The Nineties Witch

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If you’re still on the hunt for a Halloween costume at this 11th hour, may we suggest a hearty helping of Normcore with a twist of the occult? After all, if there is one take away from the S/S 2015 collections, it’s that the 90s revival is still holding strong. It seems particularly fitting that fashion’s favorite holiday be celebrated by an aesthetic so well suited for the fervent witch. It was the decade of Galliano and Gaultier dominance; of a Goth aesthetic inspired by Victorian resurgence; chokers, vamp lipstick and black, black, black. For inspiration, we take a look at five strongholds of the finite yet potent genre: The Nineties Witch.


The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

First stop, Eastwick, a neatly shingled New England hamlet. Over a round of potent dirty martinis, three lovelorn women unknowingly conjure up a trilateral dream man, an out of town stranger who arrives in the form of one pony-tail sporting, bathrobe enthusiast Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicolson). If the pseudonym isn’t a dead give away, his inexplicable powers of seduction hint at demonic levels of mind control. With his heady breath and shifty eyes, the mildly repulsive Van Horne seduces each of the ladies – jaunty brunette Alex (Cher), sensitive redheaded Jane (Susan Sarandon) and free-spirited blonde Sukie (Michelle Pfieffer). Lucky devil, that Daryl Van Horne. He lays before them a pleasure den of vice and depravity, and for a while, the women indulge heartily; a midnight dip under sparkling chandeliers in a pailleted one-piece, a dizzying spin around a majestic grand staircase filled with pink balloons in a draped, strapless gold lamé gown, capped off with the softest satin negligees for a trip to a bed made for four. But when the indulgence takes a tragic turn, the friends ban together to banish the diabolical visitor.

It's a fantastical tale, more raunchy than haunted, and features Hollywood’s most breathtaking leading ladies at their dewiest. The shot of the three women leaning tantalizingly out a window, ripe for the picking, is enough to send the most fervent flat iron devotee to the perm kit self at the drugstore. But the film offers more than just curl porn. The clothes are equally mouthwatering. Cher’s high-waisted trousers and crop-tops and Michelle Pfieffer’s breezy gingham sundress (hello Altuzarra!) are a dream, but it is Susan Sarandon’s Jane who stands out, morphing from a fidgety, buttoned up school marm to a bounding, sultry hybrid of Jessica Rabbit and Betsey Johnson. One strapless, polkadot peplum one-piece with laced up leopard booties? Yes, please!

The Witches (1990)

Next, we hop the pond to the equally charming English countryside. It’s a seemingly placid scene young Luke Eveshim encounters when he and his convalescing grandmother settle in for a stay at the seaside Excelsior Hotel in Cornwall, a lovely establishment, aside from the strict no pet policy. Luke spends his days surreptitiously training his pet mice in the corner of the ballroom. It is during one of these sessions, that he is unwittingly trapped by the annual meeting of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. The gathering seems harmless enough, a homely bunch, dressed in geriatric florals and yellowed lace. (Film buffs take note: a careful examination of the scene reveals that most of the witches are, in fact, played by men). But no one is paying much attention to the dowdy lot with Miss Evangeline Ernst at the helm. Played by the transcendent Angelica Huston, Ernst is a stunning, precise creature, the sleek, blunt crop of her hair matching the crispness of her German accent. Her wardrobe is at once simple and decisive, head-to-toe black accented with deep purple. Her main costume is a corseted black satin dress featuring a plunging neckline; a cropped skirt and a train bustled with a mauve bow, topped off with black satin gloves covered in amethysts and diamonds. Her countenance is riveting, at once crepuscular and sparkling.

But all is not as it seems. The RSPCC is in fact a front for England’s convention of witches. Behind closed doors, the witches remove their disguises, casting off itchy wigs to reveal a room full of bald, repugnant trolls. The Grand High Witch proves the most terrifying of the bunch; Houston’s regal bearing replaced by a hulking monster, in place of an aquiline nose, a proper beak covered in warts; alabaster skin supplanted by a bark-like texture; and glossy tresses gone for a handful of wiry, scraggly hairs. Poor Luke is found out, turned into a mouse and spends the rest of the film battling the nasty crew, finally beating them are their own game by slipping the same magic potion into the watercress soup served at lunch. The film is the fateful final production for the legendary Jim Henson, and would go on to successfully terrify millions of children for generations to come. Angelica Huston would go on to play Morticia Adams, but it is this role that proved her unmatched talent at hitting the elusive balance between uncanny and delightfully wicked.


