Author’s note: I wrote this tongue-firmly-in-cheek retrospective of cinematic “witchy” couture back in 2014 for Witch Women, a very cool zine from Tenebrous Kate’s Heretical Sexts imprint. This was 8 years ago and in some respects, my writing/tone/voice have changed a bit. Also, it’s probably a little dated. Just something to keep in mind, for whatever it’s worth!
Witches stirring cauldrons, stabbing voodoo dolls, ripping off their own faces – truly, depictions of witchy women getting down to business make for visually fantastic cinema fodder. Whether these celluloid incarnations take form as glamorous queens, amusing fairytale buffoons, or seemingly ordinary small-town housewives, there is something fantastically compelling about watching a film focusing on witches in the midst of ritual. Even more fabulous still, when one narrows that focus to examine their attire and costumery as it relates to those ritualistic actions and behaviors. From gilded enchantresses haunting one’s dreams to gothed-out teens experimenting with the occult , Hag Couture can encompass a wide range of aesthetics, but you must pay mind to what rites and ceremonies you pair with which styles for maximum results and wow-factor! Check out these witches most powerful and fashionable moments, plus tips for conjuring their wicked style.
You don’t always have to be dressed to the nines to draw down the moon! Here we have Mater Lacrimarium (Mother of Tears, Dario Agento, 2007) draped in a simple black cloak. When you consider her feats of violence, carnage and tearing an entire city apart, you truly appreciate the power in the idea that less is most definitely more. For a high-end, luxe approach, think the Yves Saint Laurent, Spring Summer capes of 2013 (you can ditch the rest of the ensemble for a sky-clad silhouette underneath.) For budget beauties, a king-size black cotton sheet set from Wal-Mart will do the trick. Bonus points if you get your partner tricked out in some avant-garde, deconstructed Junya Watanabe or Comme des Garcons. Complete this look with a spritz of Passage d’Enfer by L’Artisan.
In The Craft, a favorite for many who came into their magics in the 1990s, we see a coven of young women experimenting with witchcraft and reveling in their newfound powers. The look and feel of the film – Lace, leather, boots, crocheted sweaters, long dresses, gothic jewelry, and dark nails and lips – is so gloriously goth/grunge nineties, but the wardrobe could use a bit of an update for today’s aspiring acolytes. Young witches in for an evening of glamours and games of “light as a feather, stiff as a board” or out for an afternoon picnic with Manon should stock up on unique pieces from dark indie designers such as Ovate, Noctex, or Morph Knitwear, festoon themselves in supernatural jewels and psychic armor from Bloodmilk or mystical talismans from Burialground and scent their persons with a bit of Snake Oil fragrance oil from Black Alchemy Lab.
A decade before Fairuza Balk’s levitating pointy-toed boots creepily scraped across carpets, we were given the supernatural comedy, The Witches of Eastwick (1987), an exercise in magnificent 80’s excess. Big hair with full, luscious curls! Towering shoulder pads! Gold lamé! To keep in the spirit of costume designer Aggie Rodger’s thrifty methods for adorning these mousy housewives-turned-sexpot sorceresses, take a trip to a ritzy consignment shop and pick up some vintage Bob Mackie gowns for your next orgy with the devil, or perhaps a bold-printed frock from Oscar de la Renta or Christian Lacroix for a formal voodoo dolly poking with your gal pals. A dab of Lancôme’s earthy, spicy, musky Magie Noire will have you channeling Sukie, Alexandra, and Jane and should complete the ensemble nicely.
In the film adaptation of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, Ruth Gordan as potty oldster Minnie Castevet is an absolute scream and a Williamsburg witch’s dream come true. Hop on that fixed gear bike you prefer over those lame broomsticks that you knew about before everyone else and hook yourself up with some ghastly thrifted shifts/shirtdresses the color of 1970’s Tupperware containers and with patterns favored by Floridian retirees in the 1940s. Finish the look with a bespoke head kerchief, some ironic clip-on earrings, and bright blue, vegan, cruelty-free eye shadow. Fragrance-wise, CB I Hate Perfume will offer the indie contempt you desperately cling to; Black March is a great pick for a vile scent that you will love because everyone else hates it. You are now ready to join your neighbors in drugging that poor, dumb housewife who moved in down the hall from you. She should be so lucky to have the devil’s baby! Let’s go make some dairy-free, ethically sourced, roofied-up chocolate mousse to move the cause along..
