Fashioning Horror: Pt. 1 Women in White

Halloween is coming! Horror films have given us some of the most iconic images of evil that ever wore clothes. Since fashion and film (and character) have been a recurring theme on this blog, I thought it would be fun to take a quick look through some iconic horror costumes.

Engraving of Wilkie Collins' Woman in White
1860 Engraving for Wilkie Collins’ novel

Women in White: ghosts, madwomen, and brides

The women in white of our imaginations come from two Victorian novel sources: Wilkie Collins’ “Woman in White” (1859) and Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham, from “Great Expectations” (1861). In Wilkie Collins’ novel, his woman in white is a mentally ill woman who insists on wearing white. Her first appearance begins the tale of tragedy and betrayal. She appears at crucial times in the book, wandering in the wild and giving scandalous information about other key characters.


This has just been remade into a mini-series:

Boston Globe review of 2018 “Woman in White” miniseries

Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham in 1946 film
Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham in 1946 film



Miss Havisham was a sad woman in the Dickens story who was jilted on her wedding day 40 years ago and sits haunted in the cobwebbed remains of the wedding feast, still wearing her white wedding gown. This cultural theme is so influential that it has been reborn as runway style and publicity stunt.

Toast blog’s short Havisham history

Forbes 2011 article on Miss Havisham as fashion muse

“Great Expectations”, released 1946


Miss Havishams ride London’s Tube in honor of new Great Expectations series in May 2014





The five “Miss Havishams” sent out as a publicity stunt for British Drama’s 2011 mini-series “Great Expectations”.





Movie poster of Frankenstein and bride, 1931



Since the Victorian era, white has also been the color of brides, which brought it into collision (collusion?) with the horror film early. In the 1931 film “Frankenstein”, his bride wore the ethereal but slinky wedding dress popular that decade, sealing the waifish look as mysterious and dangerous simultaneously.




Publicity still of Fay Wray in King Kong, 1933
Publicity still of Fay Wray in “King Kong”, 1933



The 1930s brought a bunch of memorable movie monsters. King Kong’s beautiful abductee Fay Wray is remembered best as a woman in white, screaming and struggling in the beast’s giant paw, from the film “King Kong” in 1933.




Elsa Lancaster as the Bride of Frankenstein, 1935
Elsa Lancaster as the “Bride of Frankenstein”, 1935



Frankenstein’s bride was remade especially for him in the 1935 film “Bride of Frankenstein”, starring Elsa Lancaster in the title role. Her image of perplexed innocence, swathed in white draperies, with a very tall hairstyle has evolved as an iconic cultural meme.


Sadie Frost in the 1992 “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”



The horror of becoming a monster is a continuing theme as well, seen here as the Lucy Westenra character in the 1992 “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. The costumes for this film were designed by Eiko Ishioka and remain some of the most lush fantasy images of feminine evil and evolution ever created.





Alexander McQueen manipulated these associations when he projected a hologram of model Kate Moss surrounded in ghostly white (couture gown) draperies into his Autumn/Winter 2006 collection. (see video opener)

The “Woman in White” continues to be a theme of haunting and loss, much beloved in fantasy and horror stories of all kinds. Here is a brief history that ends with the character’s use in the TV show “Supernatural” in 2005.

Tune in next week for the Women in Black…



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One Response to Fashioning Horror: Pt. 1 Women in White

  1. Very interesting article. Shared it to my followers. Happy Halloween

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