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Look of the Week: The eccentric style of the Practical Magic aunts
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!
From Anjelica Huston to Veronica Lake, witches on screen have long possessed a wardrobe dripping in style and elegance. You don’t need magic powers to have sartorial prowess, but there is an advantage in having the ability to change your outfit at the flick of a finger (looking at you, Sabrina). The mid-20th century explored the domestication of witches in I Married a Witch, Bell, Book and Candle, and Bewitched, but one thing each of these women has in common is an impressive wardrobe. Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is contemporary in setting, but the aesthetic matches the ‘60s period in which the comic book is set. Now another famous pair of witches will be spending time in this era of mini-skirts, flower power, and leopard print.Earlier this week it was announced that HBO Max has ordered a one-hour pilot based on Alice Hoffman’s Rules of Magic, the prequel novel to Practical Magic. Set in 1960s New York City, this adaptation will follow Frances and Jet Owens — long before they were aunts — along with their brother Vincent as they navigate this time of societal change with the powers they possess. Will Frances and Jet embrace the trends of this period or stick to the turn of the 20th-century garb as worn in the 1998 version of Practical Magic?
Costume designer Judianna Makovsky is behind Frances (Stockard Channing) and Jet’s (Dianne Wiest) eccentric aunt attire, which makes it impossible to pinpoint exactly how old they are and when they grew up. While nieces Gillian (Nicole Kidman) and Sally (Sandra Bullock) are decked out in head-to-toe ‘90s velvet slip mini dresses and floral maxi skirts, their guardians look like time travelers. The sisters themselves might have some enviable looks, with the announcement of this prequel it is time to give Frances and Jet their style dues.The movie opens with a flashback to Gillian and Sally’s youth, in which we see Frances and Jet looking similar in appearance to the present-day scenes; they haven't really aged or changed over the last two decades. Favoring layered and luxurious fabrics, the aunts' wardrobe matches the Victorian home they inhabit.
Parasols, lace gloves, and wide-brimmed hats give the impression that they are about to break out the high tea at any given moment. They are the kooky Americans who are off to cause chaos on a cruise liner (maybe the Titanic) or overseas at Downton Abbey. It isn't all decadent numbers, as they have the perfect high-neck Victorian mourning attire for those grief-stricken moments. It might be a cliché for a witch to wear black, but they wear it well.
Even their pajamas fall into this luxurious category, which is ideal when dancing around the kitchen indulging in the concept that is “midnight margaritas.” They’re not the only ones, as Gillian’s slip resembles something she would wear out of the house. It’s a scene infused with joyful exuberance (with a dark underbelly) and it will be remiss if the prequel doesn't show the origin of this drinking tradition.
Before Russian Doll got Harry Nilsson stuck in your head for days, Practical Magic's use of Nilsson’s “Coconut” in this iconic scene is just one of the many incredible soundtrack moments from this movie. Stevie Nicks wrote two new tracks for the film and there is a thread of her shawl-loving style in the aunts’ aesthetic.
They are far from matching, though, as Frances is the more adventurous of the pair, which mirrors the style contradictions of their nieces. She wears black gloves to Jet’s white. Her eyeshadow is smokier, her lips redder. The gold lamé ensemble eschews the turn-of-the-century styling for something far more ‘70s. Frances' hair is wilder, including the twig-like accessories and the exaggerated wide-brim hats to her sister’s bee-keeper inspiration. Everything is caftan-adjacent delivering comfort and class. There is a strong IDGAF attitude from both women, but Frances is who will keep the party going. No doubt the costumes will draw heavily on this personality trait in the prequel.
Single aunts of a certain age who live together often circle a thrust-out-of-time styling. In Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, witch aunts Zelda (Miranda Otto) and Hilda (Lucy Davis) Spellman are far older than they look, which is reflected in their wardrobe that leans toward the ‘30s and ‘40s. The mid-20th century is the witch style time to shine. In Pushing Daisies, they’re not witches — even if the neighborhood kids think they are — but Chuck’s (Anna Friel) aunts Lily (Swoosie Kurtz) and Vivianne Charles (Ellen Greene) share this theatrical costume quirk. As with Sabrina, Pushing Daisies is a heightened world that is stylized in the overall production design. Meanwhile, Practical Magic is very much set in the real world. Sure, there is magic, but the time-warp aspect is reduced to costume design only.
Jessica Jones creator Melissa Rosenberg will be taking this witchy journey back to the 1960s for HBO Max, where she will be joined by Dana Baratta as an executive producer and writer. Other details are thin on the ground, so much of this is speculation at this point based on the novel. In the Owens' house in Practical Magic, everything is pretty relaxed. However, this is not how Frances and Jet grew up; their mother has strict rules, “No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic.” Can we expect red shoes and black attire to feature in the TV series in an act of rebellion? The costumes will likely deviate from their go-to looks in Practical Magic. Released in 1958, the movie Bell, Book, and Candle is closest in time period and place to Rules of Magic, and to dress like a witch in NYC, Frances and Jet can’t go wrong in using Kim Novak’s Gillian for their mood board.
Fashion has long since turned to witches for inspiration and considering those with magical powers that have come before on screen, it is no surprise. Make room for the younger versions of the Owens to join their stylish older counterparts in this fashionable coven.
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.