In celebration of the last week of October, aka my favorite week for fashion, I wrote a guide to creating wearable witchy outfits!
Yeah, the last one of these theme discussions I did was back in June and also witch themed, but the next couple of posts will be more generic how-I-style-item sorts of things or the usual wardrobe round-up. I’m unabashedly in the legions who love autumn, Halloween, and the many many variations of witchy style.
This post focuses on constructing full casual outfits that at least subtly read as witchy without coming across as ren faire garb. It does not cover not moving an entire wardrobe to be witchy style, or feature specific buyable pieces.
I might go back and add more images later, but for now I think I’m going to call it.
Source: Fancy Dresses Described or What to Wear at Fancy Balls, by Arden Holt (1887) (I found this book when trying to find an illustration containing as many of the witch fashion tropes as possible in one outfit. Seriously, check this out if you are interested historical costuming in the literal sense. It’s like “hmmm what about BEES, but make it 1880s”. Approach as a slice of history and not a list of suitable modern Halloween costumes.)
Creating a Look
To get started, here’s a list of some elements that I find are widely associated with witch costume
source: Missouri History Museum via wikimedia
- Black wide-brimmed hats (Thank you, I’ll be here all week.)
- All black/gray and/or traditional Halloween accent colors like orange, green, purple, or red.
- Old-timey details
- Buckles (on shoes or otherwise)
- Lace-up and/or pointed toe shoes
- button closures
- Flowy outerwear like cloaks or capes (for a more wearable modern take, try a longline cardigan, duster, or poncho)
- Spooky/nature motifs: insects and spiders, spider webs, traditional creepy critters like black cats, snakes, owls, toads, mice/rats; celestial motifs
- antiqued / rougher jewelry
I think generally the concept of witch style embraces femininity, so most of my personal outfit interpretations feature dresses and skirts. In most traditional media depictions, witches are in skirts/dresses, so this will prime your look to read witchy more easily than pants will, though you can still def get that aesthetic with pants if you add a a few other pieces that are definitively witchy.
As with any outfit, hair, makeup, and glasses can really affect the final look. To me, long hair, old fashioned hairstyles like a gibson tuck or milkmaid braids or something unconventional like a buzz cut will make things feel witchier. But like anything else, this is simply one element that can be used to push a style in different directions, and no single element is ONE WEIRD TRICK that will magically make your outfit always read as witchy (except obviously a wide-brimmed pointy hat, but for most people that is a full costume look and not daily wear).
from Pinterest, where image sources go to die
Similarly for glasses, I think wire-frame styles tend to mesh better with a lot of other witchy style elements because they are less modern/futuristic.
Q: Why witches? Seriously, why the obsession? Is this actually a thing?
To summarize the discussion of this from the recurring reddit threads and various other media outlets, witch style appeals to many people because it is 1) a feminine style that 2) feels powerful 3) is broad, and easy to adapt to various personal styles and levels of formality and drama.
Q: Do I have to?
A: No. But let other people enjoy things.
Q: Just Western witches?
A: Yes. I don’t personally have the context for other lookbooks/style breakdowns but if you know of any feel free to share in the comments.
Q: Why is your writing so preemptively defensive?
Have a more concrete concept in mind
What kind of look are you going for? Mysterious? Ethereal? Quirky and cheery? Relaxed or buttoned-up? What are the key elements that will make the outfit read that way? (See the Resources section at the end for more specific things you can put into a search bar.)
I find it’s always easier to come up with a strong outfit (not necessarily in terms of how costumey it is – just how well the idea comes across) when I have a more specific vision for it to start with, even if it’s just “ISO-666 basic witch”.
(In case you were going to look it up, no, ISO does not have a sense of humor and ISO-666 is “Machine tools — Mounting of grinding wheels by means of hub flanges”.)
Doesn’t have to be r/femalefashionadvice levels of conceptualization a la “witch who came of age in the 1400s and never totally moved past that but it’s now 1970 and they’re working as a professor of medieval history and maybe are into new age music” (I made this up, as far as I’m aware no one actually asked for or made an inspo album for this). Just a tad more concrete to reduce decision paralysis. Don’t really care but still want to do a low-key look (maybe you got roped into a group costume at work)? Pick one that seems the easiest to do from your wardrobe or the local consignment shop.
Some quick examples mapping a concept to specific things. If you want a
- dark fairy vibe, incorporate a sheer fabric like tulle or lace.
