Witchcore: ‘If you want to wear a taxidermy owl on your shoulder, this is your moment’

Leah Harper
·5 min read

This year’s Halloween celebrations may be scaled back considerably, but they still have a dress code. It is called “witchcore” and, while the term may be unfamiliar, you have probably seen its influence. It is there in the frilly bell-sleeved dresses sold everywhere from the Vampire’s Wife to Topshop and in the rising popularity of tarot cards, crystals, dried flowers, pentagrams and mushrooms, all of which are key witchcore components.

“Witchcore” is a term coined by the TikTok generation, among whom there is a sizeable proportion of self-identifying witches, congregating online (the witchesoftiktok hashtag has 1.1bn views and counting; witchcore has 15.7m). They share everything from spell tutorials and witchcraft memes to occult rituals that are often rooted in self-care: moon baths and shadow work prompts are both popular. In the past few months alone, “witchtok” has been accused of having a hand in the fly that landed on Mike Pence’s head and caused much distraction during the US vice-presidential debate, protecting the Black Lives Matter movement and hexing the moon.

In fashion, as this nightmarish year draws to a close, a sense of dark, witchy glamour – and wiccan mystique – has found a broader audience. The Vampire’s Wife, a cult favourite on the red carpet, launched its considerably more affordable collaboration with the high-street retailer H&M last week. The collection, filled with black lace, velvet and capes, sold out in hours. The idea of witchcore as a kind of Halloween-adjacent dressing – a way in which, with parties cancelled, the spirit of the season may live on – is also reflected elsewhere on the high street. At Topshop, for example, black or green velvet suits sit alongside black suede ankle boots.

Urban Outfitters, which, with its chakra crystals and astrology books, has long catered to a witchcore-curious customer, is now offering silver moon earrings and “tattoo-inspired tarot cards” as Christmas gifts. Psychic Sisters, founded by the Kardashian-endorsed clairvoyant Jayne Wallace, continues to offer everything from incense to sage sticks and aura oil at Selfridges and Asos, while the witchcraft magazine Sabat stylishly fuses witchcraft and feminism and sells tarot cards and witch-themed pins and T-shirts. Meanwhile, on the catwalk, Raf Simons launched his first official womenswear collection with a video of models in long skirts and turtlenecks crawling through yellow moss in a sparse woodland set to a haunting soundtrack.

This week also saw the release of Robert Zemeckis’s The Witches, with Anne Hathaway opting for sophisticated over spooky in red lipstick, evening gloves and numerous bouffant wigs as the Grand High Witch – a character already imbued with much glamour thanks to witchcore poster-girl Anjelica Huston’s turn in the role 30 years ago. Costume designer Joanna Johnston was inspired by 60s style icons such as Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, as well as the supermodels of the day, according to Vogue. In addition, a sequel to The Craft – centred on a group of teenage witches sporting grungy dresses, kilts, crucifixes and chokers – hit screens this week, while the ever-witchy Stevie Nicks recently returned after six years with a new single (the video for which was apparently completed during a full moon).

Anne Hathaway in the remake of The Witches
All dressed up: Anne Hathaway (and familiar) in the remake of The Witches. Photograph: Landmark Media/Alamy

Fiona Lensvelt, one half of the literary tarot cabaret and consultancy Litwitchure, says she knows the “witchcore” aesthetic immediately. “Designers such as Susie Cave of the Vampire’s Wife and Mary Benson are bringing back that gothic aesthetic in a supremely elegant, luxurious way for a new generation,” she says.

“I think that Brexit, Trump and Covid have all had their part to play in creating a climate where people feel able to tap into their less rational, more intuitive sides,” says Jennifer Cownie, Litwitchure’s other half. “I now leave my flat about twice a week, so go big or go home, surely? Social and cultural expectations about how we dress are being relaxed so if you feel like a witch on the inside, I reckon there’s never been a better time to look like that on the outside. If you want to wear a taxidermy owl on your shoulder to do the shopping then, truly, this is your moment.”

Gabriela Herstik, a witch and the author of Craft: How to Be a Modern Witch, agrees. “While we don’t have the opportunity to express ourselves outside of our homes, there’s a comfort in wearing something that makes you feel connected to your magic,” she says. “Things like TikTok and Instagram pick up the pace of this self-expression.”

While TikTok’s place as “the home of modern witchcraft” may have been only recently cemented, fashion’s love-affair with the occult goes back many years. “Fashion is witchcraft,” says Herstik. “There is a tangible shift when you put on an outfit. I feel like a lot of designers are already playing with motifs that are central to witchcraft. One of Vivienne Westwood’s first collections was called Witches, and Alexander McQueen had a collection inspired by one of his relatives who was hanged during the Salem witch trials.”

Lensvelt says she has been delighted that many designers have created clothes inspired by the dark arts. “I’m thinking of Dior’s line inspired by the Motherpeace tarot deck, Ganni’s Sun, Moon & You celestial collection and Clio Peppiatt’s tarot jackets. What’s not to love about the aesthetics of the tarot and witchcraft? Rich in symbolism and macabre to the core, there’s so much to play with,” she says. “Everyone’s a bit witchy these days.”