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A finely-attired ghost approaches Kristen Wiig in the new Ghostbusters.
A finely-attired ghost approaches Kristen Wiig in the new Ghostbusters.
Columbia Pictures

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Why Do Ghosts Wear Human Clothes?

If specters and spirits are really just human energy stuck between worlds, why do they wear pants?

Paranormal enthusiasts often report sighting spirits dressed in Victorian period clothing, flowing white dresses, or just jeans and t-shirts. Why? If ghosts are, as paranormal investigators would have us believe, essentially human spirit energy stuck in purgatory between earth and the great beyond, why do their manifestations include the manufactured convention of clothing? We consulted paranormal and death experts from around the globe on what ghosts are wearing these days and why.

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Putting aside for a moment the (irrelevant) question of whether or not ghosts exist, let’s focus our metaphysical energies on exploring the latest in phantasm fashion.

Up in Vermont, Betty DuPont, director of Paranormal Investigators of New England (PI-NE) says she had her first brush with the paranormal while renting a room in an old Victorian home. After several days of returning from work to strange unexplainable phenomena, she awoke one night to an apparition of a short man in an overcoat standing next to her bed. As to why an overcoat and not say, lederhosen, DuPont has a theory.

After life, Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin still look sharp in Beetlejuice. Image: Jane O'Neal/Getty Images

"[Ghosts are] projecting themselves in the way that they last perceived themselves. Even if they burnt in a fire or they died in surgery, they still appear wearing clothing because that’s how they best knew themselves," said DuPont. She says ghosts wear neither what they died in nor what they were buried in. They wear the clothes that feel most closely attached to their identity in life. DuPont reflected, "the clothing that is coming out now, is going to be what ghosts are wearing in the future. The designers that are designing now, their designs will live on for eternity."

One such fashion designer, Pia Interlandi, has built a unique career in Melbourne, Australia designing for the dead. Through her practice, Garments for the Grave, she creates custom biodegradable burial garments for the deceased and for clients who are preparing for death. She describes her fashion philosophy as one that, "neither denies nor flirts with death, but presents it in a way that invites observers to view it as natural, undeniable, inevitable and at times, beautiful." She began experimenting with dissolvable fabrics as a method of exploring life’s transience and views clothing as a second skin. Interlandi investigates the role that fashion can play at the end of life, but unfortunately for us, not in the afterlife. Once the deceased is buried underground, the garments break down and become part of the earth, along with the naked human form. Which begs the important question, can ghosts appear naked? Dawn DelCastillo of ANPU, a small Portland, Oregon team of experienced paranormal researchers, says yes.

"The designers that are designing now, their designs will live on for eternity."

"Let's say we have a grieving husband who's wife passed away and they were young and in their sexual prime. A lot of that sexual energy still lives within him, in the home and carried over with the wife. If he were to want her to appear to him, and be intimate, and in life she was comfortable with her body, more than likely she will appear naked. I feel they choose in that moment," said DelCastillo.

DelCastillo is a self-described Daemonolator that practices chaos magick. "Daemonolatry is the practice of worshiping and working with what Christian's label as demons but that we label as gods/divine beings, in an everyday way of life," said DelCastillo. "Chaos magick is the creation of one’s own way of magical working that isn't constrained to one system or pantheon."

DelCastillo says she defies many societal norms. She is "highly conservative," but also a lesbian, but not a feminist. She has a very successful career and insists she’s not one of these "paranormal dweebs" who "lives in their mother’s basement." Instead, Djinn, Demons, Gods and other supernatural beings live in her home with her, her partner, and their many animals. Fascinating. But more importantly, do these supernatural beings have style?

"Demons have great style, they are flashy dressers and like flashy things."

"Absolutely. Demons have great style, they are flashy dressers and like flashy things... They can change to a different form on a dime so why not human spirits? I feel the same about angels. While I don't work with them, they are no different than demons and probably have their own sense of fashion as well," said DelCastillo.

Paranormal investigator Marie Yates has also seen some shit, but she has a different theory on incorporeal fashion. She says she had never experienced the paranormal until she started dating her perpetually haunted husband Jay. Jay told her he had always attracted the supernatural, but Yates was skeptical. "I felt I had to see it to believe it," said Yates. During their first month of courtship, Jay was sharing some of his spectral stories with Yates, when large hunks of meat began flying out of her fridge. A dark cloud moved over her house and a freaky gargoyle looking thing scampered across her backyard. "It was the most chilling experience," said Yates. But creepy spirits couldn’t stand in the way of true love. They married and started The Crossing Over Paranormal Society (The COPS crew), an Arizona based team of paranormal investigators exploring "the darkest corners of the desert Southwest."

Yates believes that our clothes take on our emotional energy. "I’m very fashionable, I love clothes. I mean, if I could shop everyday I would," said Yates. "But even if you’re not into fashion — we wear these clothes every day through pain, suffering, happiness, heartache. Some women appear in their wedding dresses because it was one of the happiest moments of their life." Interesting stuff. So what materials are trending these days in the realm of the immaterial?

Spoiler: One of these two well-dressed men is a ghost in The Sixth Sense. Image: Getty Images

Susan Barton, a paranormal investigator in the ethereal ghost region of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania says she has seen a few clothed apparitions with her own eyes. Her and her team, After Dark Investigations lead groups most often onto Sachs Bridge, a historic site haunted by soldiers of the American Civil War. One night around the anniversary of the Gettysburg battle, she saw what she at first thought was a Civil War reenactor in a blue union army suit sitting down on the bridge with an old gun. "He looked like he was in pain and he was dirty. I didn’t know if he was weirdo or whatever so I walked past him. When I looked back four second later, he was gone," said Barton. That’s when she realized he was a ghost. Another time, she came upon a little girl in the woods wearing a 1960s-style dress and digging in the dirt. "It was like a little light yellow shift dress with pockets," said Barton. She approached the little girl to see if she was okay, but the girl took off. Barton and her colleague ran after her and then after her footprints, but she disappeared. Spooky business.

Down in Georgia, Heather Dobson and her team Paranormal Georgia Investigations want to "ease your fears with fact, not fiction." On her entertaining blog she describes herself this way: "I wish I was Wonder Woman, but I'm actually a wife, mother of three little ones, a blogger, a paranormal investigator, and a lunatic." She has mostly seen "shadow people," dark human figures without distinguishing features, but her team and clients have seen clothed apparitions.

"If I end up haunting this place, it’s definitely going to be in a t-shirt and jeans."

While investigating historic artifacts from the Titanic exhibit at the Georgia aquarium, Dobson says people spotted ghosts in woolen, tailored suits characteristic of the early 1900s. She herself smelled the strong scent of old-timey men’s cologne, despite an absence of male investigators. Although she’s explored the psych ward of an abandoned Tennessee hospital and numerous haunted houses, Dobson says the scariest part of her work is not the dead, but the living. "We’ve investigated the homes of some people who are just not in their right mind," said Dobson. As for the dead, she believes that ghosts manifest themselves wearing the clothes they were most comfortable wearing in life. "If I end up haunting this place, it’s definitely going to be in a t-shirt and jeans," said Dobson.

Well folks, the jury is out on why nebulous spectres of supernatural electromagnetic energy appear in clothing. We the living have our theories, but nobody can really say for sure. What we do know is that how we choose to dress is deeply entwined with our sense of identity. And depending on who you are, that identity might to roam the earth for all of eternity in a pair of baggy sweatpants and a ratty t-shirt or fancy shoes and a stylish hat. It’s never too early to start dressing for the afterlife.

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