- New England vibe, use more structured silhouettes instead of drapey and embrace preppy details and styling e.g. sweater over collared shirt.
- cute, traditionally flattering kitschy Halloween witch look, you might start with a fit-and-flare base outfit and boots, and add quirky tights and a hat.
- high-fantasy mysterious look, you might instead go for taller boots and dramatically draped outerwear with a hood.
Any fabric which is not overtly futuristic should work. For a stronger effect, tune it to the particular genre you’re going for instead of grabbing any items in a fabric that you’ve seen in a Pinterest photo that you filed under “oooo yes, this is some variant of witchy”.
Stevie Nicks style witch look? Light bohemian fabrics with theatrical flowing drape and distressing.
New England witch? Bring on the thick woven fabric and starched collars.
“Instagrammer-whose-entire-personality-is-fall” witch? Better get some corduroy, cable-knits, and plaids.
(The above is from @jerianie’s account which is seasonally aesthetic and not just fall and I generally quite enjoy it and other seasonal aesthetic accounts, despite the rib)
One reason I personally love the whole witchy style thing is that the archetype of the witch is the hag/crone/wise woman/village weirdo. Embrace all the shapes! All the quirks! Not traditionally flattering? Doesn’t matter! Despite what Pinterest may turn up,
These could all get their own post, but here are a couple of examples of styles that I think fall under the witchy style umbrella. The commonalities are they are all feminine, powerful and/or creepy, and have a left-behind-in-time aesthetic.
- Bohemian silhouettes and details: layers, distressing, asymmetry
- “Mori Girl” is influenced by bohemian style and victorian style and is another one to check out. It’s a Japanese style originally, though apparently was highly influenced by the release of the Anne of Green Gables movie. Try searching tumblr for this one as it’s a bit more esoteric than generic boho. “Dark Mori” or “strega” will pull up darker color palettes in this style.
- Victorian silhouette: high neckline, longer skirts, an unreasonable amount of buttons or hook-and-eye closures, lace.
- Creepy horror movie girl vibes
- white collar over all-black (alas, I do not own any layerable white collared shirts, but this is a pretty classic combo. Think Wednesday Addams.)
- cutesy / doll-like clothes (e.g. lace, bows, A-line skirts) with a goth sensibility
- Southern Gothic (think Beyonce in the Formation music video)
No inspo albums, but you can explore on your own. The point of this post is to give you tips and a jumping off point to figure out your own thing, not “pair this with that exactly to achieve this exact look”.
Hitting the right amount of wearability
AKA “this is too costumey” vs “this doesn’t come across in style I was aiming for”
The fewer traditionally witchy elements you have, the more honed the rest of the look should be if you actually want to come across as witchy.
The less witchy your base outfit reads, the harder you need to push everything else. For example, if you’re wearing colors that are not black or traditionally associated with fall or bohemian look, a vintage inspired dress with lace-up pointed toe boots and a coat in a more drapey cape-like outerwear with multiple pieces of bohemian jewelry will be more effective at communicating the idea than just a vintage style dress with pointed toe flats.
If it’s really important to you that your look reads witchy but don’t want to go all dark any dreary with colors, going ham on the Halloween accessories e.g. cute spiderweb jewelry or a pattern or graphic with black cats or other holiday tropes is probably the easiest route. Not exactly costumey, but certainly kitschy, but it’s an option.
Toning Down Looks
To make looks more low-key, use fewer of these elements in one outfits. I also find that a more wearable outfit that you are comfortable in will always feel less costumey. For me, that means showing less skin and wearing at least moderately practical shoes. Maybe you want to keep to black skinny jeans, or avoid longline outerwear. Know thyself and what sorts of items will make you uncomfortably fiddle with your outfit all day and thus make it apparent you are uncomfortable and feel like you’re in a costume. Then own it!
Things should be roughly in the same level of “extra”. Your outfit will stick out more if one component is way more maximalist or a different style than everything else.
For example, if you have statement outerwear with a minimal dress and basic flats, the coat will overwhelm everything else. You could pair the coat with a more visually hefty pair of shoes like chunky boots to distribute the extravagance throughout the outfit. If you have a statement blazer, trousers or a skirt in a heavier fabric will be a better support item for it than jeggings.
