Phase One: Clueless Newbie (1-6 months)
Defining characteristics: Limited music knowledge, unfamiliar with the social dynamics of the scene, wears very stereotypical clothing (i.e. fishnets under a black tshirt with black jeans and black sneakers), generally embarrasses themselves quite a bit often without realizing it. Dresses up for pretty much everything regardless of whether or not it's called for (i.e. grocery runs). May still be confused about what goth music actually is (i.e. still listens to Manson and pop punk, is not sure if they are goth or not.)
Negative: Realizes "what the hell am I doing, I don't even like Bauhaus" and disappears after 6 months
Positive: "Holy crap, I look like a moron in this plastic walmart cape! And that band Bauhaus is pretty good, I should ask the club DJ to recommend me more stuff like that."
Phase 2: Initial Club Kid Phase (6 months - 2 years)
Defining characteristics: Knows between 5-100 actual goth bands, embarrasses themselves slightly less, learns to dance, amasses club-appropriate but still generic clothing, remains slightly overenthusiastic.
Transitory: Now convinced that the goth scene is the greatest thing since sliced bread, they either:
-spend way too much money on stupid shit like bat shaped lunch boxes instead of buying music
-try to ingratiate themselves with stupid club cliques and get caught up in TeH dRaMaZ
-develop a drug habit
-tries to become a club promoter and fails out of inexperience, etc.
Negative: They start dating a non-goth and suddenly aren't goth anymore, or they have a very delayed "holy crap this is stupid" reaction, etc. Will then regularly refer to their "goth phase" when talking to other goths.
Positive: Learns more about music, stops caring so much about impressing people, realized that scenes come with stupid drama and baggage and are not to be taken seriously.
Phase 3: Congratulations. You are a goth. (2-5 years typically)
Defining characteristics: They have clearly stuck it out long enough that it's not likely to be a phase. They really like the music. They may still care about "status" or impressing people, but they know how to actually do so unlike before. They can now recognize the massive awkwardness that is the Clueless Newb and perhaps recommend them some bands.
Negative: Gets married or moves and stops going out, but still listens to the music.
Positive: Becomes a recognizable face locally, amasses more of a music collection and more of a distinctive personal style.
Phase 4: TeH UbErNeSS (5-7 years typically)
Defining characteristics: Knows enough about music to pretentiously name drop obscure bands. Dresses to the 9's all the time; always tries to be one of the best dressed people at the club. Probably knows the local event promoters and DJs and scores some VIP status.
Negative: May disappear completely, more often disappears and then reappears infrequently such as when Bauhaus goes on tour.
Positive: Attends clubs religiously, becomes highly recognizable and a reference guide for all those in phases 1-3.
Phase 5: Transcendence
Defining characteristics: Cares more about their music collection than their wardrobe. Equally likely to be seen in High Gothic regalia as they are to be seen in jeans and a tshirt at the club. Probably knows a lot of the "right" people but no longer cares about status. They are amused when others try to associate them in the hopes of absorbing some of their "status." Generally don't care about any of the role play or bullshit involved with a scene.
Negative: Years of frustration about scene stupidity build up and they disappear, sightings are reported by newbs as if they are the loch ness monster
Positive: Becomes a DJ or event promoter, or a local club staple. Is able to effectively avoid drama. Dresses however the fuck they like, listens to whatever they like without worrying about how "goth" it is.
Now, as with all theories of development, people can get stuck in a phase indefinitely, and elements of different phases can overlap. However those familiar with the phases can categorize others quite efficiently. Most of it has to do with how seriously they take "the scene," and how much they embarrass themselves. In fact this theory is good incentive for most people to never get involved with the goth scene in the first place due to the high likelihood of doing embarrassing things. Most self-identified goths are embarrassing to both themselves and goths in general, as communities like gothic_tards_2 make clear.