It was about the year 1979.
At that time, I was working as a stage manager and lighting designer for Theatre Passe Muraille in downtown Toronto. Often times, work would end after dark unless we were running a show, in which case I’d leave the theatre well after midnight.
I’m not exactly sure how I first started noticing Goth Girls. I seem to remember catching them out of the corner of my eye, just at the edges of my peripheral vision. A streak of black… a blurred white face as I turned to look, not quite knowing what it was I was looking for.
But I do remember the first Goth Girl I saw head on. It was on Queen Street West, between Bathurst and Spadina.
And it was just like in a movie. Everything else blurred and went into slow motion as she approached, walking toward me on the sidewalk. She was a vision in pale white face and black mascara. Lacey Victorian-style top with a large crucifix of pewter or stainless steel and big black and red stones around her neck. The skirt was full and came to just below her knees. Tall heavy boots with big heels. She wore these lace things on her hands that continued up past her wrists.
Her skin was alabaster. Her lips were blood-red. Her eyebrows were heavily penciled.
I walked slowly towards her, transfixed. Just as she was about to pass, she looked at me, one eyebrow arching slightly… and then she was gone… a dark shadow dissolving into the night.
I was smitten.
I remember having lunch with a friend the first time I saw a Goth Girl during daylight hours. She was sitting alone at a booth, reading. I’d like to think she was holding a copy of The Collected Works of Edgar Allen Poe but in all honesty, I can’t remember the book. I couldn’t help staring at her. I was mesmerized. At one point she glanced over and must have noticed my embarrassed look at having been caught gawking at her. She gave the tiniest of smirks before returning to her book.
Over thirty years have passed since those very first briefest of encounters. I see a goth girl occasionally but it seems to me that these days, it is more a fashion choice rather than a lifestyle choice. They’re dressing goth and acting goth without actually being goth.
To my mind, those first Goth Girls weren’t kids in from the suburbs. And they weren’t high school age either. They were in their 20s and appeared to be downtown girls. I saw them reading or going to experimental theatre productions, ‘art house’ movies and poetry readings. They weren’t bored eye-rolling teenagers. They appeared to be intellectuals who were rebelling against societal and fashion norms not because it was ‘cool’ but because it was who they were. The black ‘ugly’ (to my mind, beautiful) exterior was meant to be an outward manifestation of what was going on inside.
I once heard Goth Girls compared to stained-glass rose windows in cathedrals. From the outside in the daylight, they look dark, ugly and unimpressive.
It is only once you step inside that you can see the exquisite artistry of the rose window. Only from the darkness within can you truly appreciate its elegant beauty.
Over the next few months, I saw more and more of these dark angels of the night. I never spoke to one. Never approached one to speak. Never went goth myself. I just admired them from afar.
I don’t know how many (if any) of those original style Goth Girls exist. I’d like to think that despite all the wannabees, there are still a few young ladies out there who exemplify the ideal characteristics of what it was to be a ‘real’ Goth Girl.