With more complete head to toe looks, while they may not ultimately be less extra overall, I find that they actually feel less like playing dress up because it feels more like I’m actively wearing the full look rather than having one piece wear me.
If you’re feeling nervous about incorporating new styles, start in a smaller way, especially if you don’t tend to wear a lot of things with ~flair~.
For example, maybe you want to wear velvet. What will make velvet more LOUD? Velvet in a bright/saturated color, or crushed velvet which is shinier. For stuff like this having it as an inner layer item can feel safer, i.e. velvet top under a more regular cardigan or blazer.
Leveling Up Looks
On the flip side, a key item and some subtle accessories can make a necessarily low-key look feel witchier, especially if the base is monochrome black/gray (see the office-friendly look).
For fantasy-inspired looks like these, I find that avoiding super common casual pieces like jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts (especially more than one at the same time) helps emphasize the “otherness” / less pedestrian aspect of the concept.
If you use more common items, you probably want at least one statement piece of core clothing + accessories to balance it out. E.g. a fitted black thin knit + black jeans + black loafers/flats/boots is just an all black ~minimal chic~ look, but use a drapey cardigan and crystal necklace or more overtly witchy shoes, and you’re leveled up.
A note on hats
If you don’t normally wear hats, that can easily push something into uncomfortably costumey territory. But it’s also the easiest way to take a more generic look to more witchy. The tip to make sure to wear 2-3 items that are slightly louder is particularly relevant here.
I find that wide brimmed hats tend to work well in outfits where there is a fair amount of volume. They’ll stick out less when balanced by a skirt or voluminous pants than if you wear them with a fitted top and skinny pants.
Hats that aren’t knit hats or baseball / sporty hats can often read as a bit old fashioned, so pairing them with a base outfit that has more formal or vintage inspired elements will feel more cohesive.
If foregoing a hat, boho (e.g. aged silver, crystals) or antique style (Victorian memento mori anyone?) jewelry can take any basic black look to witchy.
Tip: if you’re using Pinterest to brainstorm, take a moment ask yourself if the outfit photo you’re about to save feels witchy because of the outfit is intrinsically witchy or because of the photo styling or simply because it’s nested between many aesthetic “flavor photos” and merely doesn’t stick out from them.
Character Inspired Looks
For specific character-based looks, think about what other elements to emphasize that will bring the essential but non-witch elements in. E.g. in a Hogwarts student look, you could add pieces that have become school-wear tropes like headbands, striped crew socks, or pleated skirts. If you’re trying to copy a specific character a la disneybounding, what is the color/cut of their costume’s signature piece?
If you’re trying to distill a particular style from a movie, I find that searching for the movie + “costume design” will often turn up interviews with the costume designer or just a really nice breakdown by a fan, and they conveniently point out all the key elements of the movie/characters’ style! For example: Practical Magic, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The important thing is to search “costume design” and not “costume”, the latter which tends to turn up Halloween costumes.
I don’t like that I feel that I have to say this, but some younger users do periodically seem to be unsure about this on reddit: IF IT’S ACTUALLY THAT COLD/HOT OUT, DRESS FOR THAT FIRST AND STYLE SECOND. If you need to wear a waterproof parka and lug-soled boots, so be it. Wear your witch look for your indoor layers. If you’re gonna be outside for prolonged periods in 110F heat, don’t wear head-to-toe black.
That being said, some things to consider (really though, all the weather related things are generic tips and not anything specific to witchery)
- Nails and makeup: black nails, maybe find a nice spiderweb stamp plate or do some celestial nail art, try a vampy dark lip or an unconventional eyeshadow color.
- For cold weather: try all the layering tricks to increase the range of temps you can wear lighter items in.
- Get thermal tops and tights (specifically tights that are sold as thermals, like the heattech line at Uniqlo). Layer thermal tights under leggings and then wear your skirt over that.
- Wear a scarf and hat to keep the heat in around your head. Go for more chunky textured knits. Paired with lace-up boots in a mostly black outfit will feel marginally witchier.
- If you usually wear the same sporty ankle socks year round, try some thicker wool-blend or hiking socks to make thinner boots toastier.
- Wool outerwear instead of puffy outerwear (only down to whatever temp that works for you)
- For hot weather :
- Use breathable fabrics like linen or cotton. Avoid polyester unless it’s specifically some kind of practical travel/activewear fabric. Does it say “crepe” or “silky” but it’s polyester? Probably not gonna be a good time.
