It is perfectly true that to a large proportion of the Goth population, individuality is important. There are, of course, plenty of alterna-teens and babygoths who set themselves apart from the mainstream because it's what all their friends are doing, but most Goths and other alternatives, if pressed, would tell you that they prefer to identify with a culture that allows them freedom of expression, creativity in both thought and fashion, and celebrates the odd little quirks (an obsession with reading, a preference for dark or morbid art) that those in mainstream society would turn up their noses at.
Within most alternative subcultures, whilst there may be basic guidelines for dress and music (usually to give visual signifiers to other members of the scene that you are 'one of them', and to give the group common ground), it is usually highly encouraged to think outside the box, fashion-wise; taking the basic, obvious style signifiers of your chosen scene and creating from it something new, inventive and daring.
However these basic similarities in dress (e.g. black clothing) and shared music tastes have often led 'outsiders' to think that Goths, who both infamously and stereotypically like to consider themselves non-conformists, really all look the same.
When Goths talk about being 'individualists' or 'non-conformists', they probably aren't trying to convince you that each and every black-clad person is a unique dark snowflake who is soooo more original than the next stompy-boot-wearing, clove-smoking kid holding an Anne Rice novel. I would hope that most of us are self-aware enough to realise that choosing to become part of a subculture with a strong sense of shared visual aesthetics and an associated genre of music - essentially, working from the same basic template as every other Goth - means you can't really claim to be one hundred per cent original.
Goths don't generally dress in black and congregate together to show how different they are than everybody else. Rather, they may do so to celebrate the things they have in common with other members of the group.
When Goths refer to themselves as non-conformists, it's quite likely that, rather than trying to earnestly show that they are sooo unique despite belonging to a large group of people with essentially the same interests, they are instead referencing how different the worldview and values within that group can be from those commonly held by mainstream society.
- Followers of mainstream fashion like to follow trends and be seen wearing styles or garments that are currently popular. Goths prefer to source things that are rare, vintage or custom-made and with strong emphasis on personal preferences rather than following the whims of the fashion industry or what is currently 'acceptable'.
- In mainstream society, pasttimes such as reading, sewing and writing are often considered 'nerdy'. Amongst Goths, such things are not only the norm but are celebrated and encouraged.
- Goths have a tendency to enjoy and actively seek out things which are considered odd, dark, disturbing or even taboo amongst mainstream society; funereal clothing, the occult, melancholic music and even fetishes are all things which are openly explored and discussed in Goth subculture.
A reader here recently described the music as the 'backbone' of Goth culture (and added, very accurately, "Mindset & interests are a given, as why would anyone not interested in goth be drawn to it?"). Whilst the myriad arguments on what music is and isn't Goth, etc., might give some the impression that there is a 'to be a non-conformist you must listen to exactly the same music we do' attitude within the community, I'd like to refer to my above point that a subculture cannot form around nothing. Goth music is a 'rallying point' and shared interest for those in the community, less obvious than the fashion style and therefore less easily co-opted by mainstreamers jumping on the latest black-tinged bandwagon.
An oft-quoted definition of Goths is that they seek beauty in dark places or where others would shun it. This is, by and large, the main basis on which Goths declare their community to be non-conformist - their worldview chooses to explore and embrace the dark and the unknown, which the majority of mainstream society would write off as simply 'weird'. Thereby they set themselves apart from mainstream society and its values, and celebrate instead the interests and aesthetics they have in common with those who share the same outlook.
Being a Goth means - to a certain extent - unity, with those who proudly share a similar outlook and common tastes; and non-conformity, through choosing to reject the popular or prevailing tastes and values of a society that prefers not to explore what it does not understand.