Blame it on the impending recession, a reaction to the “clean girl” aesthetic, the Wednesday effect, or just the crushing weight of being alive—no matter way you slice it, goth beauty is having a huge moment. After years of “no-makeup-makeup,” eyeliner is making a triumphant return, and it-girls are swapping bright copper for midnight black hair. Last year’s hot pink bimbos are being phased out for something darker (though equally sexy), and the latest cool-girl archetype relies on black leather, skinny eyebrows, and a lifeless expression.
But at New York Fashion Week, goth took on a less depressing edge. There was black lipstick, smudged eyeliner, and shows soundtracked by one of our most prominent Sad Girls, Courtney Love, yes, but it was paired with a softness and a sweetness that feels fresh and new—a vibe I’m calling “girly goth.”
At Sandy Liang’s Fall/Winter 23 show, makeup artist Marcello Gutierrez created a look he calls “sweet but psycho.” Heavily rimmed eyes and a few black lips were paired with a healthy flush of blush, and shimmering highlighter placed far down the tear ducts, almost as if the models were crying glittery tears. “The skin is really beautiful and fresh, not too shiny There’s a softness to it,” he told Byrdie backstage. “And the eyes have a bit more of experience in them. They’re a little bit grungy-er with a liner in the water line.”
This girly-goth dichotomy was also reflected in Liang’s clothes, which felt edgier than her previous collections, with an influx of dark colors and structured silhouettes. One model walked down the runway with a bondage-inspired black veil over her eyes. However, this edge—highlighted by the dark soundtrack featuring Love and perhaps the winner of 2022’s Best New Sad Girl contest, Ethel Cain—was balanced out by the cutesy details that have become Liang’s calling card, like ballerina flats, oversized rosettes, rhinestone body tattoos, and bows galore.
Gutierrez notes that this sort of messiness is trending. “I think people are tired of looking perfect. I think we’re living in like a more minimal [place] in terms of like application method. I think people are over, like, the 20-step, Kardashian [makeup]. It’s about more minimalism and a lived-in look. This look embodies the grungy, sad, pretty girl energy.”
If Sandy Liang was all about ’90s grunge-gone-girly, the Rodarte show borrowed from the ’80s New Romantic goth looks of Siouxsie Sioux and Strawberry Switchblade. Makeup artist James Kaliardos transformed models into “goth fairies,” with black and blue lips and structural graphic eyeliner. The glam had a very Black Swan quality about it, underscored by models in flower crowns, tiaras, and crystal-encrusted batwing ear decor. The collection, inspired by gothic fairytales and including drawings by the Mulleavy sisters’ mother, is a bit less wearable than Liang’s but has that same irresistible contrast between hard and soft.
The aesthetic crept into other shows as well—like the thin brows at the Tia Adeola show or ’90s slips at Anna Sui—as well as some recent campaigns like Praying or ShuShu/Tong’s Asics collab. With this trend, I think we’re dealing with a trickle-up situation. Girls all over TikTok have made the contrast between feminine and gothy a signature look. There was last fall’s “ballerina sleaze” aesthetic, which mixed classic ballet pieces with disheveled indie sleaze elements like smudged eyeliner and ripped stockings, and coquette pieces like giant ruffles and bows are often paired with clunky boots and dark makeup. Subverting ultra-feminine pieces with off-kilter gothic makeup has been a staple of sad girl culture forever—not to bring up Courtney Love for a third time, but her signature “Kinder Whore” style is the genesis of the girly goth look—we’re just finally seeing it hit the mainstream.
For Gen Z, it feels like a celebration of being really and truly “girly,” not as something to be ashamed of. On the other hand, there also feels like there’s more to be sad about than ever. So, we channel it into our clothes with our bows and eyeliner, and we serve.