- Avoid very fitted items. Given the lack of easy access to quality summer fabrics, tropical summer is probably not as suited to your tailored Victorian mourning inspired outfit ideas than it is to something more breezy and bohemian. (Though, with some planning, you can make surprising leaps from starting concept to implementation, a la Victorian Tea Party, but Make it Athleisure. Definitely takes more time though.)
Again, I believe most people know this, but it really is a concern that comes up regularly from users in FFA so: if part of your job is wearing a literal uniform, safety gear, or emphasizes adhering to a strict dress code, leave your creative outfits that express ~who you really are inside~ for the weekend.
That said, since you’re probably just doing this for fun, there are lots of subtle ways you can reference the aesthetic which can make you enjoy your outfit more, even if it doesn’t absolutely scream “yes my personal style is WitCHy~~” to the general populace. Shoes and jewelry over a black/white/gray base are usually a good place to start. For example, oxfords with a pointier toe, monkstrap shoes or pointy flats with strappy detailing.
These are some outfits which get me in the Halloween spirit but I’m also happy to use as non-costume wear (after spewing out this whole essay, gotta walk the walk). There is some variety, but this is limited by my personal style, lifestyle (i.e. none of it is in the formal end of bizcaz or for suited for freezing temperatures) and wardrobe (I’m not very advanced at layering / tend to avoid that for my everyday outfits). The Resources section will include some pointers to a variety of other bloggers who do more witchy styles.
My outfits tend to use shoes as a key piece for the look. It tends to get windy where I am, and I find getting wide brimmed hats to stay on often not worth the trouble. I have a small collection of jewelry with nature motifs or in a more antiqued style that I usually throw on with any of these. They don’t show up at a distance, but I like the idea of having details that support the look at different scales.
Classic (smock dress)
This is probably the most ISO standard witch casual look I have. Black sack dress with a rough fabric belt + lace-up pointed toe boots, a classic. To add some flair to this outfit, I like to pair it with patterned fishnets. These are an item that can definitely lean costumey, but I find that pairing it with longer skirts and outfits which have less of a party vibe feel more wearable.
I also usually wear this with a necklace and this crossbody to break up the shape of the dress and distribute the small details of interest into the top part of the look.
While I find the mori look endearing, it’s just way too much layering for my lifestyle. HOWEVER I was really happy to discover that I can imitate the overall feel of that using a tiered dress with the layers built in.
The snake tights and purse and the patent leather add a bit of edge to an otherwise soft and girly look.
Feelin a bit Kiki’s Delivery Service here with the short swingy dress + headband too.
This one has a grandma’s couch botanical print which felt very mowhich I paired with an owl necklace and claw earrings. Neither of them show up at a distance but I find that multiple small details like that are what make outfits particular fun to wear for me.
I don’t really have a great name for this sort of style, other than it incorporates whatever currently trendy silhouette there is and drenches it in fall fabrics and colors, and then adds a hat. In 2010, I almost certainly would have done this with a skater skirt.
Pointed toe boots + the hat + dark lace add some classic but low-key witchy elements, while the pop of orange makes it feel a bit less costumey to me.
Normally I’m not into sleeves hitting at the exact same line as the waistband, but here since the blouse is more of an overlay and has loose sleeves, it has almost a mini cape effect, and the lines of the inner layer keep the look structured.
Ministry of Magic
@nitrochique commented that it looked like I was on my way to work at the Ministry of Magic in this which is honestly one of my favorite sartorial complements I’ve ever gotten.
Here the base outfit is pretty generically vintage inspired with the full skirt silhouette and structured fabrics, but the drapey asymmetrical coat is the key piece. Keeping a tight color palette and a more structured vintage style bag add to the storybook sort of vibe, similar to the costuming in the Fantastic Beasts movies.
Low-key Hogwarts Student
I wore this back on September 30 for #BackToHogwarts day which was conveniently on a weekend. I ended up adding striped gray crew socks and a snake brooch after taking the photo but didn’t have time to re-photograph everything.
I mostly approached this by sticking to the classic Slytherin palette and adding school uniform sorts of elements like the headband + cardigan. Pleather + docs so I didn’t feel like I was actually 11.
My example of a simple office friendly outfit using one feature item (the shoes) over a neutral palette and a lot of small details. I’m wearing four antique style silver rings and claw earrings though they did not really show up.
