From the looks of most workplace dress codes, you’d think corporate and goth are mutually exclusive entities ― but they don’t have to be.
There are plenty of darklings at desk jobs who flourish in their careers while maintaining their personal sense of gothic identity. They’re called “corp goths” (short for corporate goths). While they may present a stark contrast to traditional standards of business casual attire, corp goths prove that their style is not just a youthful phase.
Growing up, I was drawn to the macabre and bizarre before I had any familiarity with the goth subculture. From my teenage years into early adulthood, my life was filled three major priorities: family, school and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” The friends I made in my local Rocky Horror cast introduced me to goth music and fashion, helping me to discover and develop my own personal sense of style. On the night of my 18th birthday, I was whisked away to my very first goth club, where I met others who shared a fondness for the same clothing and music as I did. Little did I know back then that most of those individuals worked a standard 9-to-5 job during daylight hours.
In recent history, television shows such as “The IT Crowd” and “NCIS” have both showcased and poked fun at the corp goth lifestyle. In 2006, the “Red Door” episode of “The IT Crowd” introduced a character named Richmond (played by Noel Fielding), a go-getter turned gloomy goth thanks to the music of Cradle of Filth. For 15 seasons on “NCIS,” scientist and “perky goth” Abby Sciuto (played by Pauley Perrette) dressed to impress in a variety of spiked and spiderwebbed outfits that raised more than one eyebrow from her straitlaced superiors.
Although their clothing was frequently the subject of a comedic punchline, these characters were still portrayed as intelligent individuals who were dedicated to their professions. The long-running “NCIS” in particular brought awareness of the gothic subculture into American mainstream consciousness, making said subculture more accepted beyond the confines of the small screen.
The influence of these characters was certainly not lost on me as I entered the working world after college. Early on, I labored for smaller companies doing digital marketing and social media management in a variety of industries, ranging from health and wellness to construction, 3D printing and more. I began experimenting here and there with allowing tiny hints of my personality to shine through my wardrobe. First, it was creepers (platform shoes) on casual Fridays. Next came bat earrings and a skull cameo necklace. Pushing the envelope further, I began to dye my hair purple and had my nostril pierced. Fortunately for me, I worked in offices where dyed hair and facial piercings did not violate the dress code, though not everyone is as lucky.
HuffPost spoke to four individuals employed in corporate America who also proudly put their goth aesthetic on display.
Pronouns and Gender Identity: They/them; agender
Current Occupation: Payment services coordinator
I have worked in the finance/payments processing industry for nearly six years now. My specialties are loss prevention, risk analysis, fraud detection, chargeback analysis, fraud trend analysis, compliance, etc. I do not have a bachelor’s degree in anything. I work for an ERP [enterprise resource planning] software company that services the apparel industry.
I dress business casual with a darker color palette (black, gray, deep red, but sometimes blue) most of the week. I have a black mohawk, tattoos on my chest and arms, and nine facial piercings. If we include the ones in my ears, I have 13 total, and my lobes are stretched to 10 millimeters. I will be getting my tongue split this upcoming weekend.
Aside from the suit-like clothes, I love wearing cardigans, nice trousers (or even those comfortable jeggings that look a lot like work slacks) and some heels. I am a huge fan of dresses, too.
I feel most connected to my goth identity in the way I express myself deliberately and confidently. My appearance has absolutely zero bearing on how well I can do my job. It does make networking a lot of fun. People are judgmental, so of course they’re going to try to validate their [opinion that my style translates into professional ignorance]. But I don’t like to bullshit people. Knowing I can kick ass and appear unconventional makes me feel the most like me.
His last name has been omitted to protect Jesse’s privacy.
Pronouns and Gender Identity: He/him, but also comfortable with she/her or they/them; genderfluid
Current Occupation: Call center instructor, learning and development
As most of my clients are located outside the U.S., I typically wear jeans and T-shirts most of the time. On occasion, I enjoy wearing a full-on three-piece black suit a la Nick Cave. I’m also lucky enough to be able to wear femme makeup and heels at my company, which is not very common in the corporate world (yet).
Stylistically, I like to fold in little hints of macabre in my daily fashion. Whether it’s eyeliner, my piercings, tattoos, a skull buckle or blood-red fingernail polish, I clearly stand out in the crowd of plain suits and attire. I let my strong work ethic speak for itself. People say my style looks rather unique and polished at the same time. I’ve also been told by co-workers that I initially looked intimidating until they began working with me.
Every so often, if I’m on a floor of my building that I don’t usually work on, I’ll get a few odd looks from people wondering what I’m doing there. Again, once anyone watches me get to work, they know that looks are one thing but I’m all business.
Pronouns and Gender Identity: She/her; female
Current Occupation: Sales for a major hotel chain
My favorite office look is a black dress, sweater, wrist cuffs and platform shoes. I sometimes push the limits of my company’s dress code and that keeps me connected to my goth roots. My funky shoes and bangs help me stay close to my goth identity.
I’ve been able to keep my look fresh and unique by finding one-of-a-kind clothes at thrift stores all over Los Angeles. I’ve refined my goth look over the years to the point that I can often go straight from the office to a dance club without having to change my clothes. Platform shoes and boots have consistently been a part of my look. Thankfully my corporate job’s dress code has loosened up so much that I am able to wear virtually whatever I want to work as long as I am clean and neat with no holes in my tights!
In the early ’90s, my look was a bit more punk/goth. During that period, I showed up to work on my day off to get my check while wearing my standard clothes and got in heaps of trouble! The hotel ended up creating a new rule that you could not be in public spaces in the hotel on your day off because they were so shocked and offended at my bright undercut hair, knee-high PVC boots and mini dress drenched in bondage belts.
Pronouns and Gender Identity: She/her; female
Current Occupation: Payroll in the film industry
I do payroll for the film industry, so on any major movie you’ve seen I’ve probably helped with the payroll. I like to wear comfortable clothes because I sit all day at work. Sometimes it’s a nice retro-goth skirt or sometimes it’s some comfy black leggings and a horror-themed T-shirt.
I think repping brands, bands and friends’ companies that are especially involved in goth culture makes me feel connected to my goth identity. Not only am I promoting something I believe in or a friend I want to support, but it’s a great conversation starter that helps me connect with other people in the goth community.
I definitely realized I had reached official “office goth” status at my corporate job when my birthday came around this year in June. No one really knew what colors or decorations to use because I don’t typically wear pastels. When I got to work for my birthday week, I saw my entire desk had been decorated Halloween style with black, orange and green streamers, accompanied with cut-out bats and pumpkins! Needless to say, I totally loved it and it was 100% my daily aesthetic.
Personal stories have been edited for length and clarity.