Barbara Steele as Lavinia Morley, the Black Witch of Greymarsh, in 1968’s The Curse of the Crimson Altar presents a stunning vision in green-skinned, gilt ram-horned decadence. At your next cult ceremony I see designs by Jean Paul Gaultier X Ellie Saab X chainmail crafted by your weird cousin’s LARPer boyfriend. I am not sure if this frock exists in nature, but what is witchcraft for if not personal sartorial gain, anyway? Pair with an exotic feathered and jeweled headdress from Miss G. Designs on Etsy. Scent with: DSH Cathedral or Etro Messe de Minuit -both fantastic options for a high priestess who has been mouldering in dreams for 300-plus years.
Even (or especially, depending,) without her face, Angelica Huston as Miss Ernst/ Grand High Witch in 1990’s The Witches is a study in marvelous contrasts. Swathed in long black lines but dripping in opulent baubles. Elbow-length gloves over filthy claws. A porcelain-skinned facade topped with a chic bob, masking a hideous beak. Transforming small, smelly children into mice and other vermin requires an elegant, timeless look and we can look to such masters as Valentino or Alexander McQueen for this; or, should you wish to update the outerwear for your human guise, perhaps give the clean yet still deliciously dark silhouettes of Rick Owens a try on for size. Accessorize with some blingy pieces by Tom Binns or Stephen Webster, mixed in with some creepier offerings from Delfina Delletrez and scent yourself with Serge Lutens Noire, a big & bold, dark & dusty perfume.
In Blood on Satan’s Claw we see Angel Blake, seventeenth-century teenage seductress and cult leader, getting her small village all riled up and making a ruckus for the devil. To summon the look of this willful nymphet sowing evil, spreading corruption, and conjuring hellbeasts, you need look no further than your tumblr dashboard -there you will find all of the high school pastel-goth, the pseudo-pagan inspiration you need. Think “pretty + pretty tough”. Wildfox Couture tee shirts, ombre hair, Limecrime makeup. Statement eyebrows courtesy myriad middle school youtube video how-tos. A DIY crown of thorns cobbled together from household rubbish and Pinterest tutorials. Acquolina’s Pink Sugar or MOR’s Marshmallow perfume hints at childish innocence while you work your fiercely budding evil wiles.
Let’s go somewhat family-friendly for a moment: In the year 1693 the Sanderson sisters, Winifred, Mary and Sarah, were executed for their unforgivable witchy crimes committed in Salem, Massachusetts. 300 years later they return in the 1993 film Hocus Pocus, where they should perhaps be persecuted for their unforgivable crimes against fashion! Should you, like the Sandersons, have only one night to boogie, launch a reign of terror, and perform a youth-spell to keep you looking forever young, get thee immediately to a seasonal Halloween costume store. Seriously, this is just one night, you don’t need to spend more than $20 for a shoddy faux-corset complete with ill-fitting attached polyester skirt to perform your bumbling spells and charms. Scent this Ren-Faire ratchet outfit with about any fragrance by Gucci. They’re all equally as tacky, but still fun.
The impossibly elegant Veronica Lake plays the role of ‘Jennifer’ in I Married A Witch, a 1942 romantic comedy described as “more oh-boy than occult” by New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther. Jennifer is a beautiful 17th-century witch who returns to life to torment stodgy politician Wallace Wooley, a descendant of her persecutor Jonathan Wooley, who had her burnt at the stake -and never has malice and a keen thirst for revenge looked so graceful and sophisticated! Next time you wish to beguile and bedevil, begin with the basics – a classic menswear-inspired ivory robe and pajamas set with bold stripes and contrasting trim from Ralph Lauren. Regarding accessories, I mean really. This is a love potion you’re preparing, right? The fewer articles of clothing and accoutrements to shed, the better off you’ll be! A drop or two of a teasing, seductive scent, though, can only help to sweeten the pot, and there could be no elixir more aromatic and potent than a timeless fragrance from the house of Guerlain: L’Heure Bleue whispers of refinement despite the fact that you might not be wearing anything underneath that robe!
