Buffy The Vampire Slayer Fashion Roulette: “Pangs”.
Unlike other teen dramas of its time, Buffy The Vampire Slayer was never a particularly trendy television show in regard to fashion itself. There was never much rhyme or reason to why the characters wore what they did, as far as cultural signifiers go. In our world, witches might dress like earth mamas or goth girls; in the Buffyverse, witches dressed like they’d gotten lost on their way to the Renaissance Faire. In our world, the most trendy high school girls might wear the latest in mall fashion; in the Buffyverse they often looked like reject extras from the Clueless set. Some characters managed to fare somewhat well, but most characters fashion-failed miserably: not merely at looking good, but at looking current. Buffy is often memorialized for pushing the boundaries of language, but no one seems to want to talk about how it also created its own world of fashion do’s and don’t's. Which got me to thinking- what if the show’s fashion sense was just another Buffy-ism that they were way ahead of their time on? What if I look at Buffy with a critical, modern eye? Will fashionistas abound in 2010, or will it be a truly hilarious spectacle? Hence, Buffy Fashion Roulette is born.
How the game works: I choose an episode of Buffy, pore over it carefully, and judge compelling examples of the characters’ fashion by today’s standards. At the end of every episode, fashion winners and losers are nominated in a poll. The winners are announced in a future entry.
The rules: I only have three so far, although that is subject to change. Uniforms (work, military, etc) do not count. Neither do “period pieces” (i.e flashbacks to Ye Olde England, Ireland, China, etc) or costumes (sorry, Halloween episodes fans). Most of the dressed monsters on the show wore regular clothing, so their wardrobes are up for debate just like anyone else’s.
The first episode I’ll be dissecting is “Pangs”, which is the show’s only Thanksgiving-centric episode. Although the Buffy is no stranger to being racially problematic, this episode goes above and beyond in its offensiveness, presenting us with a savage, vengeful villian who is a demon/ghost/spirit from the Chumash tribe. (The Chumash must be a pretty peaceful people if they didn’t burn Joss Whedon’s office to the ground after watching this episode, so nuts to you, Buffy.) Alas, the politics are another discussion for another day; let’s get down to the fashion, shall we? (Ed note: that last sentence was an extremely odd one to write.)
As we open this episode, Buffy, Willow and Anya are watching Xander and his construction crew break ground on a new building at UC Sunnydale. Two of the three female characters are sporting ankle-length skirts,which reminds me that, along with being the critical season where Willow’s hair finally starts to get itself in order, season 4 is totally the season of the ankle-length skirt. I remember it well. There must have been at least one in every episode, although I don’t recall that 1999-2000 were the real-life years of the ankle-length skirt. (You may correct me if I’m wrong about that.)
Willow is sporting a purple paisley blouse and her long skirt is light blue. She is wearing a beaded necklace that looks like something I would have made in Bible camp, but her hair is almost redeemable; the cut is acceptable, but she has styled it into a slightly mullet-like coif. (It’s alright, Willow. You’re getting there.) Buffy fares no better, in an oddly-patterned shirt, a long brown skirt (corduroy?) and a Clint Black-style short, black cowboy hat (was this style of cowboy hat ever a cool look on anyone?). Her hair looks alright- a decent attempt to grow out her bangs- but you can’t see it under All That Hat. Yet it is Anya who fares worst of all, sporting… well, I’ll just refer you to the patchwork nightmare that is exhibit A.
The next day, Anya comes to visit Xander before he heads off to work, a task that he won’t be able to complete. Too bad he got that serious case of syphilis from the secret underground mission! While Xander is exempt from criticism due to wearing work clothes, Anya is not. Which is a good thing because wow, is her outfit ever a doozy. I refer you to exhibit B.
Seriously Anya, what is up with the printed pants thing you’ve had going on all episode long? And the gauzy red top with the midriff-baring shirt beneath? My god. Also, you can’t see it in this shot but she’s wearing some weird clogs, I think. It’s hard to tell. Back in the day, I always figured that Anya would be the one with the timeless fashion. Now I’m starting to think otherwise. Hopefully this is just an off episode for her.
