What is the Difference Between Gothic and Tribal Clothing?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

If you're looking for a way to spruce up your wardrobe, you might find yourself wondering about the difference between Gothic and tribal clothing. While both Gothic and tribal clothing continue to be popular choices for those who follow the latest fashion trends, these two looks are not interchangeable. Gothic clothing is dark, morbid, and slightly eroticized, while tribal clothing is an exotic mix of elements from different cultures around the world.

The leopard prints found on modern interpretations of tribal style clothing are inspired by the animal skins once worn by the peoples of Africa.
The leopard prints found on modern interpretations of tribal style clothing are inspired by the animal skins once worn by the peoples of Africa.

The overall effect of Gothic clothing usually designed to provide a more modern take on Victorian excess. Gothic clothing is most common among people who take part in the Gothic subculture, although many people enjoy experimenting with Gothic dress as an expression of their personal style. Originally, Gothic clothing was hand sewn or culled from items at local thrift shops, but popular fashion designers like Jean-Paul Gaultier, Christian Lacroix, Alexander McQueen, and John Galliano have given the Gothic look a more upscale appearance in recent years. Betty Page, Siouxsie Sioux, David Bowie, and Alice Cooper are often cited as influential style icons in the world of Gothic clothing.

Gothic clothing is generally dark, morbid, and slightly eroticized.
Gothic clothing is generally dark, morbid, and slightly eroticized.

Hallmarks of Gothic fashion include liberal use of the colors black, plum, and burgundy. Velvet, lace, fishnet, and leather are common fabric choices. Skull or cross motifs are very popular in gothic style when seeking a punk look for a particular outfit. For women, Gothic fashion often equates to an interest in corsets, gloves, and stilettos. People who prefer Gothic clothing often finish off the look with makeup designed to accentuate their pale skin. Black nail polish and lipstick are common trademarks of Gothic style, especially among young teens who have created their own hybrid emo-Gothic looks.

Tribal clothing gets its inspiration from the traditional dress of India, Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific Islands. The look is adapted to suit modern sensibilities, however. For example, a young woman trying the tribal clothing trend might pair a sari with jeans for a cute, yet casual, date look. Gwen Stefani and Madonna are just two examples of the many Hollywood celebrities who have helped take the tribal fashion trend to new heights.

Tribal clothing includes a fair amount of neutrals such as tan and cream, but also touches of eye-popping colors like fuchsia, fire engine red, emerald green, and vermilion orange. Zebra and leopard prints are popular elements of tribal style, as are geometric designs inspired by African kente cloth. Large hoop earrings, stacks of bangles, and jewelry with feather or beads can finish off a tribal ensemble.

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the wiseGEEK team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

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Discussion Comments


Even though at my age, I would look foolish in either the Gothic or the ethnic style, I respect the right of anyone to wear the type of clothes they want. Gothic clothing is a bit startling, but some people like to express themselves outwardly. In the past, some of the fashions people have worn have looked odd, at least to us.

I do like the ethnic look on younger people. They are also, expressing themselves by the clothing they wear.

It's fascinating to see some of the designer Gothic fashion that you see on the runways. It's come a long ways from the time of sewing clothing pieces together that one got from the thrift shop.


I feel like as far as the tribal style clothing goes, it is seen as the complete opposite of the Gothic clothing style simply due to the outgoingness of the dress.

The tribal style of clothing I have noticed is more relegated to the club scene and the party scene and just exhibits an outgoing nature. Because of the apparent outgoing nature of the dress it is automatically more socially acceptable than Gothic style clothing.

I have heard negative things about the tribal style type of clothing, such as people misuse certain articles of clothing and not really celebrate the cultures associated with the dress. I have even heard people say that some desecrate certain types of designs due to them wearing the clothing at clubs and party spots.


I think that people have a lot of negative perceptions of goth type of clothing, particularly Gothic punk clothing.

Most people see Gothic style clothing as something that invokes our nightmares with things that are associated with being scary, such as death, the occult, and various other depressing things. However, when it comes down to it Gothic clothing is simply just another way of expressing oneself and is not always associated with the things that people usually associate them with.

I do not know a lot about the Gothic subculture, but I do know some people that are and most are fairly normal people. Some are very different and go to the extreme with the subculture, but this is simply reminiscent of various other types of subculture. Some go to the extreme and most do not, this is simply how it is in many subcultures and unfortunately the extremist are the ones that create the perception that people have outside of the subculture.


@jcraig - would have to agree with you on all accounts. The tribal type of clothing I see quite often in bars and on the club scene. It is definitely a very flamboyant, outgoing type of dress that tends to show more skin and is just asking for attention.

Now the Gothic type of dress does attract attention, but it is not as an outgoing type of attention. The dress is usually black and is just naturally a darker type of style of clothing than tribal dress.

Either way both types of clothing attract negative perceptions by people due to their attempted cries for attention. Both do it through a different spectrum, but I have heard negative things said about both types of clothing, especially the Gothic type style due to people's associations with their misunderstood nature of the Gothic subculture.


A lot of people may think that Gothic and Tribal clothing have absolutely no similarities between the two and are two contrasting styles of dress, however this is not the case and the two styles are a lot more similar than someone may think.

Both styles tend to turn heads and have a bit of an out there type of look. Both are extremely expressive and is the type of dress that wants to attract the attention of people.

A lot of people also have similar negative views on both types of dress because of their flamboyant expression, although I feel that tribal clothing is tended to be more socially acceptable.

Now there are some extreme differences in that tribal clothing exhibits a more outgoing type of dress style, while Gothic dress is the complete opposite. Because of the openness of tribal clothing people outside of these clothing styles see it as more acceptable than the dark type of Gothic clothing.

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