Other details here: I went with a more textured classic sweater. I wanted to feel a little less sleek office-chic that way. Due to their simplicity and lack of visible zipper/magnet fastening, I find that envelope purses/clutches fit the theme well. (This one is a convertible clutch/purse.) I went with pleated “peg pants” trouser style vs fitted ponte pants to complement the chunky sweater.
But really this outfit is like 90% shoes.
I work in a super casual office, but check out Adina from the Blue Collar Red Lipstick blog for office-dressy witchy looks. Lots of blazers and dressier fabrics. I believe she works in law, but not in a role that requires a very conservative look.
Minimal / All Out
Okay so this is not something I would wear even to a casual office. But I’m at the point now where I give few enough fucks that I’ll wear this on a grocery run or to a weekend activity like going to a museum.
Handkerchief hems are one of the elements that I always think of for this style. On the left the dress is really minimal but the movement and almost distressed effect from the hem add a spooky vibe when coupled with the color.
And here with the jacket open. (It’s from Free People and I’m wearing a small, but I’m usually a US size 8). I don’t usually shop on there because there isn’t a physical store near my house and their sizing is whack, but I got this when I was traveling to Portland where was a brick and mortar store.
I usually try to pair it with skirts that are more distressed or ruffled and have a lot of texture, so the transition to the jacket is less harsh.
Phrases that tend to return witchy-looking items when searched for in online shops, especially when paired with colorway filtering:
- wide-brimmed felt hat
- pointed-toe shoes/boots
- cuban heel
- victorian / granny boot
- “vintage” / “vintage inspired”
- handkerchief hem
- smock dress
- waterfall cardigan
- duster / longline cardigan
- rouleau buttons
- boho style > filter by black/gray
- cloak / drapey coat
- distressed / raw hem
- asymmetric tunic (great for layering styles)
Shopping aggregators like google’s shopping tab or Lyst can help when tracking down particularly specific things.
Etsy is great for more literal or outlandish pieces.
Kitschier Halloween stuff tends to pop up seasonally e.g. on Modcloth. Lots of great “ugly sweater” type holiday pieces on Ebay/Poshmark.
Particularly if you go a more boho/layering-centered route, this is a great style to build up from thrifted items and a few choice accessories.
Some brands to check out
Personally almost all my items are from generic brands like ASOS or Uniqlo, but I like to see more curated stores for inspiration.
- Free People / Anthropologie (these have a lot of bohemian style items)
- I do declare (I haven’t purchased from here, but have heard that while pricey the quality is nice)
- Ovate (generally heard good things about here)
- Sisters of the Black Moon (According to the only review I’ve ever seen, their stuff is hit or miss and a lot of it is cut for taller folks. I’ve personally always thought of them as purely inspiration because I feel like most of their stuff is easy to find elsewhere.)
- All Saints (I don’t think this is like, fancy couture, but I’ve always lumped it more in with designer stuff than indie or mall brands)
- Rick Owens
- Helmut Lang
- Alexander McQueen
Sock Dreams has a huge selection for socks/tights. They even have a Halloween/Witchy filter! Their sizing descriptions and reviews are very helpful.
Generally, if you find some brand that is your #aesthetic, check out which brands they follow. There are probably lots of similar ones there.
Search google images/pinterest/instagram/tumblr for “Victorian mourning dress”
Wikimedia generally https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Witches_in_art is great for getting a sense of what the tropes were historically. Note that you will encounter less PC images so if you aren’t feeling like dealing with that, I’d recommend searching Pinterest for “witch illustration” or “witches in paintings” instead of trawling wikimedia.
- alaskan weredork (also has long form blog)
- bcrladinaj (also has long form blog)
- quadrato boutique crew
Here are a few that I’ve made. At this point they are not super tightly curated any more, but still fun.
What if I want to dress like this ALL the time?
What if I don’t?
If you don’t want to dedicate your whole wardrobe or even a sub-capsule to it, but feel the itch to dress witch seasonally, I think having an outerwear + shoe combo where the pieces otherwise can fit into your look is a pretty versatile way to witchify any outfit.
Finally, the end.
Do you have any inspo that you’re partial to? Any particular sub-genres of the style that you’re currently digging? A specific item that you like to wear if you’re feeling like bringing a witchy aesthetic?
Image by @tincanforest