One of the many things we love about Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the way the characters evolve over time. Buffy, Willow, and Xander in particular, each grow and change drastically from teenagers in season one to young adults in season seven. Their inner growth is expressed outwardly through their fashion. While Buffy’s style has a lot of ebb and flow tied to her emotional state, and Xander’s style mostly conveys his lack of growth, or the kind of growth he wishes he could experience, Willow’s style evolution is the most linear and the most dramatic, revealing her changing perception of herself. Each of the three deserve their own article, and this one is dedicated to Willow.
The first time we meet Willow she’s wearing an ill-fitted short muted plaid dress layered over white tights and a long sleeved collared white shirt. In the moment she’s introduced to Buffy, Cordelia cruelly insults this “softer side of Sears” look. Willow doesn’t stand up for herself, but meekly replies that her mom picked out this outfit for her. We all know Willow is a uniquely bright, funny, and kind person, but that’s not how she sees herself. All these positive qualities are causes for ridicule at Sunnydale High, so instead of using her clothes to express herself like Buffy and Cordelia do, she uses her clothes to hide herself. Letting her mom pick out her outfits means she’s uninterested in proactively presenting her inner self to her peers. Throughout season one, Willow’s clothes are loosely-fitted, literally hiding her body, and are eclectic to the point of being completely devoid of personality.
Early in season two, at a school event that would not fly today where everyone dresses like someone from a different culture, Willow wears an enormous fluffy snowsuit, again, expressing her desire to disappear into her clothes. However, this outfit also expresses a desire to earnestly portray her assigned culture, and it is this earnestness that causes Oz to notice her for the first time. Two episodes later, on Halloween, Buffy tells Willow this is “come as you aren’t night,” an evening to dress not as who you are, but as how you’d like to be seen. Willow chooses to go as a ghost, telling us she’d like to not be seen at all. Buffy briefly convinces Willow to don a sexy crop top and mini skirt, but Willow throws on her ghost sheet at the last minute. When everyone becomes their costumes, Willow loses her sheet, and as the only one who retains her memory of who she is, she is forced into a leadership role, with no time for self-consciousness. By the end of the night, she has gained the confidence to strut carelessly down the street in her first revealing ensemble. As season two progresses, Willow’s overall style begins to shift. She still wears a lot of baggy clothes, but the colors become brighter, and the patterns become more age-appropriate. She’s slowly gaining self-esteem through her first romantic partner, Oz, as well as her burgeoning magical abilities. Season three sees a continuation of this progress, with even more fitted clothing as she becomes more comfortable in her own body. culminating in a totally stunning prom dress that is elegant, sophisticated, mature, and sexy.
Season three also shows us the very beginnings of what will become Willow’s signature bohemian style, heavily inspired by her beloved mentor Jenny Calendar, whose death at the end of season two had a profound impact on her. Season three and the beginning of season four sees Willow emulating Ms. Calendar in her love of both tech and magic, and as she tries and fails to capture her sense of fashion, with bright floral patterns that clash. Season five is when Willow finally succeeds at marrying Jenny Calendar’s style with her own, with sleek silhouettes, sophisticated jewelry, and more mature florals. While Jenny wore mostly dark colors, Willow continues to opt for brighter purples, pinks, and reds, reflecting her quirky personality and her ever-growing love for her new girlfriend, Tara. Willow and Tara often wear complimenting colors, showing their heartfelt affection and intimate compatibility.Continued below
Season six is the most starkly transformative season for Willow and her clothes. In scenes where she’s taking care of Dawn, or sharing loving moments with Tara, she retains her season five style. In scenes where she uses dangerously powerful magic, to the point that it becomes like a drug, her clothes become darker. The one exception to this is the scene where she sacrifices a deer to resurrect Buffy, in which she wears a white sweater over a white lacy dress. Recall, dear reader, that Willow’s clothes reflect not who she is, but how she sees herself. She believes resurrecting Buffy is the good and moral thing to do. Her all-white ensemble shows us her delusion that she is doing the right thing, as well as her delusion that she won’t stain her pretty clothes with deer blood. She wears darker clothes when she knows she’s being reckless, and is excited to do so. After Warren murders Tara, Willow fully embraces her dark side wearing a black high collared shirt and black pants. This outfit completely lacks any sense of her old sexy, quirky personality. She is single-mindedly focused on destruction.
It’s striking that in the rebooted comics, we meet Willow at this stage in her fashion journey. She wears crop tops, fishnets, almost all black. She has a hot girlfriend and is secure in her decidedly punk style. While TV teen Willow’s clothes had no personality, comic teen Willow’s clothes have a very specific personality. It will be interesting to see how comic Willow’s style evolves from here over time.
Finally, season seven sees TV Willow become her true self. Giles teaches her not to suppress her dark side, but to find balance within herself. She keeps her bohemian style, but in neutral tones. Browns and blues express her connection to nature. It is this feeling of connection that grounds her enough to be able to intelligently use her powerful abilities without letting them control her. In every season before this, Willow let other’s perception of her dictate her perception of herself, both for worse in season one when she was bullied by Cordelia, and for better in season five when she was loved and admired by Tara. In season seven Willow’s wardrobe is truly her own; confident in her strength, and comfortable in her place in the world.