There are many reasons to celebrate Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Alas, fashion isn’t one of them. Even so, the archetypical nature of the Scooby Gang ensured that each character’s personality was evident in their choice of attire. From frosted tips to Steve Madden boots, the best and the worst of ’90s fashion was on display.
Giles is the epitome of nerd chic. While older mentor figures of other fandoms draped themselves in robes, Giles’ armor was a three-piece suit. His timeless nature deflects any real sense of period, allowing him to avoid “The West Wing Effect” and look like he’s wearing his clothing, rather than drowning in it. Aside from some wide lapels, Giles wardrobe fits right in today. Tweed may be the armor of the Watchers Council, but Giles projects an inner rebelliousness that manifests in some ridiculous choices in tie patterns. And look at that hair. Nobody’s rocked tall hair that well since Egon.
Up until Willow finally jumped on the bronze lipstick train in Season 2, Sunnydale‘s resident witch frequently rocked the ’90s nerd standby of colored overalls. Whether it was over a thick sweater or a flower-patterned blouse, Willow’s overalls came in all different colors and were consistently three sizes too large for a girl her size. She also wasn’t afraid to accessorize, frequently sporting a choker, distinctive earrings, fuzzy hats, etc. While Xander’s habit of layering could be viewed as protection, Willow’s questionable concept of what garment could be worn under the other illustrates her scattershot nature.
Imagine a man clothed only in parachutes. Baggy doesn’t do it justice because nothing Xander wore ever fit. His light-hearted nature manifested in patterns of all types. It takes a lot of effort to look like you’re not putting in a lot of effort. Xander understood this implicitly, which also helped to illuminate his relentless need for acceptance. As someone who was never truly comfortable with himself, Xander’s choice of layers served as billowy armor. Another Xander mainstay was the bowling shirt. A byproduct of the swing dance revival, Xander had a red satin version that made multiple appearances.
The consistency of Cordelia’s fashion choices befits her status as the most fashion-conscious of the Scooby Gang. Her preppy, schoolgirl ensembles call to mind another ’90s icon, Cher from Clueless. She’d occasionally leave the knotted sweaters at home when accompanying the gang on patrol, only to transform completely into an off-brand Lara Croft. Her choice of solid colors served as a confident contrast to Xander’s pattern bonanza.
There’s no more distinctive Buffy ensemble than her signature uniform: short skirt, high boots, and giant cross. While some superheroes favored armor to protect against attacks, the Slayer‘s fashion emphasized mobility. Floral print was big in the ’90s, something Buffy embraced with a distinctive daisy-patterned tank top. She also wasn’t afraid to latch onto the fashion choices of her peers. Willow’s overalls, Cordelia’s schoolgirl skirts, nothing was off limits. Along with the clothes, Buffy’s hair went through more phases than the moon. Butterfly clips were a near constant, especially in the updo era of early Season 3. Pastel nail polish was another constant that Buffy carried well into her college years. Regardless of how many vamps she dusted, viewers were assured that Buffy’s manicures would remain intact.
Fashion may not be an important part of the various Buffy the Vampire Slayer plotlines, but it’s an important aspect of the audience’s ability to identify with the Scooby Gang themselves. Beyond even cosplay, fans could identify with their favorite character through their clothing choices alone. Each of the leads appealed to a different archetype, which helps to ensure that Buffy fandom thrives well into the 21st century.