fashion in american horror story: coven
by VICTORIA HINES
A pack of women donned in black stilettos, black skirts, black wide-brimmed fedoras and white blouses greeted viewers in the teaser videos that introduced the recent season of American Horror Story. This awfully Yves Saint Laurent-like display also introduced a new image for teenage witches of the 21st century (sorry, Sabrina). Pointy hats, billowing fabric, and black furry friends no more! These women are seriously up to no good, wearing only the most prized designer threads and extremely rare vintage finds.
Ryan Murphy’s series American Horror Story captured the interest of viewers when its first episode aired back in 2011, and it has only been gaining more popularity with its gory and disturbingly enticing storylines. I’m sure even those who have attempted to avoid it as much as possible (ahem), have felt the effects of its popularity, whether it be from the gushing of obsessed friends or the numerous news headlines praising its craftsmanship. The most recent season, American Horror Story: Coven, certainly didn’t disappoint with its gruesome lacerations and weird, demonic sex scenes. However, horrific peculiarities aside, the fashion in Coven reigned supreme.
The show’s costume designer, Lou Eyrich, set out to give each character a distinct wardrobe to emphasize their personality traits. The most notable character portrait Eyrich constructed was that of Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), the eccentric mortal enemy of Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange). Myrtle is one of the few people in the show that has the ability to put up a fight with the Supreme, given the power she holds as a member of the Council of Witchcraft. She is also one of the few characters whose sense of style works completely against Fiona’s notion that a real witch wears black. Though Myrtle does don the color often, it is usually executed with brightly colored gloves or an eccentric pattern. Just as the two women come head to head in the show, so does the competing visual of cinched black power-dresses and campy, vintage polka-dot blouses.
Diana Vreeland, Grace Coddington, and Peggy Guggenheim were all influential figures in the creation of Myrtle’s final look—and important women in style. Vreeland, known for her work with Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, was a great contributor to fashion for 30 years as a columnist and editor. Current creative director of Vogue, Coddington, is a highly acclaimed stylist who has collaborated with only the best in the industry. Guggenheim is a famed American socialite and art collector of the thirties with an entire museum dedicated to her work and lifestyle in Venice, Italy. These three women are icons held up with great prestige in the fashion industry, and their style-conscious ways translate directly into Myrtle’s character. It is also nearly impossible not to think of Grace Coddington after seeing Myrtle’s shock of frizzy red hair. The character of Myrtle, whose wardrobe ranges from New Orleans vintage pieces to Carolina Herrara, is well versed in fashion not only in her look, but also in her dialogue, as she often gives reference to key insiders such as Diane von Furstenberg and Chanel. If not yet sold on Myrtle’s haute-ness, don’t forget that her last word was none other than,“Balenciagaaaaa!”
Myrtle’s hair, in addition to her assortment of vintage cat eye sunglasses, became a signature look for her character throughout the season. Her unique features came to define her image and contribute to the idea that a witch’s appearance need not follow the tradition set by popular media up until now. It also comments on how the image of a witch has undergone a massive development because of American Horror Story. When Myrtle comes to mind, we do not see the image of the ‘double, double toil and trouble’ witches we have always known and expect a witch to be. Instead we see the carefully constructed image of a woman who has a few misgivings with Halston’s sellout to J.C. Penney, is just mad for tartan, and continuously points out her own fabulously superior style. The modern witch is rid of media stereotypes and is a unique individual that has fully adjusted to the society of human beings (as the show continues to remind viewers).
The character of Fiona Goode is also quite opinionated in her view towards the fashion choices of a modern witch. Before they could be seen in public with her, the young witches of the Coven were instructed by Fiona to “wear something black.” And the color, certainly, became a staple throughout the season as the girls’ wardrobe palettes rarely veered from tones of black and white. Though black remained consistent in the look of each of the girls, Eyrich styled the outfits of each character to reflect their distinct personalities. Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) holds the very provocative power of being able to instantly murder a man—with her vagina. Despite this quite explicit ability, she is portrayed as a shy girl-next-door. Her wardrobe consists of a more laid-back, slightly urban outfitters catalogue-like style. She is seen in oversized cardigans, pleather overalls, funky hats, and casual ankle boots. The Hollywood starlet, Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), on the other hand, has a style that rings true to her socialite status. An assortment of bandage dresses, fur, large sunglasses, and a pack of cigarettes shapes her Nicole Richie/Mary Kate Olsen image. The similar distinction of style and wardrobe of these two characters applies to rest of the witches in the coven. They all give off a dark vibe but have key aspects to their look that set them apart as individuals within the story.
Clothing also foreshadowed which characters would or would not see the season to the end. In the teaser videos for Coven, there were women wearing white blouses and a few dressed completely in black. It was discovered by fans at the completion of the season that those who wore black in the teaser were the characters that died; those who wore white were the ones who survived.
The fourth installation of the series has recently been announced to be American Horror Story: Freak Show, centered on circus acts of the bizarre, run by a German expat. Seeing as clowns have been fairly consistent throughout history and horror films—and will likely make an appearance in Freak Show—it will definitely be interesting to see what Lou Eyrich manages to do with the polka dot onesies and pop-on noses.