Historically, cloaks and capes offered a layer of protection and were especially popular during medieval times, which is perhaps how they became associated with the witch. Capes also became an essential part of the magical costume after the play Dracula came out in England. Bela Lugosi, who played the titular role, wore a dramatic cape in both the play and the movie. The choice ended up tying the layer to sorcery, vampires, and fantasy wear.
So, why are broomsticks a witch’s accessory of choice? Here’s the real tea: brooms weren’t initially meant for flying — well, not literally anyway. They actually had a very different use than what we think.
Kristen Sollée, author of Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive traced the history of the broomstick’s real use back to the 15th century. Sollee states “the evidence is certainly suggestive that witches have been practicing sex magic for centuries with their lubed up broomstick-dildos.”
Sollée further explains why the “flying myth” with broomsticks became an urban legend. “Witch trial transcripts do refer to witches rubbing hallucinogenic ointments on their genitals to facilitate altered states and magical flight.”
Sex magic is a ritual that blends orgasms with visualization and manifestation. And, let’s just say that witches practiced that tradition for hundreds of years — not just now (although it is a popular form of intention-seeking magic).
The funny thing about witch’s stockings is that there isn’t any historical relevance to them. In fact, the reason why we assume witches wear them is quite comical.
Thanks to former Massachusetts-based company Ipswich Hoisery, we now assume that stockings are part of a witch’s look. The brand’s logo from the late 1800s to the late 1920s was an old witch wearing their stockings. In 1927, they decided to change their marketing and branding, adding attractive poppy cartoonish-looking witches to their logo.
Interestingly enough, they only depicted women as witchy old hags or sexy vixens in their campaign — and we are so much more!
However, beyond this company’s marketing push, there’s really no imperial proof of the importance of stockings in a witch’s uniform.
Historical ‘Witchy’ Clothing Tidbits (Witches then)
Witches and Nudity.
Believe it or not, but early witches didn’t wear much at all. Yes, before most modern depictions of witches in black cloaks and pointy hats, nudity was believed to be the main attire of witches. This is most evident in the slew of European artwork made between the 14th and 17th centuries when witch hunts were at a high. Most notably, the renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer created various pieces featuring witches in the nude.
In The Four Witches (1497), Dürer’s magical women wear nothing. Their witchy mischief is represented by a devilish figure on the left and the skulls and bones by their feet. For modern reference, the director Robert Eggers also depicts nude witches in his 2015 film The VVitch. Set in 17th century New England, the protagonist (Anya Taylor Jones) makes a deal with the devil and becomes a witch. She’s then shown stripping down her clothes as she heads into the woods to join her new coven.
But why nudity? Well, in Paganism—the nature-based belief system—its practitioners are sometimes associated with nudism, particularly due to their history of skyclad (naked) ritualistic practices. For the majority of Christians in the 1400s, nudism was viewed as obscene. So, nude witches in art came to represent religious fears about sexual transgression believed to be triggered by Devil worship and supernatural practices.
Broomsticks go way back…
Broomsticks also popped up in artwork from the 1400s and onward. In another Dürer engraving, Witch Riding Backwards On A Goat (1500), an old crone with wild hair maliciously defies the laws of nature as she rides a goat through the air. What’s more, look closely at her arms and you’ll spot her holding a broomstick!
Fun fact – the earliest western artwork of witches with broomsticks is from an illustrated manuscript of a French poem named Le Champion des Dames (1451). The witches are clothed in long dresses and appear to be in mid-flight on their broomsticks.
It’s unclear where the association between witches and broomsticks come from, but here’s one theory. During an old pagan ritual, townsfolk would dance with their besoms (broomsticks) in much the same way that children play with a hobbyhorse. They’d do this during a full moon. The reasoning behind this behaviour was the belief that it would encourage their crops to grow. Some researchers think that this strange ritual was eventually mistaken for witch activity; think nighttime broomstick rides. And so the witch with a broomstick association stuck.
…And so do witch hats.
What about a witch’s pointed hat? Like broomsticks, the origins of the association between witches and pointed hats is unclear. However, during the publishing revolution that started in the 16th century, images of witches wearing cone-shaped headgear were mass-produced in various pamphlets and chapbooks. Just look at this woodcut from an 18th-century chapbook:
(Chapbooks were small publications featuring poems, ballads, and more. They were commonly sold on the streets for a low-cost price)
With their black pointed hats and long gowns, these women don’t look much different from the way we depict witches in popular media today. And let’s not ignore the demons and broomsticks pictured too! As illustrations like this circulated widely around Europe, much of this witchy iconography eventually stuck.
However, this doesn’t explain how witch hats became associated with evil. Although no one can directly pinpoint why this is the case, there is one theory of interest that’ll shock you:
As witches were often used as scapegoats for the ills of society, it’s not surprising that pointed hats have been linked to other marginalised groups from history. During the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 A.D.—an assembly held in Rome between members of the Catholic Church—the council decided that Jews had to wear judenhats (cone-shaped hats) as a way of distinguishing them from Christians. Bear in mind, this was centuries before Jews wore yellow star badges in Nazi Germany.
Soon after the council took place, pointed hats became heavily associated with anti-antisemitism. In medieval artwork, Jews were depicted wearing judenhats during satanic rituals or while being burned alive. Perhaps, then, the link between pointed hats and evil came from these discriminatory beliefs. Both Jews and witches were targets of violence throughout history, and so the hat imagery stuck.
Sometimes, horror is just reality isn’t it…
On-Screen WITCH Attire.
How times have changed. Witches are no longer feared. Instead, they’re revered as symbols of women’s empowerment. Classic shows like Charmed and cult films like Practical Magic and Hocus Pocus have contributed to an alluring, modern take on witchcraft.
Close-knit covens represent solidarity between women, while magical powers allude to feminine strength, an embrace of sexuality, and a desire to rebel against gender norms. With the rise of witchcore TikToks and celebrities like Lana Del Rey who are open about their practice of the craft, it’s clear that the idea of witchcraft is irresistible to many young women.
Stepping up from your typical witchy garb, witches in modern popular culture have been depicted in a variety of interesting ways. Be it stylish ensembles inspired by haute couture collections or bohemian outfits ideal for midnight rituals in the woods, here are some great interpretations of contemporary witch clothing.