Hocus Pocus (1993)

If there were ever a place and time for three malevolent sisters to return from the dead, All Hallow’s Eve in Salem would be it. And that is exactly what unfolds as the Sanderson Sisters, Winifred (Bette Midler), Mary (Kathy Najimy) and Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker), enact their revenge on a town seeped in supernatural lore. But the 20th century proves too much of a challenge for this frayed coven, and they are eventually thwarted by three kids, a friendly zombie and an immortal, talking cat.

Here we return to the chromological trilogy motif – three women of varying hair color and temperaments – but this time enacted with a sororal dedication to rival any episode of Petticoat Junction. The sisters sport teased updos that are distinctive, if a bit floccent. The costume designer takes the color identification one step further, incorporating wardrobe and makeup into the coordination. In terms of sartorial inspiration, Allison’s red-hooded coat is a favorite. Flannel and tie-dye abound. But the film’s garb is perhaps most memorable in the hands of SJP, her flighty Sarah a step closer to SATC than Square Pegs. Parker breathes life into her tattered maroon rags with a hint of that Carrie stardust. But, our favorite of the bunch is the inspired costume selection by Max and Dani’s mother, Madonna in Gaultier conical bra, complete with Barbara Eden high pony and headset. Momma Madonna vogues up a storm under the spell Winifred casts on the town using the deliciously infectious “I put a spell on you.” Dance, dance, dance until you die!

The Craft (1996)

There is an element of witchcraft that is particularly calibrated to the feminine teenage sensibility. We’re on the west coast now, as angst-ridden Sarah (Robin Tunney) moves to a new town, new house and new school – albeit one with a dubiously lax dress code policy. “Rachel” haircut in tow, she falls in with a clique of misfits run by the forbearing and frenetic Nancy, who, in one of the most successful instances of typecasting, is played by the brilliant and terrifying Fairuza Balk (see Mildred Hubble as The Worst Witch). The girls have developed a predilection for the supernatural to cope with the cruelties of teenage life, and Sarah proves a natural, taking their dalliances to the next level. Lighthearted slumber partys tricks progress to trichological revenge fantasies (Christine Taylor had it coming), which graduate to meteorological and geological disturbances. Nancy possesses a maniacal streak as deeply sadistic as her icy stare, and the film ends with an epic show down between good and evil.

If it’s a normcore fantasy you’re looking for, this is the mother load: a taupe color palette, mom jeans and overalls, delicate floral maxi skirts, baby doll dresses over tees, chunky boots, dark lips, berets, small tinted glasses, and chokers. The film’s sartorial masterpiece is the girls’ slow motion cruise through the cafeteria. The catholic prep school uniform never looked so cool.

Practical Magic (1998)

We end up exactly where we started, another picturesque New England town, this time following the Owens women, and a story that unfolds around the patterns of genealogy and fate. Orphaned at a young age, Sally and Gillian Owens (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) are raised by Aunts Francis and Jet in a house where traditional rearing is supplanted by a cultivation of the familial proficiency in magic. Furthermore, the tension of outsider status, so acutely felt in childhood, is heightened by small town rumors of a family curse; any man who dares to love an Owens woman will soon end up six feet under. Together, the sisters battle their predetermined fate, and prove that in some lives, the most substantial relations are not romantically based.

The film pulls bits and pieces from the domestication and modernization of the rituals of sorcery, a delirious romp around a cauldron, cascades of enviable tresses, and the unwieldy nature of true love. But we’re here for the clothes. It’s hard to pin down the top look: Kidman’s velvety slips and clogs, Bullock’s cut off denim and delectable cardigans, or the Aunt’s post-Edwardian, Japonisme-infused brocades. Then again, in this case, we might take the house.


What can we take away from this illustrious list? To limit the witch costume to a trim black silhouette and a heap of eyeliner is dimly myopic. Witches, even the 90’s incantation, come in all shapes and sizes. But there is one rule; always start with the hair.

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