Witch style isn’t just for Halloween or fairy tales. Slinky black attire occasionally paired with a pointy hat isn’t the only option, as the women that practice magic onscreen have demonstrated over the years. A number of reboots and new additions this fall mean witches are very much on trend, but I’m a firm believer that they never really go out of fashion.
The same can be said about the sartorial choices of those that practice magic. Even the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz knew what worked for her. Some might call it a style rut, but this look has been emulated for decades.The distinction between sorceresses often falls into two broad categories both represented in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: hooded old hag or super evil glam queen. In Snow White, these two women are one and the same. Characters are placed in boxes; archetypes and tropes are repeated. Disney didn’t invent this juxtaposition, but they did popularize the old hag/evil glam stereotype. It is one this studio turns to time and time again. Spells linking to beauty and age are also incredibly common in this narrative. The villain is motivated by power, but also fears growing old and what this will do to their face.
Two early on screen examples that shaped witch style are Snow White and The Wizard of Oz, with the Wicked Witch wearing quintessential coven couture. It's the way you might dress on Halloween if you were going for an easy-to-acquire costume — a black flowing gown or caftan and a pointy hat. But not all witches dress like a fairy tale character.Veronica Lake plays Jennifer in the 1942 film I Married a Witch, a witch who was burned at the stake in Salem and has now regained physical form in the present day. Borrowing the striped pajamas of the man she plans to torment, Lake has found a perfectly tailored and covetable ensemble. Her powers extend to chic bedwear that could also double as an outfit to venture out into the world. Maybe this would have been frowned upon in 1942, but daywear that looks like bedwear is no longer an out-there fashion suggestion. And a witch can dress however she wants—black is not the only choice. Jennifer, later on, wears a white gown paired with a black hooded cloak, mixing the two Disney witch looks as one.
I Married a Witch is a precursor to one of TV’s most stylish witches: Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) from the 1960s TV series Bewitched. Putting a spin on the beautiful housewife, Samantha wants to live a normal life. This doesn’t mean she never uses her powers; Samantha wrinkles her nose whenever she wants to cast a spell, causing plenty of shenanigans. She also dresses in typical ‘60s fashion including bold patterned blouses and colorful shift dresses. Dresses that match the curtains are not just for mere mortals.
Two years before Bewitched premiered, Sabrina the Teenage Witch first appeared in the Archie comics in 1962. Since then there has been an animated series in 1970, followed by the iconic Melissa Joan Hart version that ran from 1996-2003. This fall on Netflix, Sabrina returns in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the inspiration for the series — including the key art that I want to hang on my wall — is straight out of the original comic series of the same name right down to the clothing aesthetic, which is super retro stylized a la Riverdale. New Sabrina Kiernan Shipka is no stranger to the clothing of the ‘60s; seven seasons on Mad Men is excellent prep. Cast members are already using Instagram to share sneak peeks from the set, which not only increases anticipation levels but also suggests that this character will continue her reign as one of the most stylish witches.
The ‘90s saw numerous witches on television and in movies with teens, sisters and covens ruling the screen. Adolescence plays a big part in the witch narrative; it is often when powers first manifest, mirroring bodily changes. It is also a time to experiment with fashion. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow had a penchant for the fluffier end of sweaters. She never met a colorful mohair number she didn't like. Willow was an early adopter to the ugly sweater and not just for the festive season. In Season 6, Dark Willow goes in an altogether more goth direction, embracing that witch cliché. For the classic goth witch look from the mid-'90s, however, look no further than teen classic The Craft. Long before they summoned Manon, there is something in each of their style choices to pick out — even if this is meant to be the "uncool" version.
Before The CW existed, The WB was the network for the supernatural including Charmed. Debuting in 1998, Charmed told the story of the Halliwell sisters who find out they have magical powers in the pilot episode, but they still dress true to the decade. Jeans paired with going out tops and casual attire was the focus of the promotional images — the Halliwell sisters are just like us. The reboot looks set to follow this fashion path, updated to reflect 2018.The sisters in Practical Magic as played by Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock also fit into two well-worn archetypes. Kidman plays Gillian Owens, the rebellious sister who wears short skirts belly chains and spaghetti strap tops, Sandra Bullock is Sally, who is much more girl-next-door in her style: think jeans, tank, plenty of floral maxi skirts. She's non-rebellious in all ways.
Sally moves back in with their witch aunts after her husband dies, and the spinsters are part-cautionary tale, part-guide to living your best life. Their style is eccentric; they lean into the rumors of what they are.For super glamorous witches, refer to 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick, adapted from the John Updike book of the same name. Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer star in the dark comedy alongside Jack Nicholson.
From tight crop tops to glamorous ball gowns, this movie has everything you would want from an ‘80s wardrobe. Costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers decks the three glamorous actresses in all-black. Michelle Pfeiffer wears patterned pajamas paired with a porkpie hat in the flying scene, while Cher and Susan Sarandon are decked out in fancy frocks. It is as if all three women are working the Veronica Lake aesthetic in all its forms. Years later, Michelle Pfeiffer would return to the witchy ways in Stardust, now as the villain and motivated by the classic fairy tale tropes of power and the promise of youthful looks.
The last decade or so has seen a return to witches that look like witches, rather than the ‘90s prevalence for seemingly ordinary women discovering they have powers. This includes Tilda Swinton as the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Charlize Theron working oversized feathered collars and spiky crowns in Snow White and the Huntsman, and Angelina Jolie taking on OG witch Maleficent. This would be quite the witch gathering; villains do tend to get the more decadent and fun costumes.
It also applies to the Harry Potter film universe, and it's arguable that Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange has the best attire, leaning into the goth glam. For the most stylish witches, always keep an eye on the person we are meant to root against.Another recent witch addition comes courtesy of American Horror Story: Coven. Frequent Ryan Murphy collaborator Lou Eyrich plays with a variety of witchy style clichés, including a whole lot of black attire. Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau dressed in leopard print and Frances Conroy looking like former Vogue creative director Grace Coddington are the fashion standouts. The hat-and-sunglasses-wearing cool teens are not too far behind them in the style stakes, though. This season of the ongoing American Horror Story series is the perfect marriage of all the prior factors discussed throughout this piece, mixing what you expect a witch to wear with striking fashion moments that would work for us mere mortals.
Decades of portrayals of the magically gifted does lead to certain expectations, there are ways to subvert these so-called style rules, but sometimes a witch dressed all in black is the definitive look. Witches contain multitudes — they can be more than one thing and so can their style. For every Anjelica Huston in The Witches crushing that all-black look, there is someone wearing their favorite jeans and tee while doing a spell. There is no right or wrong way for a witch to dress, but witches will always be in fashion.