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SYFY WIRE Look of the Week

Look of the Week: American Horror Story goes back to the '80s

By Emma Fraser
American Horror Story: 1984

Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics! 

Witches, serial killers, and cults are some of the terrifying subjects American Horror Story has explored across eight seasons. Last year looked to the future, but now it is turning back the clock with an homage to slasher movies of the 1980s. News that the forthcoming ninth installment of Ryan Murphy’s anthology series is airing minus Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters as series regulars disappointed fans, but Murphy made up for it last week when he released an American Horror Story: 1984 character tease to Instagram.

We’re here to break down the short shorts, spandex, and polyester heavy looks (and speculate about who is likely to survive the season based on their costumes). 

Murphy and Patty Jenkins are here to snatch George Orwell’s mid-'80s title crown, with both turning to 1984 as a setting. Wonder Woman 1984 isn’t out until next summer, so for now, Murphy gets to pull focus. By 1984, the Friday the 13th franchise was already on its fourth release, capitalizing on a successful formula until they ran it into the ground. Jason Voorhees was about to get some competition, as this was also the year audiences were introduced to Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. If you’re going to draw inspiration from one of the biggest subgenres of horror, then it makes sense to set it during peak slasher flick. 

Casting announcements often come in the form of a written press release, but Ryan Murphy opted for the Birds of Prey highlight reel choice, which gives a better sense of tone and style. Set to the strains of Dan Hartman’s “I Can Dream About You” (also released in 1984) the main cast are dressed in ‘80s camp attire, vamping up for the camera while bopping to the music. The first half of the teaser is set against a nondescript backdrop as muscles are flexed and midriffs revealed (this is just the dudes, for a change). A bunk bed-filled dorm reminiscent of those at Crystal Lake in Friday the 13th provide a makeshift runway as several costume changes are made. The teaser is bookended with an appearance by a bearded John Carroll Lynch, who previously played serial killer Twisty the Clown and John Wayne Gacy (in Freak ShowCult, and Hotel) and will likely be one of the villains this season. 

American Horror Story: 1984

Decked out in pink spandex, Emma Roberts is another returning AHS alumni. Roberts' character at first gives off popular girl vibes, but there is a sweetness to her leotard shimmy that doesn’t read as the bitchy archetype she often plays. Her second ensemble is pure Final Girl sartorial territory, with nods to both Nancy from A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th's Alice. Based on this alone, it wouldn’t surprise me if she makes it to the end.

Meanwhile, a preening Cody Fern gets the most costume changes, working those short shorts and synthetic fabrics. His character cares about his appearance, from his constant hair touching to the George Michael-style earring. Lavender and white dominate his wardrobe, which is a sign it will soon be splattered with blood. You can’t have this many light colors in your closet in a horror and not get killed off. 

American Horror Story: 1984

Fern takes the crown of best dressed, but Billie Lourd is the sartorial MVP of this 1984 teaser serving up IDGAF vibes that will serve her well but won't save her. She has Final Girl BFF written all of her costumes; as we know from movies like Scream and Halloween, the better-dressed and more on-trend a character is, the more likely they will bite it. Leopard print is a big component, but the real eye-catching moment comes mid-twirl when she reveals her denim jacket is also fringed. These are some pure Stevie Nicks dance moves. She gives the finger to the camera at one point and there’s no way she isn’t going down without a fight.

The ‘80s get a bad style rep, but in terms of sportswear, this period got a lot right, especially if you have a penchant for short shorts and tees that can also be classified as crop tops. AHS might be premiering in September, but a strong Hot Boys of the Summer aesthetic runs throughout this teaser (emphasis on tease).

Back in February, it was announced that Olympian freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy would be making his acting debut, playing Roberts’ boyfriend. The flexing in retro Adidas suggests he will likely fill the jock stereotype. Expect him to get killed off early. 

Other newbies to the world of Ryan Murphy are Dear White People’s DeRon Horton (also in short shorts) and the leather and sunglasses-wearing Zach Villa (Shameless). Every teen slasher needs the outcast to rile up the popular kids. The lack of any color in his costume is a handy hint at the kind of person Villa is playing.

American Horror Story: 1984

Some Murphy regulars from other shows in his vast catalog join the AHS squad, including Glee’s Matthew Morrison in jorts and a pair of mustard shorts. The latter makes this teaser potentially NSFW due to a particular bulge. If this is indeed set at a summer camp, then my money is on Morrison playing a pervy counselor who will likely die a gruesome (and deserved) death. Of course, Murphy could end up subverting the tropes and archetypes of this genre, so all these guesses are based on coded looks and costume styles.

Meanwhile, Pose’s Angelica Ross takes the title of “outfit I would wear in 2019” and the stethoscope accessory means she probably has a medical professional background. This puts her odds at surviving at “not great” as you can’t keep the person who knows first aid alive for long. 

Going back to Murphy’s first show, Popular, Leslie Grossman has been with Murphy since the start of his illustrious television career. She returns to AHS looking ready to not take any crap from anyone in high-waisted beige pleated shorts and matching waistcoat. She looks more set for a safari holiday, although someone will be getting hunted. Oversized spectacles, a Farrah Fawcett blowout and a neckerchief put her up there as one of the best, but most conservatively dressed.

Murphy does like to tease and play his horror cards close to his chest so this is all pure speculation. Nevertheless, this highlight reel and cast introduction set the tone in a really fun way. There is no official costume designer credited as of yet, but it is likely that long-time Murphy collaborator (and recently announced two-time Emmy nominee) Lou Eyrich will be back. Even when the narrative stumbles on this show, the costume design is always worth paying attention to. 

The mid-'80s are having a moment once again with Stranger ThingsWonder Woman, and American Horror Story all showcasing the styles that time tried to forget but television won't let us. However, unlike whatever is going to happen on AHS: 1984, these looks are not all nightmare-inducing. 

American Horror Story: 1984 premieres Wednesday, September 18 on FX. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.