What happens when a teenage goth grows up? Gets a job, takes on a mortgage, has a couple of kids…? Can you combine elaborate Frankenstein make-up and a lace-up bustier with getting a toddler ready for nursery and yourself to work on time?
Dr Paul Hodkinson, deputy head of Surrey University’s sociology department and an expert in youth music subcultures, has been re-interviewing a group of goths he first studied in the late 1990s to find out. “They were teenagers and in their early 20s then, and I thought it would be interesting to go back because a number of people do stay involved in the goth scene,” he explains.
Though many people who belong to youth subcultures such as punk and rave tend to drift away in their 20s, Hodkinson says it’s more likely that older goths will want to remain involved in the scene, even though it may become harder to combine with the responsibilities that come with age.
To outsiders, it’s the visual markers of being a goth – long, dyed-black hair, black clothes, pale faces contrasted with dark, dramatic eye make-up –that stand out. Taken on their own, these characteristics might be reasonably easy to cast off. However, Hodkinson says that although the aesthetic and clothing are important, the primary tenets of involvement in this subculture mean being “thoroughly passionate about goth music and style, and some goths would tell you they have an interest in the dark side of life, and a natural tendency towards a degree of angst”.
This means a level of commitment to the goth scene, and friendship groups and identity that develop around being a goth, which result in social lives that “are so intertwined that it would feel very odd to leave it,” he says.
Continuing with education and getting a decent job while staying involved isn’t as hard for goths as it may be for those involved in other youth subcultures, some of which promote disengagement with school to the point that academic failure is all but inevitable.
“It’s a relatively middle-class subculture, so despite … all the going out and being into the music, goths have always had a fairly positive view of people who are also achieving academically.”
It means goths may have better career options than an outsider might expect. Succeeding in their chosen career had, Hodkinson observes, become increasingly important to those he interviewed as they moved into their late 20s and 30s, and he was surprised by how much participants in his study were willing to adapt their look to fit in at work. “I even gave people scenarios where they couldn’t wear certain things. I expected them to say that they’d have to leave [their job], but they said they’d have to seriously consider it.”
Most of his sample said they still were recognised as goths at work, but had toned down their look. “They retained a residual element of the appearance, but felt, for example, that colourful dyed hair wasn’t going to work, and they’d stopped painting their nails black.”
Several of Hodkinson’s interviewees now had children, and he says that another sign of the importance of remaining involved despite this enormous life change is the recent appearance of websites discussing the issues facing goth families.
More parents are bringing their babies to goth festivals, too, Hodkinson says, “so organisers have started to think about policies and whether to provide facilities”. For what Hodkinson calls “a fairly hedonistic youth subculture” to consider offering kids’ clubs and on-site childminding means that demand from more mature goths is definitely on the increase.
Hodkinson says these individuals have found a way of “growing up together and taking on various elements of adulthood later perhaps than others might, but doing it as a cohort of people who are passionate about the same thing, and who support each other.”