Type ‘witchy vibes’ into google, and about 143,000 results come up. Admittedly some of them seem to be related to a racehorse of that moniker (what a name). However, a fair few are also devoted to the specific ‘vibes’ associated with all things pagan, magical and vaguely subversive: whether it’s hazy-grained images of tarot cards on Tumblr, or cackling girls dressed in floaty fabrics. I still find it a kind of funny phrase though. Why do those two words nestle alongside each other so often? Why is it 'vibes' rather than 'looks' or 'aesthetic' or anything else similar?
Especially when it comes to fashion too, ‘the witch’ seems a kind of popular figurehead who pops up (or should that be swoops in?) every few seasons. I still recall with a particular clarity Luella’s AW08 collection, with crimped hair aplenty and the odd pointy hat in sight. It stuck out to me hugely, perhaps tapping in to my own childhood inclinations – harking back to a point where every Halloween I faithfully dressed as an ever-more elaborate witch, with swathes of lace and plenty of purple lipstick. I’d cast spells, hang fake spiders' webs everywhere and go trick-or-treating with friends.
Of course the fashion version of ‘the witch’ is often little more than shorthand for velvet, tulle, dark satin, and the odd scrawled symbol (one which the designer may or, as is often the case, may not have researched to any great length). Perhaps some crazy hair too. The odd nod to Kate Bush. Black layers. All the black layers. Maybe a Gothic outdoor location, all crumbling stones and windswept scenery. The witch is transformed into something sexy and gorgeous and usually all slender and young – perhaps vaguely threatening, but only within certain boundaries. More often than not, this is a conventionally attractive incarnation of the witch. No warts or straggly grey locks here. Arguably little of the outspokenness and independence that originally made ‘the witch’ such a figure of mistrust throughout much of history.
If you want a far more comprehensive overview of pop culture, sex appeal, and the threat of ‘the witch’ though, go and read Zoe Coleman’s fabulous article here. It’s enviably good, and pretty much includes everything you’d want to know, moving from the Salem witch trials to Disney villains to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Incidentally, it’s published on a website called The Coven – an ever-so-ace website with the tagline ‘must be the season of the witch.’ All the articles are whip-smart great, their ethos being this:
‘The coven has long been a sacred space for women to do and say thing outside of the norm, and we’re not particularly interested in the norm… We want to look at serious things without being dour and to look at frothy things without being insubstantial; to publish fashion, beauty, travel and food writing as much as criticism or a meaty interview.’
I love any kind of space setting out to be embracing, challenging, funny and thoughtful all at the same time – a space where as you’re browsing you can excitedly agree with one article, disagree with the next, and be jealous you didn't write the third. They’re tip-top. Go have a look. Also talking sexuality and gender, I recently read Margaret Atwood’s NY Times essay on John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick. As with many of her essays, it’s a great mix of witty and insightful. To give a small taste:
‘Mr. Updike takes ''sisterhood is powerful'' at its word and imagines it literally. What if sisterhood really is powerful? What will the sisters use their ''powers'' for? And what - given human nature, of which Mr. Updike takes not too bright a view - what then? Luckily these witches are only interested in the ''personal,'' rather than the ''political''; otherwise they might have done something unfrivolous, like inventing the hydrogen bomb.’
This been a hop, skip and skim across the first few things that came to mind when I thought of witches – little more than a list of the odd thing recently remembered or stumbled across. There's so much else to explore and think about and comment on. But that’s partly because the history, symbolism and cultural significance of the witch is one of those MASSIVE subjects that takes up book after book. I think I need to go and read a few more of them, maybe appropriately dressed in this ever-so-witchy, wide-sleeved black dress…
These photos were taken by Paulina Choh, who is a whizz with her camera - previously taking these images of me scampering around in a silver dress. The black dress worn here was bought from Oxfam. I snapped it up the minute I saw it. The combination of crocheted bodice and wide sleeves was too delicious, despite its entire impracticality for anything other than photo-shoots. All the jewellery is vintage.