All social groups and people move within a larger cultural context within which they deviate from the average. A circle of friends can together slowly become an alternative group through mutual support and encouragement. A group of people who know each other give off a group confidence that can create an aura around them - which is often misread by people to mean that they are an exclusive group.
This is particularly true when the group develop a particular appearance, or a group aesthetic is formed. A real barrier can erect itself between the group and "normal" society, as members of the "normal" society believe themselves to be "outside" the group and unable to enter it or understand it.
The aesthetic that the group develops towards is most often a function of their personality - i.e., there is a correlation between habits and the aesthetics people are most comfortable with. Subconsciously if not consciously, people learn which aesthetics are connected with which interests and therefore a person can sometimes be drawn to a particular look or style for reasons they do not understand, but is in some way connected to their need to socialize.
People stratify into groups they feel most comfortable with. All people feel themselves to be 'outside' or not accepted into 'society', that there is a large group of people who get on with each other and that they are not part of this group. In reality, all people think this, every person is only part of a reserved group, but from within that group it may appear the other way round; that everyone else is part of a large sociable group. If you take any given group of people, there are only a group of individuals all wandering why you don't like them.
People frequently feel that society is an exclusive, large, group of people which do not like them. In reality there is no such large group, just a milliard of smaller groups looking outwards at all the people not in their own group.
As a person matures they deal with this in many ways. Some become over-the-top sociable (the sanguine ones amongst us) in order to try and enter this illusion of "larger society". On one hand, there are those who look across at the loud, sociable ones with respect, awe and envy. On the other hand the loud sociable ones are trying to be sociable to try and make up for what they perceive to be a gap between themselves and you, and others not in their group.
Some people deal with the Human Condition by rejecting all those who they do not perceive to like, or be like, themselves. This left hand path is initially a solitary one, where a person perceives the illusionary large society and decides that he is purposely going to distance himself from it, so that no time or emotion need be expended worrying about who likes him or not.
But people need people, and as the prototype goth/punk/extreme matures they will seek out other aliens, whilst at the same time continuing to reject society. The result is the same; a person who is part of a social group within a larger context of other social groups and cliques.
Standing out and looking different is a hard thing to do. A goth can barely walk down a single street without someone insulting them... but for what purpose? Receiving the blunt end of Human nature strengthens one's resolve to be kind and fair. The increased level of friction with the mostly mindless masses toughens a person and makes them much more able to express themselves freely, without having to worry about whether or not people 'like' it or not.
The bottling up of emotions and self expression is known to be destabilizing, self oppressive bad psychology and will over time, reduce a person's mental well being. Learning to express your self through your appearance, instantly discarding much of society because they also discard you, is the left hand path. This continual self expression and self conscious movement through larger society whilst being visibly a member of a sub culture is an affirming, healthy and confidence building trip of karma; a person can avoid pent up emotion about whether others like them, because he accepts that he is an individual in only one single, small, social circle, with no illusion that he wants to go follow the illusionary larger society.
Judging a person by their appearance is, in theory, something everyone knows is wrong when it comes to cultural fashion, skin color, etc. A person's worth cannot be measured from what clothes they wear or how they present themselves. In short, it does not matter what the appearance of a person is; those that judge by appearance are recognized to be shallow and superficial, lacking depth of character, compassion, intelligence and morality.
A mature person can choose to stand up and rebel against the slight xenophobia that resides within all of us. A person can decide to be a nuisance to those who judge others by appearance. The more extreme you can dress, the more people will react to the way you look more than your actual actions. The more extreme you can dress therefore, the better the social stratification.
As a person's dress becomes more and more unusual, there are people who they previously thought of as friends who now reject them based on their fashion. For the sake of 'embarrassment' they avoid the unusually dressed person, buckling under pressure to remain sheep within the low security social circles they inhabit.
Those who accept punk, goth, cross dressing, androgyny are good people. Better than those who judge by appearance. The more unusual you dress, the better your filter for weeding out the intolerable, superficial and weak Humans around you.
Given that all people reside within their social circles, looking outwards on what they perceive to be a larger, sociable society, which they are not part of. In reality there is no larger society, but just an intermingling of a milliard of smaller groups, each looking out thinking themselves inhibited.
A person can feel that they need to bind their friends closer to themselves, so that they and their friends are a more 'solid' and stable group. The way to do this, normally, is to impress others in your own group. Other people try to allude to 'larger society' by forcing themselves into whatever shape they believe larger society likes most.
One method of trying to join the illusionary larger society matches the same method of trying to more closely bind with others in a person's existing social circle; the ridicule or noted rejection of people not in the group the individual wishes to join. Although society is made up of many small groups rather than a large one, most groups look and act in a similar way as they all try to expand their own circles to be included in other people's.
The more insecure, unstable and self repressed person will extend this attempt to be accepted to physical attack on those they perceive to be outside the perceived larger social group they wish to join, but never can.
The right hand path of trying to get others to like you, of trying to mould and force yourself into whatever shape current society appears to condone, causes such psychological damage that every extreme of psychosis can develop; from paranoia about why a person feels they are being oppressed from joining the perceived larger society, self destructive depression and confusion as to why 'no one likes' them, to anger and violence towards those who are different (to the group they wish to be part of).
