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What is Alternative Fashion?

Alternative fashion is a vibrant expression of individuality, breaking away from mainstream trends to celebrate unique styles. It's a blend of subcultures, from goth to punk, that allows personal identity to shine through clothing and accessories. Embrace your distinctiveness and explore how alternative fashion can redefine your wardrobe. What unique elements will you incorporate into your style?
Mandi R. Hall
Mandi R. Hall

The phrase “alternative fashion” is often associated with styles that differ from mainstream trends. The phrase itself depicts fashion choices that are not only unique but constantly altered. Alternative fashion is typically linked to teenagers and young adults, although people of any age may participate in this style of dress. In the first decade of the 21st century, gothic and emo fashion are the most popular forms of alternative fashion, though grunge and rockabilly are also modes of alternative fashion. In fact, most any type of style can be considered alternative fashion to other people.

Emo fashion has its roots in a style of rock music. Lyrically emotional and melodically catchy, the songs have been capturing a certain kind of audience since roughly the mid-1980s. While the emo movement enjoyed moderate underground popularity until the 21st century, it has since become more mainstream. Fashion critics often contend that since more and more clothing designers have manufactured styles directed toward this crowd, it’s not as “alternative” as it once was.

Gothic fashion is considered an alternative fashion.
Gothic fashion is considered an alternative fashion.

“Emo kids” — as they are often called — are generally depicted as wearing tight jeans or pants, band t-shirts, neon colors contrasted with shades of black, and shoes manufactured by skateboard brands. Studded belts, thick-rimmed glasses and shaggy haircuts are also associated with emo fashion. Many emo fashionistas also dye chunks of their hair in various bright, unusual colors. Despite the loud outfit choices, those who dress with an emo flair are often stereotyped as shy, angst-ridden boys and girls.

Emo fashion may include black nail polish.
Emo fashion may include black nail polish.

Goth or gothic fashion is another style of alternative fashion. Considered a type of subculture, people who have “gone goth” are often seen wearing all black, with occasional splashes of white or gray. Black hair is also common, worn in wild or long, straight manners. Heavy black makeup — including black lips — are also associated with this type of alternative fashion. Style choices are often reminiscent of the Victorian ages, as well as BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) and punk movements.

Among teens, alternative fashion allows young people to express themselves in a unique way.
Among teens, alternative fashion allows young people to express themselves in a unique way.

Considered androgynous in many ways, goth clothing is worn by both men and women. Like other forms of alternative fashion, there is no age or geographic restrictions associated with the goth subculture. Both men and women in this scene may wear tulle or velvet skirts, black boots and fishnet accessories. Gothic people are also generally pale, as Goths are stereotyped as disliking the sun. Macabre, erotic and morbid accessories are also parts of this fashion trend.

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Discussion Comments


I am trying to keep up with my granddaughters generation, and this article has helped shed some light on eclectic fashion alternatives!

While I know I'm way too old to dress this way I do like to have some idea of what they are talking about. Some of these styles are way beyond runway fashion - though I suppose that's the point really.


@pleonasm - You have to be careful not to annoy the people who really identify as goth, or punk if you are going to just show up at a festival. Usually if you are cool about it, everyone else will be too, but there are always people who try too hard to fit in, and they can be irritating.

It also kind of annoys me, with punk in particular, when people buy "punk" clothes from expensive stores. The whole point in my mind is to make something unique and personal, not to spend a lot of money trying to look like someone else's concept of the style.

But, you know, people can do what they like. I just won't consider it to be a genuine part of the scene, until it gets a little bit dirty.

Oh yeah and I don't think there is an established kind of steampunk music. I've heard people suggest progressive rock though.


@croydon - I feel like steampunk evolved from goth to some extent and the two can still be blended. That's one of the reasons I like it as well. It's weird, and awesome looking, but it doesn't have the negative connotations of goth and you can mix up colors rather than just wearing black.

There are places where you can go out wearing alternate fashion choices though, even if you aren't part of the "scene". They often have gigs or festivals catering to steampunk or goth people and you can always go to these, particularly if you enjoy the music associated with them.

I actually don't know exactly what kind of music would be associated with steampunk though. Maybe ska?


My favorite kind of alternative fashion at the moment is steampunk. I just love the aesthetic of matching up faux Victorian styles with science and mechanical elements, like clockwork.

People seem to use all kinds of different materials for it as well, such as lace and feathers and metal and so forth. And I guess I've always had a soft spot for corsets which seem to be the most common thing for women to wear.

I think I might have to create a steampunk themed costume for Halloween this year.

Unfortunately, I don't think I could get away with wearing this kind of alternative clothing at any other time of the year!

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    • Gothic fashion is considered an alternative fashion.
      By: Peter Heimpel
      Gothic fashion is considered an alternative fashion.
    • Emo fashion may include black nail polish.
      By: NinaMalyna
      Emo fashion may include black nail polish.
    • Among teens, alternative fashion allows young people to express themselves in a unique way.
      By: guas
      Among teens, alternative fashion allows young people to express themselves in a unique way.