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Am I a Bad Goth if I Have a Corporate Job?

Kayla Naab

Written by: Kayla Naab

Goth culture sits at the epicenter of a larger movement toward anarchism. People who embody a goth “lifestyle” are often seen as beacons of the anti-establishment. Fellow goths, punks, and other dwellers of the underground nod to your black-on-black, your grommets and leather, as if to say “thank you for joining me in this ‘fuck you’ to what society expects of us.” Non-goth normies notice your intricate and devious makeup du jour, tattoos and piercings akimbo, and fishnet everything with a sense of awe. They see it as “brave” that you’re so willing to be yourself.  

In this way, being goth is akin to a kind of messed up form of celebrity – you’re attracting fans and haters just by existing. There’s no way to slink by unnoticed – even though the introverts among us might hope to. There’s no way to walk past a crowd without inviting them to form an opinion.

But that’s okay. We are Goth because it’s true to us, not because we give a shit what other people think. In fact, a pillar of our Gothness depends on being aloof to the perceptions of others, right?

So, how do we navigate being goth in an atmosphere where we’re forced to value someone else’s perception of us?

Not all Goths work at Hot Topic

No shade toward Hot Topic – the pinnacle of my youth – but all the Goths I knew from my teens went in different directions in their 20s. Some are picture-perfect Pinterest wives who left their Goth life behind them after 25. Some are tattoo artists, sex workers, bar tenders, and mingling in various other occupations that allow them to look and dress the way they want. For those individuals, I always wonder if their skills and interests drew them to those professions or if they simply didn’t feel they could put their artistic, physical, or social prowess to use in a “mainstream” field of work.

Still, most of my goth, punk, or alternative friends grew up to be exactly the same as they ever were – people with body mods who dress the way they want and live their truth…on the weekends. From 9 to 5, you’ll find them stuffed into suits and heels from stores their mothers shopped in twenty years ago, piercings removed and ink concealed. Not exactly the anarchy we all dreamed we’d be inciting, and certainly not honest.

Is anyone really themselves at work?

Work is weird. Some of us work from home, dress code free, setting our own hours and making our own rules. That’s a luxury. Many of us are still commuting that long commute, dressing like our dads, and wondering how the building managed to become even more beige overnight.

None among us are waltzing into our corporate job wearing what we wore on Saturday night out with friends. None of us are made up the way we see our true selves when we harrumph through the office door on Monday morning. We don’t speak to coworkers how we speak to friends. We don’t emote, we don’t express, and we don’t step out of line.

Am I a bad Goth if I follow some of the rules?

The definition of Goth is a loose one, debated both by those within the culture and those standing outside it, staring uncomfortably. For some, Goth is just a proclivity toward black clothes, makeup, or hair. For others, it indicates a love of the Goth genre of music or film. Goth culture is proudly creepy, sexy, artistic, dark, messed up, smart, and pretty.

But if your definition of Goth also involves rebellion – an unwillingness to bend to the demands of society, an unwillingness to blindly accept the unchecked rules that govern us socially – then aren’t you doing Goth badly by working at [insert tech company here]?

Maybe. But, maybe not.

Here’s to striking a balance

A true rebel hates labels most of all because labels imply absolution and there are no absolutes in this world. If a rebel spirit is paramount to your definition of Goth, then you likely believe that people are multi-faceted and allowed to live life on their own terms. You believe in autonomy.

If this is true, then you’re allowed to wear all-black one day and hot pink the next. You’re allowed to listen to dark and brooding music and also secretly like that one Prince album that makes you feel all the feels. You’re allowed to work a corporate job to pay the bills and do what you love on the weekends. You’re also allowed to work a corporate job you actually love and love it openly.

If Goth culture becomes prescriptive and limiting for you, it’s lost its meaning. Especially as we take our fashion and our music and our aesthetic into adulthood, our Gothism is not a phase, nor a costume, but a reminder that we should always be ourselves, in the thousands of spaces we occupy.

Advice for Corporate Goths

Wear all-black, but choose a workday silhouette

The black clothing you covet is welcome at work – in fact, most of your colleagues are probably wearing mostly black, grey, or navy anyway. Keep rocking the color palette that speaks to you, just choose new fabrics and cuts to suit a work-friendly wardrobe.

Choose an expressive piece of jewelry or accessory

While you lament the loss of your full body harness and platform boots on weekdays, don’t be afraid to rock a goth-approved bangle or stack of earrings to keep the spirit alive.

Decorate your desk or office space expressively

As long as they’re “appropriate,” you can put up whatever pictures or mementos you like. Tack up concert tickets, photos with friends, and phrases or lyrics that make you feel like yourself.

Your headphones, your music

Music makes the workday go faster no matter what you’re into. Blare your favorite throwbacks or newly discovered albums and don’t be afraid to hum along. If all of your colleagues can sing that Bruno Mars song that they always play at weddings every time it comes on the Lite Rock station, you’re allowed to indulge in your own cubicle karaoke – just watch the expletives.

Go Goth underneath it all

One of our personal-fave ways to be about that #gothlife at work is to choose lingerie that embodies your inner Goth. No one can see it but you can feel it empowering you to be bold, exude confidence, and take shit from nobody. To be honest, Goth or not, those are feelings we could all use more of.