Goth means many things to many people, and there is constant discussion even within the community about what is and is not included. Basically, goth can refer to both a genre of post-punk music with a dark or gloomy sound and subject matter, and the subculture that grew out of that music. It has many influences, including the Gothic fiction of the 18th and 19th centuries and the horror movies of the early 20th century. Those who identify as goth typically have a love for the color black and for all things morbid, but they are a very diverse group of people.
Goth music began as an offshoot of punk and new wave genres in the late 1970s and flourished in the 1980s. Different pieces of music given this name may sound quite different, some melodic and ethereal, and others more driving and frenetic, but they are all generally downbeat and dramatic. The lyrical component is extremely important. It can be characterized as introspective and depressive and is often full of macabre imagery and literary and religious allusions.
It is often difficult to label certain bands as goth, since goths as a group tend to reject labels. Many bands that heavily influenced both visual and acoustic elements of the aesthetic, including The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Sisters of Mercy, do not identify themselves using the term and often find it limiting.
While the goth subculture is centered around music, there are other important elements. Members often stand out because of their fashion. Black is the dominant color, though other dark shades, such as purple, gray, and blood red, also feature heavily. White, though less commonly seen, can also be a gothic color, due to its dramatic look and its evocation of a burial shroud. Black make-up, nail polish, and heavily teased hair are popular for both male and females.
Much goth fashion, following the aesthetic of Gothic literature and music, hearkens back to another era, particularly Victorian and Renaissance styles. Religious symbols such as crosses and ankhs feature in many outfits as well. Personal expression is valued in the culture, so many goths play with the conventions to suit their own personal style.
Goth is more an aesthetic than an ideology, and there is no single religious or political stance that can be said to be typical of the culture. Goths tend to be tolerant of others and to focus their attention inwards rather than outwards. Though they often have an ill-deserved reputation for being violent or dangerously anti-social, most are creative, thoughtful, and passive, if pessimistic, individuals.