Driven by jealous heartache and a monumental grudge, the immortal witch Angelique — “succubus of Satan”– Broussard wreaks chaos on generation upon generation of the Collins family in 2012’s Dark Shadows, a film adaption of the supernatural soap opera of the same name that ran from 1966 until 1971. Angelique, born of the poor servant class–but upwardly mobile in life thanks to an unholy alliance with the Dark Lord –has continually reinvented herself over the course of several hundred years and in 1972, she is a prosperous business woman in the town of Collinsport–and a snazzy dresser, to boot. To get a leg up on your rival firms and rekindle relations with your own 200-year-old vampire ex-lover – remember, first impressions count! A sharp pinstriped pantsuit with an asymmetric cut from Vivienne Westwood will seal the deal in the boardroom, and the Zayna Bayne leather harness underneath will leave nothing to the imagination in the bedroom. (In other words, you’re going to have lots of preternatural hate sex, okay?) In either case, accent with viciously spiked gold wrist cuffs from Pamela Love and scent with Tom Ford’s Black Orchid, a darkly fragrant anthem to slutty mean girls everywhere.
From transfigurations to telekinesis and from love spells to spicy sex magics, it’s abundantly clear that a well-stocked wardrobe is an essential final ingredient to a witch’s’ rituals and conjurings – and not just black capes and pointy hats, either! Keep your eyes on the runway for seasonal trends to incorporate into your sabbats and start a vision board with looks and pieces that you think might work for you. Be willing to take risks for the good of your craft! If that bold print jacket by Christopher Kane didn’t feel right last time you were tweaking your mind control skills, swap it out for a structured Fendi blazer. Are your dainty La Perla underthings not getting you noticed during the Great Rite? Up your oomph with some naughty scanties from Kiki de Montparnasse!
Be on the lookout for further cinematic sources of hag couture and wardrobe inspiration for stylish sorceresses: Allison Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1997-2003), Barbara Steele as Katia Vajda / Princess Asa Vajda (Black Sunday, 1977), Frances Conroy as Myrtle Snow and Angela Lange as Fiona Good and (American Horror Story: Coven, 2013), Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix LeStrange (Harry Potter movies, 2007+), Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens (Bewitched, 1964) Angela Lansbury as Miss Price (Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1971) and Carice Van Houten (Black Death, 2010)
For the purposes of this ridiculous article then, the question is no longer one of alignment, “are you a good witch or a bad witch”, but rather of aesthetics: “are you a haute witch or a fug witch”?
Bonus Material! This article was written 8 or so years, and in the time since there have appeared (or I became aware of or realized I had forgotten) several celluloid sorceresses that I would have liked to include in this list. Below you will find some additional witch + fragrance pairings with no further context and I will not be answering any questions!
P.S. I would only ever think to make pairings or recommendations based on scents that I have actually sniffed, so you can rest assured I did not just pick these willy-nilly off the internet or whatever.
- Elaine in The Love Witch: LUSH Karma
- Glinda the Good With: Celestial Gala from Scent Trunk
- Yubaba in Spirited Away: Haxan Prissana
- Thomasin in The Vvitch: Ambre Noir from Sonoma Scent Studio
- Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn version): Black Dianthus Il Profvmo
- The Witch King of Angmar: Coven from Andrea Maack
- Ursula in The Little Mermaid: Circe Individiosa from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab
- Lamia in Stardust: The Bewitching Yasmine from Penhaligon
- Sally & Gillian in Practical Magic: No 32 Blue Oud from Cognoscenti / Safanad from Parfums de Marly
- Elzhora in Eve’s Bayou: Grimoire from Anatole Lebreton
- Morgan le Fay: Me Myself & I from Egofacto
- The White Witch: Winter Nights from Dasein
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