Associate Editor at Film Journal Rebecca Pahle spoke to us about fashion on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her viral Twitter account, @BadBuffyOutfits.

How did the Bad Buffy Outfits Twitter come about? What made you want to start that?

PAHLE: I first watched Buffy back in high school, and didn’t notice anything bad about the clothes. It was when I did a rewatch about five years ago that I really realized how bad some of the outfits are. (I dressed like Willow in middle and high school, all bucket hats, overalls, and bad sweaters, so her stuff wouldn’t even have seemed bad at the time.) I did this piece for SyfyWire Fangrrls on Willow’s terrible taste in hats, and in scouring screencap archives to find the relevant episodes I was reminded how bad the clothes were a second time. From there, I started the account on a whim, and it blew up.

What are you favourite seasons to comb through for fashion? I feel like I remember season 4 being especially unkind – remember Buffy’s crimped hair?

PAHLE: Season four is a MONSTER. Willow wears so much pink, and Buffy is peasant tops all the time – except when she’s slaying, which makes sense, because those things don’t offer much by way of support. Intermittently through seasons four and five, Willow has that early ‘00s flipped-up-at-the-ends hairdo that I associate with Vitamin C.

So far, I’ve mostly been sticking with seasons 1-4. There are still some gems in the later seasons, but things calmed down a bit, fashion-wise—both because the fashion is less dated, and because the characters weren’t dressing like teens anymore. I’ll trawl through seasons five at six at some point, though I’d like to avoid season seven as much as possible for my own mental health.

What are some of the worst ‘90s/’00s fashion trends that you remember seeing a lot on Buffy? Are there any outfits that seem to exist mainly on the show, and not in the real world? I always associate Buffy with those red leather pants, I don’t ever remember seeing those in the real world.

PAHLE: The main difference I noticed between “real world fashion” and “Buffy fashion” is that apparently Sunnydale High had no dress code at all. You see extras walking around in crop tops, and Buffy, Cordy, and Willow are always wearing miniskirts. Maybe that’s just how things are in California? They don’t have the tip-of-your-fingers rule?

As for dated fashion trends: overalls. Bucket hats. Oz’s whole ‘90s grunge rocker with the spiked hair look. It’s weird looking back at seasons 1-3, because so much of that stuff has come back around to  be fashionable again. (Overalls, particularly. Does no one remember how much of a pain it was to use a public bathroom in overalls? You practically have to drop the whole thing onto the floor.) Miniskirts with opaque tights. Shiny, satin-esque button-downs for guys (*cough*Angel*cough*)

How well did fashion serve the characters? The characters all have very distinct looks, and we can see Buffy and Willow’s fashion develop as they grow – but how would Buffy slay demons dressed like that all the time? How badly do you want to see her more regularly go out in running shoes and a sports bra after high school? Or is it part of the power fantasy to see a woman who can rock a blouse and hoop earrings while kicking ass?

PAHLE: One of my favorite things about the costuming in Buffy is how it clearly reflects the characters. That’s especially true with Xander and Willow. I rag on them a lot, and justifiably so because their clothes are often AWFUL… but they’re supposed to be, you know? Xander’s supposed to dress like a quirky class clown type, with weird-ass patterned button-downs, and Willow’s supposed to dress like a nerd whose mom probably picked out her clothes. (Her pilot outfits! My god!) In the high school seasons, anyway. They have a misfit quality, and their outfits reflect that. Compare that to Buffy and Cordelia, who were always more trend-focused high schoolers, which means their outfits looked good at the time but haven’t aged well at all. (The iridescent blue coat Buffy wears in Becoming is bad, and I stand by that.)

Though I hate (haaaaaate) Willow’s S4 outfits, I like them in the sense that you see her moving away from home for the first time and exploring her own identity, freed from her mother’s influence and the preconceptions her high school classmates had of her as this nerdy, dowdy wallflower. She’s trying new things: brighter colors, louder patterns, fewer fucking beanies. It mirrors her sexual exploration, with her finding and falling for Tara. Willow, I think more than any other character, has a very clear style evolution: from nerd to boho chic to S6 goth, all the way up to her white hair in the season finale.

I think it’s definitely part of the power fantasy to see Buffy kicking ass in traditionally feminine clothes – that’s a key message of the whole series, that you can be powerful without letting other people dictate how you present yourself. It does make me happy for her feet when I see her slaying in sneakers, though. My number one pet peeve—and this isn’t something that only BtVS does—is when you see female characters in their PJs, and they’re still wearing a bra. No one does that! Let the girls go free!

How many shirts do you think Spike owned when he was dating Dru? Would you say he had a closet full of black tees and red shirts, or did he just wear the same shirts all the time?

PAHLE: I think Spike had too much vanity to wear the same shirt ALL the time. He gels his fucking hair. He probably spent more time in front of the metaphorical mirror than Harmony. He wears more or less the same outfit EVERY SINGLE DAY – the man has dedication to his aesthetic. Plus, vampires don’t have BO, but he still lives in a crypt, and he has too much pride to want to walk around all smelly. I’m envisaging trips to the laundromat with Clem.

What are some of your favourite Iconic Looks from the show’s run? (Full ensembles or specific pieces from any characters)

PAHLE: I love the olive green top Kendra first showed up in. And some of Anya’s season five and six outfits I really liked, though I’m not a huge fan of her wedding dress. I have a particular fondness for the Peter Pan collar shirt she wore in Tabula Rasa, because I’m a Ganya shipper and that’s the one episode we got. I tend to either love or hate Anya’s outfits. After some truly terrible stuff early in her run, which I attribute to her getting used to the whole “human” thing, she settled into this retro vibe that really works.

Vampire Willow’s Doppelgangland outfit, of course. Primo ‘90s Hot Topic drama. And I’d be remiss not to mention Xander’s mushroom shirt. It’s peak Xander. It’s so awful and I love it so much. And Giles: the sombrero outfit, the wizard outfit, and the Band Candy outfit (I’m only human).

Is there anything else you think needs to be called out here that I’ve missed? Willow’s hats? The terrible flashback wigs? Cordelia Chase, just, in general?

PAHLE: All of this, but I also want a “What Not to Wear” spinoff with Drusilla and Glory.

Thanks again to Rebecca for your insights – I think we all fell for Giles a bit in “Band Candy.” Be sure to follow Rebecca on Twitter at @RebeccaPahle and @BadBuffyOutfits! Give us your picks for worst fashion travesties on Buffy at @RoguesPortal.

Allison O'Toole
Allison is a part-time superhero, space bounty-hunter and crayon-colour-namer. She also edits comics, including the upcoming Wayward Sisters anthology.

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