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Editor’s note: This list will only cover '70s flicks — okay, so the range is 1968 to 1983, but there’s always some stylistic spillover —which leaves plenty to cover next All Hallow’s Eve.
No list like this would be complete without at least a mention of Rosemary’s Baby. It was costume designer Anthea Sylbert’s first major film; she’d go on to design costumes for Chinatown and Shampoo and was twice nominated for an Oscar. For Rosemary Woodhouse, played by the waifish Mia Farrow, Sylbert stuck to mod babydoll dresses, with the exception of one excellently clownish red pants suit.
But for me, the real sartorial standout here is Minnie Castevet, the neighbor and coven member who favors eye-popping palettes and lots of accessories. From the moment she walks on screen wearing a feathery white cap, a Pucci-patterned top-and-skirt combo, and too many pieces of jewelry to count, we know she is the real star here (and in many ways, she was —Ruth Gordon, who played her, nabbed the Oscar that year, her first win at the age of 76). For the rest of the movie, Minnie never fails to disappoint, whether it’s with a bright green boa or a red leather cloche cap (not to mention an admirably assertive hand with blue eyeshadow). All in all, it’s an aesthetic Chris Laverty of the website Clothes on Film best summed up as "Quentin Crisp in Florida."
Hands down, my favorite fashion in horror of all time can be seen in the 1972 clunker Frogs. The movie is camp at its absolute finest: The ruthless oil baron patriarch of the Crockett family has his relatives gather for his birthday party every year on his swampy island estate. This year, though, the family has an unexpected guest, wildlife photographer Pickett Smith, who soon realizes the island's many amphibious inhabitants are seeking their revenge against the one-man global warming machine Crockett! Across the board, the clothes are great (Joan Van Ark wore a memorable yellow adult mini-onesie), but the real standout is Judy Pace as Bella Garrington, the model/designer girlfriend of a member of the Crockett clan.
Even though Bella’s just spending a few days hanging at her boyfriend’s family home, she doesn’t take this as reason to dress casually. No, her first look is a long-sleeved white jumpsuit, large bib necklace, and one of those big coin belts that made a brief resurgence in the early aughts, topped off with a bouffant hairdo. She's fond of matching her shirts and various head coverings, most notably an elaborate turban in the same bright print as her flowing one-shoulder tunic. For that number, she accessorizes with giant gold hoops and a gold necklace reminiscent of neck-stretching rings favored by certain African and Southeastern Asian tribal peoples. When it becomes clear the island’s leeches, lizards, and, of course, frogs have teamed up to bring down the Crocketts, Pace’s escape outfit is a red bandana-print shirt, a matching headscarf, jeans, and a denim coat so long it skims the ground. Sadly, though, even an outfit that polished won’t save her…
I love the various looks worn by the female chorus in Carrie, Brian DePalma’s classic adaption of Stephen King’s novel about high school angst gone terribly awry. The gaggle of bitchy girls who throw tampons at the frightened Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) in the iconic opening scene favor big sunglasses and cheery monochromatics, contrasted by lone nice girl Amy Irving's more hippie-ish maxi skirts and blouses. Their costumes over the course of the film are like a look book of '70s Californian teen fashion: crocheted sacs, peasant shirts, hip huggers, cork wedges.
The most noteworthy of the bunch is Norma, the main villainess's minion, who is so attached to her red baseball cap (decorated with rainbow pins) that she even wears it to the prom. Doesn’t really work with a baby blue polyester gown, but can’t fault a girl for taking a risk.
As for the White women, Piper Laurie vacillates between virginal and satanic, the latter being most obvious when she marches into her first scene wearing a witchy black cape and dress. It’s rather ironic attire for an evangelical, but she makes up for it when, in the bloody denouement, she dons a high-necked, long-sleeved white nightgown. Carrie’s wardrobe isn't much to speak of, but her prom dress is understated excellence — almost Carolyn Bessette Kennedy wedding-esque, albeit with seams sewn around her chest to accentuate her "dirty pillows," as Mommy Dearest disdainful calls them.
Sleepaway Camp is an admittedly biased choice because it isn’t the most visually inspiring of the bunch, but I just love this movie so much I’ll use any excuse to talk about it. Besides, it's not exactly a wasteland of normcore, either. The most stylish characters of the bunch are Judy, the camp mean girl, and Martha, Ricky’s mother and the aunt-cum-stepmom of the mysterious, nearly mute Angela.
Martha is only really on screen twice, but her outfits — and exaggerated, creepy mannerisms — make her one of the most memorable characters in the film. She first appears in a red and navy blue striped beret, a thinly-striped blue and white Oxford shirt with a red bow tied around the neck, an oversized yellow cardigan, and white chino shorts (pulled way up, mom-style) with WHITE PANTYHOSE UNDERNEATH. The most impressive thing about the get-up is the coordination: The bow matches the fire engine red in the beret, which matches her lipstick, which matches her nails and her cocktail ring. The next time we see her — a pivotal moment in the narrative — she’s wearing a red and white chevron-patterned jacket, a bright red bowler hat with white ribbon tied around it, a strand of pearls, and again, the Crayola-colored lipstick. I could be wrong, but I think she has a favorite color. Judy’s main stylistic contribution is her devotion to the side ponytail. Who’s going to help me bring that one back?
Suspiria has an intense cult following (news of a remake starring Dakota Johnson was met with loud disapproval, including from director Dario Argento), although it’s never been high on my list, to be honest. Nevertheless, the clothes are pretty great. It's set in 1977 in a ballet school in Germany, which is actually a front for a coven of witches (because if you want to keep your satanic activities on the down low, obviously you start an international academy for aspiring professional dancers).
Most of the costumes are A-line, flowy things, a lot of shawls and silk day robes (á la The Row) that flutter as the characters wander around the striking sets. There are two major exceptions to this uniform: The head teacher wears the same outfit the entire film, a kind of androgynous Nazi schoolmarm get-up, while the school's principal of sorts, played by the venerable Joan Bennet in her last role, wears adorable retro (for then) cocktail dresses and matching jewels that look like she got them on loan for the Oscars from Van Cleef & Arpels. She doesn’t seem to distinguish between daywear and eveningwear much, but maybe that sort of thing is beneath black magicians. The movie is kind of a proto-Black Swan — although very different in tone — in that it's about dancers, it's scary, and it's sartorially pleasing. (Black Swan, of course, featured amazing ballet costumes designed by Rodarte.)
There’s a lot of inspiration to be gleaned from post-1983 horror films, like the glorious goth Catholic schoolgirl '90s classic The Craft, and Rose McGowan’s citrus-colored short-sleeved turtlenecks in Scream, but as the Wicked Witch of the West said (actually qualifies as a scary movie), "All in good time, my dear." In the meantime, a piece of unsolicited advice: In a world of minimalist Mia Farrows, have the courage to dress up like a Ruth Gordon.