Fashion is to horror what bones are to a skeleton: vital. This isn’t to say that all genre films look like Saint Laurent runway shows (although, the idea is intriguing). Rather, a horror film’s wardrobe and costume design is crucial in crafting breadth and nuance in all of our favorite characters.
As a femme and wannabe-fashionista myself, one of my favorite things to observe in horror is the dress of the so-called villains and antagonists, especially that of the femmes and femme fatales. The trend I gravitate towards most, however, is one that occurs quite often in the genre: the seemingly-mundane button-up shirt.
In many spaces, the “dress shirt,” by name, is regarded as formalwear and associated with rigid notions of propriety and innocence. More often than not, horror utilizes this conventionality to juxtapose these toxic notions, including that of purity culture, with elements of terror, chaos, and implied sin. While these articles of clothing are beacons of austerity, they can be very easily dressed up, dressed down, bloodstained, frilled, adorned, and decorated, making them a flexibly versatile tool for horror films.
Truly, I could gush forever and on about horror and the implications of collared shirts, but to best showcase this ominously buttoned-up trend, here are some (but not even close to all) notable femmes who donned this style with creepy perfection:
1. Rachel True’s Rochelle Zimmerman in The Craft (1996)
While this list is in no particular order (for the most part), it’s clear Rachel True’s Rochelle belongs at the very top. Even though a large portion of The Craft takes place within a uniform-required Catholic school, Rochelle and the rest of her coven twist and turn the dress-code requirements like a designer knife, taking generous liberties with their outfits and bending the rules at every corner.
The four witches’ rebellion-born fashion is most striking, however, in the film’s iconic “walking scene” set to Letters to Cleo’s Dangerous Type. In this scene, Rochelle wears suspenders that fall slightly off her person, yet simultaneously fit her like a charm. Meanwhile, the metal of her suspenders’ buckles flawlessly compliment the metal in her jewelry, creating a sort of surreal metallic dream. The Craft’s religious iconography, which is present throughout, is especially palpable here as Rochelle’s inverted cross earrings and rosary gleam like halos in the school’s fluorescent hallway.
2. Mitsuko Souma and Kō Shibasaki of Battle Royale (2000)
Koushun Takami and Masayuki Taguchi’s manga Battle Royale has lingered in my mind since childhood. The way it decadently balances bleakness and heart is unparalleled. Mitsuko Souma, the manga’s deeply-layered standout “villain,” personifies this decadence most of all.
Mitsuko, in both her paper and screen iterations, is hypnotic in her clean-to-tarnished school uniform. Like Rochelle in The Craft, she wears her uniform throughout, but we see it evolve and warp in time with the character herself. While in the manga, her clothes look pressed and pristine in the brilliantly inked linework, the live action film is radiant with its rainbow vibrancy. Kō Shibasaki’s portrayal of Mitsuko is sinister, stylish, and sharp, wielding her signature sickle (and later) gun with chic precision, while the bright red glare of her tie mirrors her gore-painted landscape.
3. Winona Ryder’s Veronica Sawyer in Heathers (1988)
Heathers is not only a fabulous horror-comedy, but a fashion film through and through. If you closed your eyes, pressed play, and paused at any scene in the film, I’m almost certain you’d find an outfit or two that suits your fancy, or at the very least, draws you in.
Most stylish of all is Winona Ryder’s Veronica, who relentlessly commands the screen with venomous couture. You can find her in anything from a sleek patchwork blazer to a soft oversized tee strewn with ash. Veronica’s bitingly hip persona, however, is only a glimpse into the Stepford-esque backdrop of her violently dysfunctional community.
4. and 5. Lorenza Izzo’s Genesis and Ana de Armas’ Bell in Knock Knock (2015)
The horror-adjacent thriller Knock Knock oozes absurdity and style all at once. Similar in its insidiousness to Heathers, the film is lighthearted in its treatment of brutality and disguises danger as whimsical fun. The two leads alone disarm suspicion right off the bat with their syrupy smiles, shimmery makeup, and rain-soaked party clothes.
As they taunt Evan (Keanu Reeves) with callous mind games, Lorenza Izzo’s Genesis and Ana de Armas’ Bell challenge misogyny-driven power dynamics and shift them in their favor. At one point, they even wear Evan’s clothes as their own, further proving the senselessness of gender roles and the significance of a level playing field.
Genesis, the more severe of the two, wears Evan’s shirt, fully buttoned, alongside a business-like ponytail and an obvious scowl. Bell, on the other hand, sports ruffled hair and wears her polka-dot pink party top below another one of Evan’s dress shirts, refusing to compromise her antics no matter how serious the situation is.
Know any other collared femmes in horror that deserve to be on this list? Let us know in the comments! And check out more horror below!