Initially associated with bands such as Siouxsie & the Banshees and Bauhaus, the goth movement grew out of the punk rock scene of the late ‘90s, and became its own subculture. Punk and goth seemed to be cousins, in that both rejected mainstream conformity and stressed rebellion, but where punk was savage and political, goth was moody and artistic .
Goth itself means many different things to its practitioners, but its primary trademarks are its unique music, art and literature, a focus on medieval, Victorian and Edwardian history, and the wearing of particular symbols ranging from an Egyptian ankh to a Wiccan pentacle. And of course, fashion has always been the most evident expression, dominated by over-the-top vampire chic couture, extreme black clothing and corpse-white make-up.
For guys, some common goth looks include a fishnet shirt and vinyl or leather pants with boots and accessories; and a white shirt (sometimes with the collar folded up to cover the neck), black pants, a black vest, boots or dress shoes. Some guys opt for makeup, skirts, corsets and heels, which is not meant in the spirit of cross-dressing, but is truer to the attitude that gothic tends to be an androgynous culture overall, one that challenge social and gender barriers.
Women tend to favor ensembles such as a cleavage-baring corset top with a long, flowing or tutu-like skirt; crushed velvet dresses; and fishnet shirts with a black bra underneath, a bondage belt, and a short vinyl or long velvet skirt, tight leggings or stirrup pants. Frequently completing the look are fishnet stockings, bondage gear, high heels or heel boots.
For both sexes, goth and punk have many common elements, most notably wearing chains,
spikes or studs (usually attached to a leather jacket or collar, belt or bracelets), tattoos, piercings, (tongue, nose and nipple piercings seem most common), combat boots or Doc Martens, band T-shirts (and having band stickers on your car, notebook, etc), and dyed, sprayed chaotic hair, sometimes with extensions.
TODDLER GOTH AT K-MART
Up until recently, these have been looks that seemed to belong to a depressed and deviant lot, but no more. This is now an age where apple-cheeked 13-year-old girls sport Korn and Slipknot T-shirts. Locally, you can find “Anarchy in the Pre-K“ onesies for your toddler at stores that range from national chains like K-Mart and Hot Topic to local independents such as Spider & the Fly in downtown Traverse City.
Melanie Villanueva is the owner of Spider & the Fly, which was better known as Damage, Inc. until it moved into its new, expanded location in the 200 Block of East Front Street in Traverse City this past April. Villanuevas store carries a wide range of counter-culture clothing and accessories, and she says her inventory is constantly changing and growing, much like the clientele she serves.
“Im not sure how big the Goth look ever was here or even the punk look for that matter, primarily because northern Michigan seems to be a fairly conservative area in a lot of regards, especially fashion,“ said Villanueva. “I feel like I havent seen as much of the look anymore, even in more urban cities. Some people believe its sort of died down since the release of the movie, “The Crow,“ but I think a big part of that is also due to the fact that it seems so mainstream, so accessible. When you can walk into stores at a mall or go into a K-Mart for a Slipknot T-shirt, how rebellious is that? And rebellion is a big part of what the look and the attitude are all about.“
MORE GLAMOUS THAN PUNK
At Spider & the Fly, theres a fair amount of items that reflect counter-culture trends, mainly in the form of band T-shirts, wrist bands, spikes, crosses, armor rings and other kinds of jewelry, patches for clothing, Chuck Taylor tennis shoes, platform boots and hair dyes and sprays.
“If anything, goth has always been a bit more glamorous than punk, with all the make-up, robes, long trenchcoats, velvet dresses and ruffled shirts,“ explained Villanueva. “Punk has more had the look that says you just rolled out of bed and put on what youve been wearing for the past few days.
“What Im seeing today is young people favoring being eclectic and individual over following a trend like goth or punk. Thats what we see and what we cater to. Were more likely to get people in here looking for Good Charlotte tshirts and wrist bands than we will costumes for vampire role-playing. If anything, bubble gum punk is where its at.“
Late one afternoon, Villanuevas assessment got a confirmation from Keri and Amber, two 14-year-old students who attend East Junior High in Traverse City, who were perusing Spider & the Flys merchandise as they were doing some back-to-school shopping. They were checking out the stores hot rod-inspired clothing and 60s button-down shirts decorated with flames, along with items featuring the “risque“ 1950s pin-up icon Betty Page, and some things from Paul Frank, who uses a monkey face on everything from underwear and bathing suits to hats and shirts.
A COOL STORE
“This is one of the few place you can go in this town if you dont want to wear what everybody else picks up at Gap or Old Navy or American Eagle,“ offered Keri. “Its a cool store and a lot of our friends come down here.“
Added Amber, “You can usually find something thats different, and if we cant find it here we go to Hot Topic, but thats about it, unless you go out of town to Chicago or somewhere else to shop. Maybe thats why so many people look the same here. There was a time when I guess I wanted to look like everybody else, but I really dont want to do that anymore. You dont have a style if you wear the same clothes everyone else has.“
Defining an individual style becomes more of a personal challenge, says Villanueva, as well as one for a retailer trying to succeed as an independent.
“When rebellion shifts into the mainstream, it forces you to you to move on from a retail aspect,“ she said. “I look around at downtown, and weve got our niche, just like Ellas does with vintage clothing, and were all trying to cater to what our customers want. In the end, we all have to cater to the mainstream to stay viable, and that means having a pretty wide mix of product.“
That elusive mix of product has resulted in Spider & the Fly carrying more rock band ts, Paul Frank items, and those for kids who arent even out of diapers yet. In addition to the “Anarchy in the Pre-K“ shirts for little tykes, there are ones that say “Cereal Killer“ or have a Metallica logo on them.
“Its the twisted mindset of their parents and even their grandparents thats making this stuff fly out the door,“ said Villanueva, who recently devoted her front window to a “biker baby“ theme. “I never would have guessed that this would be the big hit of the summer, but it has been.“
Spider & the Fly is also well-known for offering piercing and tattoo services, and just like the clothing, that seems to have gone quite mainstream, as well.
“Once upon a time, only big, bad bikers or guys in the service had tattoos, and then it caught on with young people rebelling. Now, do you know who were seeing the most of? Women in their 40s, 50s and even 60s who have gotten divorces or the kids have left the house, and theyre doing this as a way to reclaim their life or marking a special event. The rebellion thing isnt such a part of it anymore.“
Rachel Levine is a Traverse City resident who is moving to Boston, MA this fall to study sociology at the University of Massachusetts. She says she shops at Hot Topic and Spider & the Fly, but doesnt consider herself to have a particular style sensibility other than “eclectic.“
“Ive never really followed a fashion trend and some of that has been because I dont think theres ever been a particular one that was all that big here,“ said 19-year-old Levine. “A lot of young people want to be homogenic and look like each other, so something like goth just seems so different and alternative. Out east, Ive seen more variety than jeans and T-shirts, with more vintage and retro stuff and polka dots, saddle shoes and swing dresses. I just look for anything thats cheap and interesting, and thats about as much of a style as I want to have.“