Costume Designers Tell Us How They Dress Some Of Cinema’s Scariest Style Icons

by Marie Lodi

HORROR FILMS ARE filled with terrifying moments that are forever seared into our brains. But aside from the monsters and killers, the movies’ costumes can also haunt our memories. Think Carrie being crowned as Prom Queen in her white satin slip dress while getting doused with pigs’ blood by her bullies. Or that beige J. Crew sweater that costume designer Cynthia Bergstrom put Drew Barrymore in for her memorable turn in Scream. Or Mia Farrow’s blue nightgown in Rosemary’s Baby. Costume has always played an important part in filmmaking, no matter what type of story is being told. 

When getting started on a film, costume designer Whitney Anne Adams, (We Have a Ghost, Freaky, Happy Death Day 2U), focuses on “enriching the background” of the characters. “It’s like, ‘Who are these people? Where do they shop? How long have they had these clothes?’” she explains. “All of those little character details really add to what they’re wearing. I love building that story because it helps everything make sense when I eventually put them in clothes.” Adams, who is a horror fan herself, also uses her “encyclopedic knowledge” of references to slip in costume Easter eggs, like a hidden Freddy Krueger in a Freaky party scene. 

The costume design process can also involve more serious aspects, like the history of negative feminine stereotypes in horror—something Avery Plewes (Scream 6, Ready or Not) keeps in mind. “I feel a huge responsibility about the types of archetypes that I create as a costume designer,” she says. “Because when you look at something like rape culture, and people getting asked what they were wearing when something happened to them, I feel as someone who’s creating media and presenting women and non-binary people in certain clothing, I perpetuate stereotypes. I also feel a very large responsibility, particularly in horror, about how I portray certain minorities and marginalized people.” 

But once the costume design puzzle comes together, the final look can be a wonderful, and unexpected surprise. Malgosia Turzanska, costume designer for the films Pearl and X, looked at Mia Goth’s title character in Pearl as “Snow White gone horribly wrong,” tapping inspiration from old cartoons. The movie was set in 1918, but Pearl’s look was outdated, due to her being isolated on a farm with her parents. “If you look at her in the scene where they’re waiting with the other dance competitors in front of the church, they’re all wearing period-correct dresses, and she’s in this red, almost Victorian shape gown with barn boots,” says Turzanska. “It gives a bizarre, almost grunge aspect to the costume.” 

From sketch to the workroom, a look at the beginning phases of the main character costume for the film Pearl

From sketch to the workroom, a look at the beginning phases of the main character costume for the film Pearl

Every year on Halloween, these costumes come to life, walking the streets in real life. “I love it because it means I did something right,” says Plewes of seeing her designs imitated on October 31. “The costume means something so much to certain people.”

top image courtesy of Whitney Anne Adams

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