Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice.

It’s a name that horror lovers know well, the film remaining beloved among fans of all genres since its release 35 years ago this month. However to me, Beetlejuice is not really about its namesake, that pesky, pervy “bio-exorcist” (Michael Keaton) who has no qualms about using the “recently deceased” for his own personal gain. It’s about the women who anchor the Tim Burton-directed film, each with an unforgettable style of their own.

From Halloween parties to the Broadway stage, popular culture has recreated Beetlejuice’s signature look (the infamous black and white striped suit) time and time again, which is a true testament to the thoughtful work by Oscar-nominated costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers (The Witches of Eastwick, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi). But I find the work she did on Barbara Maitland (Geena Davis), Delia Deetz (Catherine O’Hara) and Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder) equally, if not more, compelling. Through her styling, Guerard Rodgers paints a clear picture of who these women are, while also giving us a peek at the skeletons they have hidden in the back of their closets.


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Let’s start with Barbara Maitland, arguably the most underrated character in the Beetlejuice universe and a slow fashion foil to highly stylized Delia and Lydia.

For the majority of the film, Guerard Rodgers puts Barbara in what some people today might call a “cottagecore” dress, a shapeless sheath that covers her neck to calf in a delicate floral pattern. Despite the feminine nature of her wardrobe, Barbara clearly “wears the pants” in her relationship. Case in point: she’s the one driving the car that results in her and her husband’s untimely demise in the film’s opening.

Sadly, Barbara is doomed to don this sack dress for the rest of her afterlife, as she and Adam (Alec Baldwin) are forced to haunt the halls of the house they once called home in the clothes they died in. And while Barbara’s prairie girl couture may have played well against the idyllic country surroundings of Winter River, Connecticut, it doesn’t do her as many favors on the other side.

Next to her ghostly peers in the “neitherworld” waiting room, Barbara comes across as basic and boring, her drop-waist dress looking drab next to the likes of the outrageously outfitted Miss Argentina (Patrice Martinez) and classy caseworker Juno (Sylvia Sidney). And aside from Lydia, the living can’t see Barbara or Adam, meaning the “parlor tricks” they use to try and scare the Deetz family away can only work when they, and their clothing, are covered in sheets.

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What’s more, Barbara and Adam’s dated duds are, ultimately, what helps Delia and interior designer/paranormal researcher Otho (Glenn Shadix) summon their corporeal forms in the film’s infamously hellish climax. Yes, Otho brings Barbara and Adam into the living realm wearing their “wedding clothes,” a.k.a. the only items Delia didn’t donate to Goodwill when she took over the house.

Of course, Barbara’s bridal gown is floor length and full coverage. But the nipped waist and sheer sleeves hint at her playful side, which we also see come out when she’s flirting with Adam and interacting with Lydia. Just imagine what she might have worn on date night before, you know, the accident.


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With the arrival of the Deetz women comes a whole new aesthetic, Barbara’s country cutie look instantly dulling next to the brutalist interior design and artsy urban wardrobe of stepmother Delia and the goth girl garb of step-daughter Lydia. Unlike Barbara, these are women who aren’t afraid to dress in dark colors or accessorize, whose visual presentation is their identity. To paraphrase a line from Deetz family patriarch Chuck (Jeffrey Jones), they believe that every day “requires a sense of occasion, a sense of style.”

Simply put, the Deetz women would rather die than blend in. Eating Chinese food together on the first night in their new home, Chuck wears a comfy grey sweatshirt, a practical choice for relaxing after a long day of moving. Meanwhile, the girls are in their best costumes for the day, Delia wearing a cheeky headband and Lydia looking like the bride who wore black in a lace veil. They may not be dining at a high-end New York restaurant, but they are dressed like they could be.

For Delia, art is life and she communicates that not only through her sculptures but also through how she carefully sculpts her image. Even when dressed in a simple monochrome suit, she makes a statement, pairing it with coral lipstick and shoulder-grazing earrings. Invite some important people over for dinner and drinks? She’ll take it to the next level, pulling out a long leather glove (yes, just one) and hair gel (see: those wavy sideburns she rocks during the “Day-O” dance sequence).

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Lydia, on the other hand, is the reason that Beetlejuice is such a formative film for “strange and unusual” babes of all generations. With a wardrobe stacked with black (and only black) and a preference for heavy eye makeup, Lydia wears her inner darkness on her sleeves. Not only does she think about death constantly, but she also dresses as if she is always on her way to a funeral (or perhaps just a Siouxsie and the Banshees concert). As she famously says, her “whole life is a dark room.”

Living with her self-absorbed parents, teenage Lydia has little control over where and how she lives. But she does have agency when it comes to what she wears. That’s why it feels extra icky when Beetlejuice tricks her into marrying him in the film’s climax, forcing her into an outfit that is the exact opposite of everything she stands for.


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Lydia’s red lace wedding gown, albeit cute on its own and often referenced when people dress as the character for Halloween, does not define her or her actual style. In fact, it’s actually more Barbara than it is Lydia. As Guerard Rodgers tells it, the garment is actually a replica of that bridal look dyed the color of blood.

In the film’s epilogue, Lydia actually consents to wear someone else’s uniform, this time on her terms. While other attendees at Miss Shannon’s School for Girls don their plaid midi skirts as intended, Lydia adds her own unique flair by layering hers over a long black maxi and opaque tights (a pairing 16-year-old Winona Ryder approved). I see this as a sign of growth, Guerard Rodgers’ way of confirming that Lydia’s figured out how “fit in” while maintaining her individuality.

Stubborn and stuck up to a fault, Delia is much less changed by Beetlejuice‘s final moments. For her last scene, Guerard Rodgers dresses Delia in a flat-top hat, red lipstick, statement earrings, and an artful blouse — you know, an ideal outfit for a proud artist to wear as she holds up her latest masterwork: a sculpture of the so-called “ghost with the most.” Meanwhile, Barbara remains in that same old house dress, the matronly nature of it actually suiting her more than ever as she and Adam essentially become Lydia’s adoptive parents.

Whether we like to think about it or not, the clothing that we choose to travel through life with follows us after death by way of faded photographs, memories held close by our loved ones, and the items we quite literally leave behind. In that sense, you can’t blame Lydia and Delia for making sure every single thing they wear on the outside is accurate to who they are (or who they want to be) on the inside. You also can’t fault Barbara for focusing more on her actions than what she’s wearing while doing them. Because as Beetlejuice reminds us, you never know how much time you, and your favorite dress, have left on this plane.

Tags: Beetlejuice Catherine O’Hara Final Girl Fashion Lydia Deetz Winona Ryder

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Emily Gagne

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