“I was easy to spot. And the Chaplain of the school started referring university students to me to talk because the students with alternative kinds of questions, doubts, or issues felt I was the "only one" they could talk to who would "understand." It was such a surprise for me...but it's something I never forgot. Dress can be very useful and make an important statement against social norms and draw people in a particular way.”
A female reverend
Stereotypes. We all hate them. But in order to describe in generic terms what the various subcultures I talk about look like then I have to rely on them! There are many people who may fit these descriptions and not be a member of the subculture listed. Likewise there are many who consider themselves part of the subculture but who do not fit my description. I try to be inclusive here, but also I am trying to be specific in order to allow people to spot and name members of subcultures more effectively so have to (to an extent) go a little towards legalism and stereotyping. Sorry! Just note that there are exceptions to everything I say below (people are not easy to put into boxes and they never fit).
As one of the most well-known subcultures, goths have taken an unfair share of the knee-jerk reactions from the fashion police of the world. For example the Christian chaplain Johann Christoph Arnold1 has a go in his book Their Name Is Today: Reclaiming Childhood in a Hostile World1. The author lists "gangs", "sexual relationships" and "drugs" as three things that pose serious risks to children. But alongside those, he also lists "goth culture"2. That's right - in Johann Arnold's mind, the choice to dress in black is as bad as a child getting into heroin and having sex. As a committed Christian, perhaps he thinks it is his duty to police teenager's fashion sense as well as their wellbeing, but, I personally know two gothic Christian priests who would strongly disagree.
There are all kinds of goths from all walks of life. All subcultures are themselves diverse, of course, but goths come in a particularly wide variety of flavours.
The perky goth is an insanely happy and bouncy goth who revels in every aspect of life no matter if it's bad or good. They are to be found clubbing, having picnics, avoiding relationships with mopey goths and being sociable amongst others, whilst the mopey goths sit on IRC being mopey, or sit in bars being mopey. Wheeeeeee!
Their dress might incorporate gothic raver gear and cybergoths employ a great range of colors in a distinctive way, including blues and purples (sometimes quite bright) to orange, bright green and white. Lots of illuminous elements or makeup. An immense range of hair extensions, plastic hair, hair in tubes, illuminous hair, hair shaved (frequently shaved sides of varying width). Will wear logos and patterns that look alien in design, or look like electronic circuit boards or wires.. Clothes will frequently be skin tight. Large boots up to knee height (most popular make of boots are New Rocks which have some easily recognizable metal tubes and a circular logo) or big chunky trainers (i.e., Swear make). Piercings and tattoos are popular.
Cybergoths are often perky, bouncy, happy in nature. They can be found clubbing and might listen to trance, hard techno, industrial, ebm. Computers and gadgets. Glow in the dark goths. Dance dance dance, bounce bounce bounce!
Trad goths will wear blacks, grays, dark blues, dark purples. Velvet, crushed velvet, corsets, frilly shirts, large skirts, gothic ballroom clothes, corsets, sometime fishnet. Hair will be varied but will not generally contain any illuminous parts. Makeup will be dark or black, with no illuminous elements. Trad goths won't generally wear any raver gear. Piercings and tattoos are popular.
They might listen to punk and guitar based goth music, 80s music, some punk, some metal. Frilly clothes, big big hair. Frequently these ones complain about all the bleepy bloopy music that the cyber gothes listen to! Medieval re-enactment, educated in the classics (latin, history, art). Trad Goths are diminishing in numbers.
Traditionally punks have ripped clothes, tartan trousers, ankle boots, army surplus boots. Colors are varied but there's not many strong colors, mostly faded colors and gray. A lot of piercings and tattoos. Punks are probably older than many others on this page.
Furries are one of the more discrete subcultures and there is no sure-fire way of identifying furries. Some will wear collars (sometimes with name tags). Some will wear kitty ears or a tail. Some will wear badges that look like a paw print. People wearing full fursuits (like mascots) may be furries. But most furries look normal. Not many piercings or tattoos. The most dressed up furries will be wearing full fur suits (like mascots) or improvised, imaginative make-up and clothes, often veering heavily into the fantastical.
Leather jackets, ankle boots (New Rocks are also popular), some chains. Simple hair (no hair extensions or varied colors like the Cybergoths). Generally black or gray clothing. Lots of tattoos and some piercings.
Similar to metallers or goths, but younger. Will wear band t-shirts, loose or baggy trousers (not much leather or PVC). Will have long chains on their pockets. Some New Rock boots, some trainers, ankle boots, etc. Will mostly wear black. Not many piercings or tattoos on account of generally being quite young.
Long flowing dresses, flower patters, pastel colors, long hair (generally undyed). Some piercings and tattoos.
Will wear pure, pastel or bright colors (blue, multicolored clothes). Will wear jeans or trousers; shoes, trainers or ankle boots. T-shirts, shirts or jumpers. Will frequently wear popular brands such as Ralph Lauren, Nike. Lots of sports wear. Some piercing. No hair extensions. Males never dye their hair and rarely have long hair.