Later that night Buffy and Willow sneak into the cultural center to investigate the curator’s murder and take the evidence back to Giles’ house. Once again, the ladies are wearing long skirts. Willow’s is pink floral, way too matronly-looking for an 18 year old. She pairs that with a sweater with a peace sign on it. Basically, her outfit would look awesome on a 7 year old girl or on a mom at an anti-war rally, but it’s not working for Willow. Buffy fares a little better, wearing a slightly draped, beachy-looking brown shirt that ties in the back; a simple dark sweater goes over that. Her long skirt is plaid, although sadly it is not the hipster plaid of modern times. She’s got a very studious-looking leather knapsack to go with her ensemble. Her outfit is very safe. Giles is still transitioning from tweedy librarian clothes to around-the-house gear in season 4, so his outfit is boring and not worth mentioning (although I do notice that the corduroy on his pants has an exceedingly wide rib).
Oh yeah, and Angel shows up wearing the same outfit he always wears. Does he dry clean that leather duster?
Ooh look, it’s Spike and Harmony! Spike is wearing Spike clothes (and his duster is probably even smellier than Angel’s). So far, Harmony’s outfit is the least-bad-by-today’s-standards. The colored fishnets and pink skirt are not bad at all; I am pretty much digging the buckles on the side of the skirt. But the top is wicked dated- it’s one of those sleeveless, ribbed, widely-striped atrocities that were so popular ten years ago. Pair it with a pair of purple suede ankle-strapped chunky heels and a hairdo that consists of six different ponytails in alternately colored rubber bands a la a 90′s kid’s orthodontic elastics at Christmas time, and you have a big fashion faux pas. It’s okay though. We still love you, Harm.
Hey, it’s Thanksgiving! I hate that holiday, especially when cultural stereotypes in ridiculous outfits come to murder the nice whiteys who are merely trying to enjoy their Pilgrim meal in peace. Fortunately there’s a lot of Scooby Fashion Fail to distract us from the boring and offensive plot.
Buffy is wearing acceptable plain brown pants, but she has combined them with a very wench-y looking top, making her look like a less comically busty version of the St. Pauli Girl. Willow is wearing brown corduroy Mom Jeans and one of her trademark fuzzy sweaters, a mustard and orange-striped one. (Poor Willow. Were fuzzy sweaters ever a trademark for anyone besides her?) Season 4 was the penultimate season of her fuzzy sweater phase, which fizzled out at the end of season 5. Buffy’s hairstyle is dated, and Willow just has regular old lesbian hair (FORESHADOWING), although I’ve been noticing throughout the episode that her color job is nice. Giles, fortunately, is wearing a perfectly respectable grey sweater with dark pants combination. It’s a bit dated and the sweater is slightly ill-fitting, but he gets a pass because, as you recall, he’s still de-tweeding.
Xander also gets a criticism pass, because he is still suffering from that nasty, supernatural case of syphilis. But Anya… oh, Anya. She is wearing a silk flowered blouse, which, despite being a fashion no-no in modern times, was all the rage back then. However, she has coupled it with a pair of black pants that has floral silk cuffs, and the color and print are not quite the same as the top she is wearing. This is the kind of matchy-matchy outfit a mother wears to her toddler’s beauty pageant, not something Anya should wear to Thanksgiving dinner. To top it all off, Anya’s hair and makeup look very dressed-down Mad Men and almost give us something to cheer about, but her beaded headband most certainly does not- and thus ruins any chance she had of not looking like a complete disaster.
Spike comes to the door for help post-chip implant and he is sporting a raggedy blanket, which may be the best outfit anyone is wearing to this party. Other than Spike, another appearance by Angel, and the Evil, Savage Native Americans Who Morph Into Animals When You Piss Them Off, that’s the end of the “Pangs” fashion parade. I learned something today: if you watch Buffy despite the fashion, it stands the test of time on many levels. However, if you’re watching for the fashion, it is a pretty miserable task.
So friends, what do you think? Does anyone see some stylishness here that I am missing? Who fared best? Who horrified you the most? Vote below, and discuss in the comments! Eventually, based on individual episode results, I’ll crown a winner and a loser of Buffy Fashion Roulette.