Movies and Shows

Hocus Pocus: 11 Details About The Sanderson Sisters’ Costumes You Didn’t Notice

As soon as the air feels a little crisper, the nights grow a little longer, and the moon grows a little fuller, it’s time to break out Hocus Pocusthe Halloween Disney classic film that’s been delighting generations since it debuted in 1993. Of course, if fans don’t own a copy, it airs repeatedly on television during the month of October.

Whether fans watch the film for the uproarious comedy of the witches, the nostalgic ’90s references, or just because it’s the perfect combination of humor and horror, one element will always arrest their attention; the fabulous costumes! The Sanderson Sisters steal the show in their iconic and colorful outfits, which have become go-to Halloween costumes ever since.

Updated on October 2nd, 2021 by Amanda Bruce: Hocus Pocus has remained a beloved Halloween movie for decades, and now, those who grew up watching it can easily introduce it to their own kids thanks to streaming platforms like Disney Plus. For those original fans who want to know more about the production, or new fans who consider the 1993 movie “vintage” now, the costumes are a point of fascination. Some fans prefer to buy replicas of the costumes, while others try to recreate their own; either way, knowing more about just what brought the Sanderson sisters’ dresses to the screen is a must.

11 EACH COSTUME REFLECTED THE SISTER’S PERSONALITY

Mary Vogt, the costume designer behind the Sanderson Sisters’ now-iconic wardrobe, created a unique look for each sister that would reflect her personality in the film. Not only that, but Vogt wanted their outfits to look unlike any “witches” that audiences had seen before.

Winifred’s ensemble resembles a classically “medieval” sorceress (despite the Salem Witch Trials taking place in the late 17th century) that is dark green to contrast with her striking red hair. Sarah’s is very ethereal and light to mimic her playful quality, and Mary’s is made of homespun fabrics that are less eye-catching to reflect her cautious nature.

10 THERE ARE SPECIFIC SYMBOLS ON WINIFRED’S DRESS

If Halloween costume enthusiasts, or Winifred Sanderson cosplayers, want to make their own version of her dress instead of buying one, they’ll want to pay special attention to the symbols on her dress. While some mean nothing and just contribute to the pattern, others do have some meaning.

When Mary Vogt spoke to Glamour in 2019 about her work on the movie, she revealed there were specific inspirations for the symbols on Winifred’s fabric. Some of them were letters from a runic alphabet, others were symbols seen at Stonehenge, and the rest were filled in to create the pattern.

9 THEIR MAKEUP WAS INTENTIONALLY LESS SCARY

Hocus Pocus is the sort of light-hearted and comedic horror movie that’s perfect to show an audience of all ages on Halloween. It has a few frights, a lot of laughs, and features witches that are more fascinating than frightening. According to the lead makeup artist Tony Gardner, this theme of benevolent spookiness factored into their makeup as well as their costumes.

He said that initial test makeup runs made the witches look “too scary” by Disney executives, so he was asked to tone down their appearance. So if fans thought that the Sanderson Sisters don’t seem very much like the disgusting witches of folklore, that’s why. That being said, Kathy Najimy still gives Mary Sanderson a comical sneer, and Bette Midler still has her distinct heart-shaped lips.

8 THE SISTER’S GOT THE BULK OF THE COSTUME BUDGET

Hocus Pocus was made for $28 million, which doesn’t seem like a lot given the cost of Disney/Marvel films today. It was a fair amount in 1993, but the majority of the budget went to the special effects needed to make the Sanderson Sisters look like they were really flying throughout Salem.

Due to the wardrobe restrictions, Mary Vogt put the bulk of the costuming budget towards the Sanderson Sisters. She cut corners in other ways. At the adults-only party where Max’s parents are at Halloween night, all the costumes that can be seen were in other Disney films such as Treasure Island. Fans can spot several Tron costume pieces as well, which cosplayers will appreciate. Mrs. Dennison’s costume looks homemade as well since it essentially was made out of things from around the house.

