The new YA book The Babysitters Coven is full of magic, humor, sass, and two teenage babysitters who have amazing style that totally fits the witchy trends we’re loving this fall. In this post by author Kate Williams, she gives us some serious outfit inspo and tells us more about the main characters from the story and their fashion icons.
In The Babysitters Coven, the narrator, Esme Pearl, and her best friend, Janis Jackson, are both fashion fiends. They love clothes and put a lot of thought and creativity into styling outfits and giving them names. For Esme, that might be calling a sequined sweater set and bell jar earrings “Sylvia Plath goes to prom”; for Janis, maybe it’s labelling a camo-print minidress and hot pink combat boots “Be all you can be Barbie.” No matter what they wear, Esme and Janis dress to stand out rather than fit in, especially since they consider their habitat—a boring high school in a small Kansas town—totally devoid of sartorial inspiration.
For Esme and Janis, fashion isn’t about having designer labels or wearing the right brand of jeans. Instead, it’s about self-expression. Getting dressed is their art, and clothing is their medium. They make statements with what they wear. When Janis showed up to school dressed like a gumball machine and complimented Esme’s Fiorucci stickers, it was a case of wardrobe-recognize-wardrobe, and a best friendship was born.
Like Esme and Janis, I went to high school in Kansas, but I didn’t have their flair for fashion. We didn’t have a ton of stores in my town, I didn’t know how to thrift—Esme and Janis are eagle-eyed thrifters, and they detail their strategy in the book—and online shopping wasn’t around yet. I was obsessed with the Delia’s catalog, so I would take a marker and circle all the items I wanted, then leave the catalog lying around and hope that my mom would be in a generous mood when she found it. I had a job in a coffee shop, but I only made $4.15 an hour, and once a friend and I pooled our money to order a pair of lavender bell-bottoms from Delia’s. When they arrived, they weren’t particularly flattering on either of us, but we still drew up a schedule of who could wear them when. For most of the time that I was in high school, though, I felt a big disconnect between me and my clothes. I never felt like they really represented who I was or wanted to be—it felt like my outside didn’t match my inside. And while Esme and Janis have plenty of problems—missing kids, monsters—this isn’t one of them. Their clothes tell the world who they are and who they want to be, in no uncertain terms. This is especially important in a world that doesn’t give teenage girls a lot of autonomy. I’d like to think that Esme’s and Janis’s clothes show that fashion can be another form of personal power.
While Esme’s and Janis’s styles are totally their own, they do have fashion icons who they look up to and frequently reference with their outfits. It’s no coincidence that each of their fashion idols are from the early ’90s, as this was an era when celebrities and cool “it girls” were truly their own: they didn’t work with stylists or wear clothes because the labels paid them to do so, and because they didn’t have social media accounts, their lives and what they wore remained pretty mysterious.
Esme loves Winona Ryder. Now known for her role as Joyce Byers on Stranger Things, Winona Ryder was the epitome of early ’90s gamine chic. She appeared in a string of movies that are now cult favorites, like Heathers, Beetlejuice, and Reality Bites. Winona’s hair and makeup were always simple and understated—dark hair in a pixie cut or bob, lipstick, and clear skin—and while she often favored feminine, vintage-inspired dresses on the red carpet, she was all about tomboyish outerwear for everything else. She frequently wore big, oversized cardigans and tailored blazers (sometimes paired with a baseball cap), and she could rock a black leather motorcycle jacket better than any Hells Angel. Esme’s look “Wino forever” specifically references a classic Winona Ryder outfit: high-waisted jeans, graphic tee, and ever-present motorcycle jacket. Today, Winona’s cool, confident spirit is echoed by her Stranger Things castmates Millie Bobby Brown and Maya Hawke.
Janis’s style idol is Lisa Bonet, who played Denise Huxtable on The Cosby Show and A Different World. Denise Huxtable’s fashion was a wild mix of everything: ’80s silhouettes and patterns, layers upon layers, and combinations of boho flowy with menswear that no one else could pull off. Her character’s style was based on Lisa Bonet’s personal look so much that the show’s costume designers frequently incorporated Lisa’s own clothes into Denise’s wardrobe. Lisa’s hair, which ranged from short crops to natural curls to waist-length braids, is also a source of inspiration for Janis, who loves to experiment with different looks and treats her hair as her greatest accessory. Today, hints of the Lisa Bonet’s artsy, bohemian glamour can be seen in her daughter, actress Zoë Kravitz, and in the actress Amandla Stenberg, a pattern-mixing master whose hair is always awesome and always changing.