The 20-something corporate goth just clocked in, and they’re wearing an all-black work uniform of sheer tights, chunky heels, spikes, and chains. It’s a subdued version of the spooky, post-punk-inspired goth subculture meant to be palatable for the office. But while young goths celebrate being able to bring their dark, creative expression to work, critics debate whether the “corporate goth” trend is work-appropriate at all.
Take Chloe Hurst, a 29-year-old senior graphic designer at a marketing agency who also runs her own design business, called Contempo Mint. Hurst characterizes her personal style as alternative and edgy; in recent work outfit inspiration videos on TikTok, she models wide-leg pants, off-the shoulder blouses, and chunky rhinestone platform boots. She tags the ensembles #corporategoth, a hashtag that has over 26 million views, in order to help the next-generation goths who are going through the same experience she did.
Hurst says she spent a decade figuring out her style, which now earns her the moniker “Goth Barbie” on social media. But it wasn’t easy. When she first entered the workforce, she said she tried fitting into the cookie-cutter mold of women’s corporate fashion—pencil skirts, colorful blouses, and blazers—but she didn’t feel like herself.
“It really messed with me because I’ve always been an alternative person,” Hurst told Fortune. “As I got older, I thought, ‘I’ve got to try and find a way to bring my style in because I’m feeling so icky about myself. I need to have some of me come out.’”
Hurst is in a cohort of young workers who, after two years of working in pajamas from the couch, are overturning the definition of “professional attire” as they return to the office in droves. And Gen Zers—who are just starting their first jobs or working in an office for the first time since the pandemic—are taking it even further, pushing the limits of workwear in a rejection of corporate uniformity and an embrace of individuality.
Hurst started slow, building a wardrobe of professional attire that also fit into her haunting aesthetic—black blouses, black dress pants, black skirts, black shoes, black purses. Thankfully for goths, she noted, black is a safe color in the corporate world.
She tested the waters at work with sheer-sleeved tops or tights that showed the tattoos on her arms and legs. (Tattoos are increasingly accepted in the workplace, but employers in more conservative fields like law or accounting require workers to keep them covered.) Eventually, she started layering her outfits with some of the bolder items she wore in high school, like chains, spikes, and belts.
TJ Overton/Courtesy of Chloe Hurst
“Eventually I got more comfortable, the industry started to lighten up a bit, and I’ve gotten to the point now where I’m totally confident in what I wear,” Hurst said, adding that she benefited from working in a creative industry that gives her more leeway in how to dress. “I was very lucky to have very supportive and cool coworkers and superiors who loved it,” she said.
Other corporate goths in creative fields describe a similar reception. Madison Stone, a 20-year-old beauty consultant, told Insider, “I was honestly really nervous going into a beauty field with a set of unconventional beauty standards, but everyone has been more than accepting to me.” The outlet previously reported on the corporate goth aesthetic.
But acceptance from superiors at work isn’t always a given. Hurst says the experience depends on the workplace—”it’s fifty-fifty,” she described. People who goth out at job interviews can risk being passed over for a job because of misconceptions about the subculture, she said.
“First impressions are everything and you don’t want to come across as scary,” Hurst said. “Not that you are scary, but that’s how the older generations may see it.”
Not just the goths
Most white-collar industries have bid adieu to the stiff corporate dress codes of the early 2000s, when anything outside of slacks with collared long-sleeved shirts—and, for men, a tie—was suspect. Blue jeans and sneakers, previously common in tech, are now standard in many creative fields. But even though mainstream office culture has loosened up, Gen Z is still pushing the envelope, and it’s not just corporate goths who have human resource managers raising an eyebrow.
Cindy O’Peka, the owner of a boutique HR consulting firm in Sacramento, told the New York Post that some of the revealing, tight-fitting outfits she’s seen Gen Z wear to the office look more “appropriate for clubbing.”
Other Gen Zers are wearing crop tops to work, like Santina Rizzi, a 22-year-old who wore the cutoff tops to her job as a paralegal at a Miami law firm. “I’m not going to buy clothes specifically for my job,” she told the New York Times. “I’m stubborn that way.”
Some young workers are also questioning the value of having dress codes at work in the first place. “Alternative people have always struggled to be taken seriously in a work environment, getting rejected in interviews because our look doesn’t ‘fit the company’s image,’” one TikTok user wrote in a post. “But we work just as hard as everyone else. It’s time we stop judging people by the way they look.”
While Hurst thinks that young people still need to “read the room” when it comes to maintaining professionalism in their work attire, she also urges older members of the workforce to look beyond their colleagues’ appearance.
“Try to see the person professionally. What is on their resume? What experience do they have? Do they bring value?” She said, “Get past their appearance and be open to new people.”