7 WINIFRED’S SPELLBOOK WAS A COMPLEX WORK OF ART

Undoubtedly one of the best props in the film is Winifred’s book of spells, which appears as a tome made of human skin stitched together and decorated with various serpents. It was given to Winifred by the devil himself, who as the audience learns later in the film, is the Sanderson Sisters’ “master”.

There are three versions of the book fans may be able to spot in the film; one that has its eye closed, one with its eye open, and one that has an eye manipulated by a remote control off-screen. If fans inspect it closely, they’ll see there are human fingers along the spine, and a total of six metal snakes on the front and the back.

6 THE COSTUMES HAD TO ACCOMMODATE FLYING

When the Sanderson Sisters head off to inflict mayhem on the townsfolk of Salem, they jump on their magic broomsticks. To create the look that they were actually flying, the actresses needed to be fit with harnesses to suspend them from the ceiling of the set.

The wire rigging was concealed under the witch’s heavy cloaks. Sarah Jessica Parker found hers so comfortable that in between long takes, rather than be lowered, she would take a book or a copy of the New York Times under her costume to read while she waited.’

5 THE COSTUMES ARE REFERENCED IN DIFFERENT WAYS

The main colors of the Sanderson Sisters’ costumes are green, red, and purple. Winifred Sanderson wears a green dress/cloak, Sarah Sanderson wears a purple dress/cloak, and Mary Sanderson wears a red dress/cloak. The colors associated with their outfits appear throughout the film.

When the audience first sees Max, he’s wearing a tie-dyed shirt that’s a swirl of green, red, and purple. Allison wears a red coat with a distinctly pointed hood, one of the reasons fans speculated she might be a witch in Hocus Pocus as well. The three little girls that abscond with the Sanderson Sisters’ brooms are dressed like each of them in green, red, and purple.

4 THE COSTUMES REFERENCED THE WIZARD OF OZ

One detail fans might not notice in Hocus Pocus is that it has several references to The Wizard of Oz. There is an abundance of green throughout the film like green smoke, Winnie’s green dress and striped stockings, and the theme for the Wicked Witch of the West is played at various moments in the soundtrack.

Sarah Sanderson’s hair notoriously changes textures and lengths throughout the film, going from curly to straight, mimicking the infamous wig changes of Judy Garland when she played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. She also repeats herself the most (i.e., “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home”).

3 THREE SETS OF COSTUMES HAD TO BE MADE

Due to the fact that there were a lot of action shots involving the witches flying through the air or hovering above the ground, there were instances where stunt actors needed to be used. Because of this, there was one set of costumes made for each witch as well as her corresponding stunt double.

Then there was a third miniature set made for her puppet. Puppets were used on all long and wide shots where it was necessary to incorporate the witches flying over greater areas, such as panoramic views of the town of Salem. These costumes had to match the weight of the fabric of the larger costumes only in miniature to be manipulated by the wind authentically.

2 THE COSTUMES WERE MADE TO MOVE

The director of Hocus Pocus comes from a background in choreography. Kenny Ortega had, prior to helming this Halloween classic, made the popular musical Newsies that required a lot of choreographed dancing, singing, and stunt work. This foundation made him approach the look of the Sanderson Sisters differently.

Self-described as always looking for the “rhythm” in a film, he wanted the Sanderson Sisters’ movements to be in sync with one another (which is the reason for their distinct walk), and wanted their costumes to move according to their erratic movements. This meant lots of voluminous skirts in various shades of their signature color (either green, red, or purple).

1 THEIR BROOMS REFLECTED THEIR PERSONALITIES

While the Sanderson Sisters started out with more traditional brooms at the beginning of the film, later on, they had to locate brooms they could make do with once a trio of trick-or-treaters made off with their transportation on Halloween night.

When they each selected a new “broom,” Winifred rode a traditional one, Sarah rode a mop, and Mary hopped on a vacuum cleaner. Their method of flight also mimicked their personality; strong and determined for Winifred, enthralled and carefree for Sarah, and cautious and klutzy for Mary.

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