An enchanting dominatrix sporting long, luscious pink hair and a velvet, tightly-laced corset with ruffles and coquetry, flashes her moves on the dance floor. She displays equal dignity and humility. Visual tracers of a black vinyl trench coat follow a neo-Victorian man of translucent pallor drifting across the room. Music by The Cure floats through the venue.
The Box, Santa Cruz’s longest-running Goth Night hosted at the Blue Lagoon every Sunday night, draws in a unique crowd of passionate, music-loving fashionistas. Creating the ambience of a dark and romantic world, like-minded individuals gather to embrace their painfully enamoring subculture.
“The original concept of The Box was the puzzle box from the ‘Hellraiser’ movie,” said Julian Carson, the lead organizer of The Box. “The movie sort of explored that concept of pleasure and pain being related.
“The club moved away from that eventually. People don’t show up expecting to meet characters from that movie, and we don’t necessarily even use that concept in our promotional artillery anymore.”
The Goth culture has traditionally been brutally misrepresented in society. As a result of stereotyping, Goths have been misconstrued as depressed outcasts, Satan worshippers or drug abusers. But, in reality, Goths are just regular people with a bit of extra kink for music and style. Many of them are working professionals who seek to live out their alter ego once in a while.
For the most part, these people simply want to practice their freedom of expression without having to face the harsh judgment society often imposes on eccentricity.
Ian Sardegna-Stephens, a DJ at The Box under the moniker Doc Deth, sums up the Gothic style in a nutshell: “A lot of people here really dress to the nines,” he said.
When it comes to Gothic fashion, black is certainly a keystone element, but it also goes much further than that.
“It’s hard for me to encapsulate the Goth style, but people do make an effort to look good,” Sardegna-Stephens said. “People really spend a lot of time on their outward appearance, which really helps with the atmosphere. It really shows the commitment.”
And the atmosphere set at Sunday night’s The Box is certainly vamped up by people’s creative efforts in pulling together the most elaborate costumes. Lace and fishnet stockings, provocative stilettos, knee-high platforms shrouded with buckles, elegant corsets matched with dark-flowing capes. When visualizing Goth couture, think Alexander McQueen meets the vampire Lestat, joining forces with the Japanese Harajuku Lovers.
“There’s definitely a dark undercurrent portraying the whole masked Halloween theme. Halloween is Christmas for a lot of us,” Sardegna-Stephens said.
However, all the sexiness and seduction attached to the bondage and sadomasochism paraphernalia ever-present in the culture can generate a few problems when outsiders — often referred to by Goths as “Muggles” — leak into the scene.
“When some kinds of folks stand around staring or drooling, that kind of behavior is generally frowned upon. Dealing with folks in the scene, just because a woman is wearing fishnets and latex doesn’t mean that she’s just trying to get laid,” The Box organizer Carson said. “These people are just confectioners of sexuality. It’s more about expressing yourself and sharing that with other people.”
Gothic culture certainly promotes respect and acceptance above all. Women are allowed the freedom to express their sexuality without fear of unsolicited male sexual harassment.
“A lot of places where I’ve gone in the past have just really felt like a meat market,” The Box’s DJ Stats said. “Even just considering the style of dancing for Goths, typically there is no grinding. It’s kind of tacky. It’s not the norm. If some guy comes up behind you on the dance floor, then he’s obviously not from around here.”
The Goths here in Santa Cruz are also a very tight-knit, closely connected group. Age, race and looks don’t matter in the Gothic society. According to many of The Box-goers, the crowd there is very accepting. There isn’t a lot of pretension that happens in the Goth scene. Some of the attendants have been going to The Box for years and, as a result, many close friendships have developed within that niche.
DJ Stats said she feels comfortable spinning at the box because everyone looks out for one another.
“Typically, everybody kind of supports each other. If somebody’s in trouble and if somebody’s being weird, you can always expect somebody to have your back,” she said. “I call it Goth Cheers. You go in and everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.”
Next month, the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco will host its 11th annual Edwardian Ball, which focuses on the Edwardian period of history as well as the famous artist Edward Gorey.
Visitors of the annual ball often come decked out in their most elaborate costumes of the year. The event takes place Jan. 21 and 22, and tickets are currently on sale.