Fashion in Folk Horror – Sacrificial Maidens and Ritual Robes

One of the most striking features of Ari Aster’s 2019 folk horror film Midsommar is its costumes: the embroidered white robes worn by its secluded community, the Harga.

The white dress has a long history within folk horror. White dresses feature prominently in classic folk horror films The Blood on Satan’s Claw (Piers Haggard, 1971) and The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) and are one of the most striking features of Australian folk horror Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975). This visual motif is closely associated with traditional May Day festivities, as well as with the imagery of high ritual magic. However, it also comes from a more commercial source: in the early1970s, peasant smocks and faux-Edwardian white dresses were the height of fashion.This fashion traded on images of idealised pastoral femininity and rural nostalgia that folk horror characteristically disrupts.

Drawing on images from 1970s fashion magazines, this talk traces the uneasy relationship between fashion and folk horror. It shows how the costumes of folk horror films enabled the critique of idealised pastoral femininity and rural nostalgia even as they provided a language and imagery that informed fashion editorial and advertising of the time. Finally, the talk draws parallels between the fashions of the 1970s and the way that the ‘cottagecore’ trend accompanies a new wave of folk horror films in the twenty-first century.


Catherine Spooner is Professor of Literature and Culture at Lancaster University. She has published widely on Gothic in Victorian and contemporary literature, film and popular culture, with a particular emphasis on fashion. Her seven books include Fashioning Gothic Bodies, Contemporary Gothic and Post-millennial Gothic: Comedy, Romance and the Rise of Happy Gothic, which was awarded the 2019 Allan Lloyd Smith Memorial Prize. Her most recent book, The Cambridge History of the Gothic Volume 3:

The Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries, co-edited with Dale Townshend, was published in September 2021. She is currently writing a book on the cultural history of the white dress, to be published by Bloomsbury in 2024, and a folk horror novel set in Lancashire.

Curated and Hosted by

Dr. Amy Hale is an Atlanta based writer, curator and critic, ethnographer and folklorist speaking and writing about esoteric history, art, culture, women and Cornwall. She is the author of Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of the Fern Loved Gully (Strange Attractor 2020) and is currently working on several Colquhoun related manuscripts. She is also the editor of Essays on Women in Western Esotericism: Beyond Seeresses and Sea Priestesses (Palgrave 2022). She has contributed gallery texts and essays for a number of institutions including Tate, Camden Arts Centre, Art UK, Arusha Galleries, Heavenly Records and she is a curator and host for the Last Tuesday Society lecture series.

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Mar 12th 2024 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm

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