to keep those things alive. Maybe most of us will never dress exactly that way again (on the other hand, you can’t go wrong with the classics…), but I bet most people who are still weird into their forties and fifties have kept some of the spark that was ignited in the 1980s. They may not literally find themselves on the pages here, but they’ll be reminded of their own venture into the scene, and hopefully why they’re still here.
This piece originally appeared on Still Weird Zine.