We have a new movie to add to the fashion-forward horror cinema canon. Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is now in theaters. Set in the fashion world, Refn’s film finds an aspiring model trying to make her way in beauty-obsessed Los Angeles where the women around her will do whatever it takes to get ahead. The film amassed a following well before its release, thanks to Refn’s stunning visuals and teasers of lead star Elle Fanning’s avant-garde costumes. She’s in good company in horror cinema, which may be one of the most underrated genres when it comes to best-dressed characters. With horror filmmakers constantly pushing limits, the genre has produced some fascinating fashions and iconic sartorial moments.
The Birds (1963)
Famed costume designer Edith Head referred to star Tippi Hedren’s suit color as “Eau de Nil” (Nile water).
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Oscar-winning Japanese costume designer Eiko Ishioka had never seen a Dracula movie before working with Coppola. The designs and custom wigs were inspired by Kabuki theater and Geisha hairstyles.
Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Brad Pitt was very vocal about how “miserable” he was on the set of Interview with the Vampire, but there’s no denying that Sandy Powell’s costumes are some of the most lavish in horror cinema.
Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
Faye Dunaway plays a high-fashion photographer known for her avant-garde sets in Eyes of Laura Mars. She also wears a cape like nobody’s business. Fashion fun fact: some prop photos were supplied by fashion icon Helmut Newton.
From Smithsonian.com on the origins of Bela Lugosi’s costume for Tod Browning’s Dracula, which established a popular part of the Dracula myth we know today:
Lugosi contributed his own flair to Dracula’s costume with the mysterious addition of an ornamental medal worn on his chest that, depending on who you ask, may or may not have been his own personal possession. . . . The origins of the medallion are, however, somewhat mysterious. It only appears in two scenes, including the first onscreen appearance of Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula (see top image). Despite its meager screen time, the medallion is Lugosi’s signature piece and has become an integral part of the visual identity of Dracula. Lugosi was allegedly buried with one version of the medal, and the other version –if it ever existed– was lost during the production of the film. For years, the medal has been the focus of speculation among Dracula fans. What did it mean? What happened to it? What did it look like? Some of that speculation has been answered with the recent release of an official replica created using new sculpts painstakingly crafted with the aid of image-enhancement and color-recovery software. Lugosi’s iconic performance and wardrobe formalized the tropes first established in the play to create the familiar image of Dracula that we know and love today.
The Company of Wolves (1984)
Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Angela Carter’s short story of the same name has several inspired fashion moments, including this scene from a wolf dinner party that fits the movie’s dreamlike visuals.
The Wicker Man (1973)
Cult leader Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) is a babely ‘70s gent in tweeds, turtlenecks, and shaggy hair. Britt Ekland’s buxom pagan barmaid Willow spends most of the movie naked, but looks summery and ready to burn Christians to a crisp in stripes.
Santa sangre (1989)
Religious cult realness and tattooed lady fashion in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film that unites cultural fables, horror, and the director’s own unique symbolism.
A German ballet academy is a front for a coven of witches, but at least everyone is impeccably dressed.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Mia Farrow’s iconic pixie cut, which displeased then husband Frank Sinatra, was designed by Vidal Sassoon (who also gets mentioned in the script). The hair stylist was flown to the set from London by director Roman Polanski to create Farrow’s new short tresses. Farrow’s dress changes as the movie progresses, becoming darker as the ordeal with her unborn child threatens to kill her.
American Psycho (2000)
Yuppie chic dominates Marry Harron’s American Psycho. Patrick Bateman is the world’s best-dressed serial killer, looking totally posh in Ferragamo and Valentino. And in case you needed more convincing, he reads and collects the Times’ Style section.
The Hunger, 1983
Academy Award-winning costume designer Milena Canonero created the retro ‘40s/’80s fashion for killer vampire couple David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger.
Fright Night (1985)
Dad sweaters with raglan sleeves never looked better than on vampy Chris Sarandon in Fright Night.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The original sweater for child murderer Freddy Krueger was red and yellow (based on the colors of Plastic Man, who could also change form like Fred), but Wes Craven wanted the colors to be the most contrasting to the human eye and changed the palette to red and green.
The Evil Dead (1981)
Bruce Campbell’s Ash makes a denim shirt look exciting, especially while fighting demons at a cabin in the woods.
Author and filmmaker Clive Barker conceived of the leather costume for Cenobite Pinhead in his movie Hellraiser from punk fashions, elements of Catholicism, and S&M nightclub style in New York City and Amsterdam. He also looked at African fetish sculptures.
Traditional early ‘60s woman on the outside, black lingerie-clad thieving bad girl on the inside, Hitchcock-style.
Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)
Udo Kier is a demented doctor in Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, directed by Paul Morrissey. His avant-garde constructivist/minimalist suits and mad scientist threads match his bizarre demeanor.
Peeping Tom (1960)
Mod style and naughty lingerie dominate Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, about a man who murders women using a camera to capture their terrified, dying facial expressions.
The Omen (1976)
Little Lord Fauntleroy creep chic.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
It’s all nerdy glasses, black leather driving gloves, and a sharp suit for a flesh-munching Johnny in George Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead.
Blood and Black Lace (1964)
Mario Bava’s influential giallo film takes place in a fashion house to die for.
Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970)
Stephen Forsyth’s glammed-out John Harrington in Mario Bava’s Hatchet for the Honeymoon is the only one who could pull off a jumpsuit like this. He’s also fond of fashion-forward belts, ascots, blazers, robes, and heavy eyeliner. The wealthy murderer loves to wear a woman’s wedding dress when he kills, but we much prefer him in this bold look.
Halloween (1978 film)
Horror’s groundbreaking final girl in Halloween, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, dresses down most of the movie, in blouses and jeans, which allows her to kick optimum Michael Myers ass.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Bell-bottoms and short shorts aren’t enough to ward off a family of cannibalistic psychopaths, but the carefree and youthful attire in Texas Chainsaw Massacre offers a juxtaposition to the grim film.
Isabelle Adjani’s blue dress in Andrzej Zulawski’s film holds up to violent full-body seizures and projectile vom.
The most famous prom getup in movie fashion history.
The Thing (1982)
Kurt Russell is bomb in a bomber in John Carpenter’s The Thing — pilot brute couture.
Vampyros Lesbos (1971)
Lesbian vampires dress better than everyone else (like Soledad Miranda). No further discussion necessary.
Dress to impress during the grossest family dinner evs.
Ms .45 (1981)
Don’t let Zoë Lund’s beret fool you — she’s not taking shit from any man. Later in Abel Ferrara’s film, she makes a nun’s habit look hot.
Debbie Harry’s sadomasochistic psychiatrist Nicki Brand is ravishing in red.
Look good while having an epic flipping breakdown in your crumbling London apartment.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Wear your best short shorts for slasher summer camp.
Daughters of Darkness (1971)
All hail Countess Bathory who slays in her scarlet gown, which she wears to seduce a newly married couple during their honeymoon at her seaside mansion.
Jack Nance’s Henry is dressed for a total meltdown, complete with electrifying hairstyle, repressed suit, and a pocket protector.
The Exorcist (1973)
Mama exorcist wearing her ’70s finest.
The Sentinel (1977)
A model moves into a Brooklyn apartment that turns out to be a gateway to hell, but at least she’s dressed nicely for the occasion.
Black Swan (2010)
Natalie Portman’s stunning Black Swan costume was a collaboration between designer Amy Westcott, fashion brand Rodarte, and director Darren Aronofsky.
Linnea Quigley’s character Trash in Dan O’Bannon’s zombie film isn’t exactly known for keeping her clothes on, but her punk style is fun while it lasts. Quigley fashion bonus: watch the actress in her horror-themed workout video for leg warmers and studded bras for days.
Requiem for a Vampire (1971)
If you’re going to get lost with your bestie in the woods where vampires dwell, wearing red knee socks and a cute vest/skirt thing helps to ease the pain.
The Craft (1996)
“We are the weirdos, mister.”
Winona Ryder’s Lydia Deetz was wearing the goth-tastic giant black hat decades before the witchy women of American Horror Story: Coven.
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Elsa Lanchester was only 5’4”, but she played a long, lean, and mean monster’s bride in James Whale’s movie (the actress wore stilts that made her 7’ tall). But the Bride’s lightning-streaked hair made the biggest fashion statement in the movie and became a recognizable pop-culture symbol.
Ripley’s utilitarian jumpsuit in Alien was totally badass and, true to her character, a refreshing change from the sexed-up costumes most women are outfitted with in horror movies.
Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)
Martine Beswick’s sometimes-male, sometimes-female fashion fits the film’s moody, gothic surroundings and gender-bending slant.
All the Colors of the Dark (1972)
You can count on any film starring Edwige Fenech to be a fashionable one, especially if it’s a giallo movie. In Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of the Dark, Fenech has some best-dressed competition in the form of her character’s sexy neighbor (Marina Malfatti), who drags Fenech’s Jane to a groovy occult ritual.
A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)
Florinda Bolkan is the fiercest Lucio Fulci leading lady in this surreal giallo where her hat/cape combo is the finest grayscale we’ve ever seen.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)
Valerie Leon plays a dual role in this Hammer Studios horror film as Margaret Fuchs and the Egyptian Queen Tera, with a costume that makes you want to bow down and worship it.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
OG — original goth.