A History of Counterculture: Cyberpunk and Cybergoth

From poodle skirts to Instaglam, and cloche hats to bell bottoms, the history of mainstream fashion is well-known to the everyday fashionista. But not all aspects of fashion are mainstream. This semester, I’ll be exploring the history of counterculture movements – and how they differ from the fashion history you already know.

Last time, I discussed glam rock, a movement that sprung up in the early 1970s whose style and music represented materialism, superficiality, and flamboyance. This week, I’ll be talking about cyberpunk, a subculture that emerged in the 1980s. 

Cybergoths were inspired by punk and goth, as well as by science fiction works that presented a gritty, realistic depiction of future societies.  


The main influence of cyberpunk literature was the New Wave of science fiction in the 1960s and 1970s. Rather than presenting an idealized and Utopian view of the future, these writers envisioned a society in which technology amplified the darker side of human nature – from greedy mega-corporations to oppressive governments and brooding, criminal antiheroes. 

These themes were taken on by two somewhat distinct subcultures. Cyberpunks favored minimalist clothing, rebellious sentiments, and technologically-centered aspects such as hacking and transhumanism. Cybergoths were defined mostly by their interest in futuristic music and fashion, and are often compared to ravers. 


Cyberpunk fashion is generally characterized as having sleek lines, minimal color palettes, and unconventional silhouettes. This may be more hardcore, with shaved heads, leather, and mirrored shades; it could also be more conventional, with trench coats and latex (a look popularized by The Matrix movies); or be more modern, with functionality and modularity being prioritized, urban aesthetics preferred, and hoods abound. 

Cybergoths take the futuristic aesthetic to the extreme, featuring neon colors, reflective materials, and goggles. 

Both cyberpunks and cybergoths take the notion of an unnatural look to heart. Haircuts are often short (for functionality), but may also be spiked or worn in synthetic dreadlocks – side shaves and undercuts are common additions, and colors may be dark or neon, with extremely light bleached hair being popular, particularly for women. Makeup, like goth and punk makeup that came before, should be dark and dramatic – with some individuals wearing facial recognition camouflage makeup, and both makeup and tattoos worn to suggest bionic body modifications. 


Cyberpunk itself is still very much relevant as a modern subculture – as technology has adapted and evolved, so have its implications and potential applications. Cyberpunk themes have influenced many modern pop-culture staples, from The Hunger Games series to Black Mirror

As modern technology has advanced, we have reached many developments foreseen by science fiction writers – such as wearable technology, metadata collection, and virtual personas. This means that modern cyberpunks are not only inspired by New Wave literature, but also by the potential ramifications of modern technology and its impact on society. 

Computer-generated music has also become much more widespread since the beginning of the cybergoth subculture, with artists such as Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie reaching mainstream success in the early 2000s. 


Are you interested in the intersection of social rebelliousness, and technological advances? What countercultures do you find most interesting? Let us know in the comments below.