In Wes Craven’s masterful 1996 horror film, Scream, one of the last people standing is Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who narrowly escapes the knife-wielding Ghostface killer while wearing a Canadian tuxedo. A popular look of the ’90s, the outfit has become even more iconic in the years that have followed. It’s frequently replicated every year for Halloween, right down to the bloodstained denim jacket. She’s not the only final girl that has good style: Halloween’s Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has become an easily re-creatable Halloween favourite thanks to her torn blue button-up shirt and flared jeans. If a main heroine wants to claw their way out of a movie alive, it’s clear that there’s a formula to do so: Dress to kill.
Over the years, these so-called final girls have consistently delivered ensembles that are just as strong as their survival skills. No matter if it’s a chainsaw-carrying psychopath or a cherub-mask-wearing serial killer, horror villains have proven no match for their victims and their spicy wardrobes. In 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for instance, Erin (Jessica Biel) embodies a country-girl vibe with her knotted tank top and low-rise bell-bottoms—a thoughtful nod to the same outfit that Sally (Marilyn Burns) wore in the original 1974 film. In the Scream franchise, the ruthless journalist Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) defeats many Ghostfaces in her sleek wardrobe of power suits and TV-broadcast-ready dresses.
In I Know What You Did Last Summer, meanwhile, final girl Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) favours a simple, girl-next-door aesthetic. “Her final look is a midriff-baring [top], which is what most people think about when they remember that movie,” says Danny Pellegrino, a pop-culture aficionado and host of the Everything Iconic podcast. “She also uses her wardrobe at the end of the film to escape the killer, when she’s stuck in the boat—so the outfit becomes a useful piece to her survival.” In the film’s sequel, singer Brandy joins Hewitt as a final girl. “Brandy’s style was so great throughout that entire movie,” says Pellegrino of her character’s beachy dresses and cowboy hats. “I always felt we were robbed of not getting a third film with Brandy and Hewitt.”
Having stylish leading ladies in the horror genre isn’t super surprising, given that eerie motifs have always crept their way into the high-fashion arena. Designers frequently find delight in the macabre. For his spring 2000 season, Raf Simons designed an entire menswear line of Camp Crystal Lake tees, an homage to the setting of the classic horror flick Friday the 13th. Prada’s fall 2019 graphic prints served as a tribute to Frankenstein. For resort 2020, Moschino’s Jeremy Scott even designed a whole line of different scary-movie-inspired wares, including Dracula shirts and spiderweb-print dresses.
Just this past spring 2023 season, final girls were one of the main inspirations for Interior designers Lily Miesmer and Jack Miner. “If it has a pulse on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s high art to us,” Miesmer says. While designing their assortment of deconstructed separates, they took cues from the slashed pieces that final girls often sport. “We’ve seen our fair share of final girls. The drama of the visuals are just priceless—a girl covered in blood, with only the whites of her eyes visible, is a forever favourite,” says Miesmer. “To a certain extent, we all feel like final girls these days, always narrowly escaping some chainsaw-wielding, apocalypse-grade monster. This beat-up, busted, mud-stained spirit of the collection reflects this feeling of always outrunning the devil.”
Do these striking outfits in slasher flicks hold a deeper meaning? Pellegrino certainly thinks so. “The style of final girls is always so memorable because viewers attach whatever they’re wearing at the end of the film to the themes of survival,” says Pellegrino. “Jamie Lee Curtis’s blue button-up [in Halloween] is so memorable because we associate it with her outlasting Michael Myers.” He also adds that the clothes that heroines wear can even make us want to root for them more. In some rare cases, non-final girls—as in, those who bite the dust—have even better style than the leading ladies. “Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character in I Know What You Did Last Summer has that incredible chase scene at her sister’s store while she’s wearing a stunning green dress, and throughout the film, her style is much more unique than Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character,” says Pellegrino. “Audiences rooted for her to be a final girl for many reasons—one of which I think is because of that unique style throughout.”
The style of final girls is always so memorable because viewers attach whatever they’re wearing at the end of the film to the themes of survival
Pellegrino believes this is always an intentional costume choice. “Drew Barrymore had the most memorable style from the Scream franchise, despite not being a final girl,” Pellegrino says. “The Scarface-inspired blonde bob—paired with a simple cream-coloured sweater that would look right at home in a Nancy Meyers movie—is one of the most iconic horror-movie looks of all time. The bright colours and cozy fit contrasted with the character’s bloody and disturbing demise.” So the next time you’re watching a horrifying movie, look out for what the girlies are wearing—you might just be able to predict who lives.
Below, see all the stylish final girls from classic horror films.
1 / 5
Neve Campbell in Scream (1996)
2 / 5
Samara Weaving in Ready or Not (2019)
3 / 5
Keke Palmer in Nope (2022)
4 / 5
Jessica Biel in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
5 / 5
Courteney Cox in Scream 4 (2011)
This story was originally published on Vogue.com