“Seeing a lot of goths about again, which is bad news,” read the tweet, sent to me by multiple people who guessed correctly that I’d appreciate its dark humour and blend of extremely niche trend forecasting and societal observation.
“Goths are the harbinger of recession whether its the 2008 recession, the 1980s recession or 5th century Rome and the collapse of the empire,” user Ruairi Fahy went on to write. “They may not be the cause but they are the warning we should heed.”
Economic experts are still undecided as to whether we are heading for another global recession, with the impacts of the pandemic, war in Ukraine and lockdowns in China culminating in high inflation, rising interest rates, food price increases, pressure on supply chains and a cost of living crisis.
(Here's an explainer with five key questions answered, great for those of us who need/want it spelt out for us)
But while experts continue debating the financial future, according to my social media feeds the writing is on the wall and the ‘R’ word is trending - and Goths are just the start of it.
There are so many supposed style and pop culture economic indicators that the signs could be found anywhere. In 2013 Forbes wrote that it was all about nail polish trends - “The darker the polish, the worse the economy” - while in 2009, post-GFC, the New York Times said insight could be drawn from the slow sales of men’s underwear.
Another viral tweet from last week looked to the strip club - or the lack of customers making it rain at the strip club - as representative of recession (or the lack of discretionary spending that generally results).
“The strip club is sadly a leading indicator and i can promise y’all we r in a recession lmao,” wrote user @botticellibimbo.
She later tweeted: “every single stripper i know is a better trend forecaster than any finance bro or marketing exec”.
Even on TikTok Gen Z is talking about the trickle down effects of economic instability: one video montage focuses on the ‘forgotten aesthetic’ of ‘Recessioncore’, the rise of a fast fashion aesthetic that, at the time, embraced minimalist, less tailored and inexpensive design (now jokingly referred to as ‘business casual’).
The lipstick and hemline indexes are the classic style bellwether, with lipstick sales reportedly going up and skirt lengths down as prosperity falls.
“Essentially we tend to find that when economic times are harder, people do less fun stuff, or move to smaller bite size fun things,” says economist Shamubeel Eaqub of these indicators and how they can reflect consumer habits. “We tend to see this trading down in shifting from branded to generic products for example, or more small treats like nail polish and lipstick.”
Doris de Pont, fashion historian and founder of the New Zealand Fashion Museum, thinks such markers are exaggerated and that these “small luxuries” such as lipsticks have been substituted for things like coffee and eating out at restaurants.
“There are things like lipsticks and hemlines, but I don't see them at the moment. I think we are in quite a different space - almost post apocalyptic, rather than recession. People are in a bit of shock,” she says, referencing the pandemic’s ongoing impact on how we dress.
“In terms of fashion there are different responses to that: some of them are flamboyant, yes. A sort of devil may care attitude. Others are dialled back, and others are wanting to tread lightly on what’s left.”
She points to the rise in the appreciation of craft and thrifting, and a rejection of fast fashion. “There is also that shift of diversity in what people wear: there’s much more room for your own style.”
But back to Goths, our apparent dark warning of impending recession. Are they really ‘bad news’?
Some would argue that Goths are actually more a symptom of discontent, or - in the case of the Goth lite stylings of Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker - a commodification of a subculture that is about much more than the all black, eyeliner and dark nail polish wearing stereotype.
It’s true that the Goth aesthetic is having a moment, in fashion at least, from the black leather, corsets, lace and Beetlejuice’s Lydia Deetz inspired looks seen on the red carpet and streets (remember too that a more authentic Gothic personality is, according to a 2006 book, “endemic to New Zealand's self-representation”).
In 2019 Bitch Media wrote about the resurgence of vampires in pop culture as a symbol of the economy spiralling out of control. “While there are few works of vampire fiction that explicitly engage with economic trends, vampires reflect, by their very nature, economic inequality, financial despair, and extractive capitalistic practices that lay waste to communities and those within them.”
Professor Lorna Piatti-Farnell, director of the Popular Culture Research Centre at Auckland University of Technology, president of the Gothic Association of New Zealand and Australia and author of the book Gothic Afterlives: Reincarnations of Horror in Film and Popular Media, has a unique insight but is unconvinced that Goths are the harbinger of recession.
“I wouldn't go as far as saying that there is a direct correlation between recessions and the Goth subculture. What can be said is that some aspects of the broader Goth subculture - and bear in mind that this is varied and multifaceted - are very focused on social reflection, community, and ways to cope with difficult and changing times,” she says. “So it might be that, during particularly challenging times - socially, financially, and politically - people are drawn to the Goth subculture.”
Piatti-Farnell says that horror too can reflect pop culture’s response to economic hardship.
“Horror as a genre has always been particularly attuned to responding to the cultural anxieties of a particular moment in time, providing metaphorical negotiations of the salient issues at hand,” she says. “For this, there tends to be spikes in horror narratives (film, television, fiction) during particularly tumultuous times, as horror can function as a way for us to respond and reflect on our fears and what worries us the most.
“I think we can agree that the past two years have been particularly challenging, so the newly re-established interest in horror and horror icons, from vampires to zombies and beyond, is part of our ways to make sense of the changing world around us… including the inevitable economic shifts.”