Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show that does not inherently invite sartorial analysis. It invites sartorial giggles, yes (“oh, look at that wacky 90s outfit!”) and the characters do have fairly distinct styles and memorable outfits, but honestly, some of the outfits are totally out of left field. (See: mostly everything that Willow wears, bless her heart.) The interesting thing about “Once More, With Feeling” is that since it’s the ~musical episode~ you have often more deliberate and exaggerated costuming, because, well, they’re all playing parts. The parts are themselves, of course, but themselves in extremis. Mostly.
This isn’t really true of Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in the traditional sense. Her wardrobe is normal, perhaps hyperconsciously so. Her source of tension is just wanting to feel alive, wanting to feel normal, and so she is dressed normally. The blue top and red top have semi-interesting necklines, at least, but the white tops are the plainest that can be. And pairing a colorful top with a leather jacket (short or long as the case may be) is pretty much standard Buffy. Her normalcy is almost a parody of itself.
But then you have Anya (Emma Caulfield). The first outfit I include two pictures of, because it is just that absurd. And as far as the characters go, Anya is the one who’s probably more likely to wear something weird in that way, but a satin midriff top with a giant sequin butterfly? That’s extreme. That is “Anya is about to sing possibly the most ridiculous song in this entire episode, so let’s give her the most ridiculous top we can think of.” But from her “retro pastiche” “book number” onward, she’s dolled up, well, rather retro. Despite the fact that you don’t see Anya (or any character) wearing lingerie like hers during the entire rest of the series, it’s very reminiscent of 60s movie musicals, and while her later dress is plainer, her hair stays vintageesque the entire time.
Xander (Nicholas Brendon) gets matching silk jammies, the likes of which he’s never seen in again, and in keeping with the 60s musical theme, they’re even appropriately colored (red for girls with Anya’s, blue for boys with Xander’s). They don’t really seem very Xander, though. Anya’s lingerie-jammies at least seem like something she might wear in “real life,” maybe, but Xander’s are definitely costuming. Later he’s back to something that’s a little more him, though, because he’s one of those Whedonverse men who wears ridiculous button-up shirts. (There are several of them.)
Basically every positive meaning of the color yellow (joy, happiness, intellect, energy, warming, cheerfulness, freshness, thank you Color Wheel Pro) is applicable to Tara (Amber Benson). She is often the kind of character who gets dressed in sweaters or tops and long skirts, so structurally her outfits (particularly the second one) are not out of character in the slightest. The corset, though? Well, it’s part of that costuming. “Under Your Spell” is the closest that this episode gets to a love song, and the corseted outfit is fairly ~romantic~. Tara is also the most olde-timey magicky of the bunch, rather spiritual and feminine, so it makes sense that here, where the dial is turned up on everyone, for her to be wearing the most standardly costumeyRenaissancey (and memorable) costume. (With extra notes of aqua for “emotional healing and protection.”)
And then you have my dear Willow (Alyson Hannigan). She’s got a bit of the mystic magic Wiccan thing going in the pinky-purple tree dress, not as traditionally so as Tara, but still definitely not something she’d be wearing in a different episode. Then by the end, she’s good old “what the heck are you wearing, baby” Willow. Giant purple duster sweater with… furry?… collar, purple skirt, purple texture-patterned top. And here, I’ll bring out those analyses of light and dark purple again: “Light purple evokes romantic and nostalgic feelings. Dark purple evokes gloom and sad feelings. It can cause frustration.” Romantic and nostalgic, because though she’s going about it in way the wrong way as per addiction, romance and nostalgia is what she’s going for in the beginning. And, well, Willow doesn’t let go of her worry face for the entire time she’s wearing the second outfit.
Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) is pretty standard, too. He doesn’t wear suits so much by this point, but there’s nothing unusual about Giles in a suit. And there’s really nothing unusual about Giles in a sweater. Giles is an emotional constant, and his wardrobe reflects this.
(Also, the sweater that Dawn [Michelle Trachtenberg] wears in the beginning number is a similar shade of blue.) Dawn’s outfits are designed for purpose: the sleeveless turtleneck and black capris are functional for dancing, the strange prom dress thing is functional for being… shown off and discussed as a demon child bride? Good old pale blue with its straightforward innocence.
And then there’s Spike (James Marsters), whose outfit doesn’t change. And really has not changed up to this point and will not change often at all.
–your fangirl heroine.
be nicer to yourself, you