Witches have always been style icons. From Veronica Lake in I Married a Witch to the 1960s housewife Samantha Stephens and her caftan-wearing mother Endora in Bewitched, witches in pop culture have helped shatter the archetype of the old, ugly, evil-cackling crone. But in the 1990s, a new generation of witches emerged in the zeitgeist, thanks to popular films and TV shows like The Craft, Charmed, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. With instructional books like Silver Ravenwolf’s TeenWitch!: Wicca for a New Generation and fictional novels like L.J. Smith’s The Secret Circle series, witches were as trendy for the era’s youth as choker necklaces and Chanel Vamp nail polish. Then there was 1998’s Practical Magic, inspired by Alice Hoffman’s 1995 novel of the same name, and starred Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as Sally and Gillian Owens, two sisters who come from a long lineage of powerful witchy women. Twenty-five years later, the film endures as both a beloved cult classic and a source of fall wardrobe inspiration for many, whether they practice the craft or not.
When Practical Magic debuted in theaters on October 16, 1998, it was widely panned by critics and failed at the box office, grossing $46 million domestically on a $75 million budget. Despite the initial bad luck, Practical Magic conjured up a devoted fan following, especially with millennial women who grew up wanting to be an Owens sister or felt like they didn’t belong. As little girls, Sally and Gillian are ostracized by their schoolmates for their witchy heritage and deal with the same neighborhood whispers when they get older. Gillian embraces their generational gift of magick (with a “k” to differentiate from the pulling-a-rabbit-out-of-a-hat kind), and Sally rejects her magickal nepotism, even though she is the more powerful of the two. The reason is love—every man an Owens woman falls for dies due to a hundred-year-old curse.
An accidental murder involving Gillian’s abusive Transylvanian cowboy boyfriend, Jimmy Angelov (Goran Visnjic), and a resurrection spell-gone-awry unfolds alongside family bonding sessions over chocolate cake and midnight margaritas. When Gillian gets possessed by her evil ex, the Owens family joins forces with the same neighborhood women who look down on them to save her. “It was almost like a visionary thing to make this film about women, and women who were outcasts,” Hoffman tells ELLE.com. “It’s a really important story about solidarity among women, and I think that’s still a rare thing to see in films and novels.” Hoffman points out that the film was more of an “underground thing,” but it seems to get bigger and attract more fans yearly.
Many modern-day witches I know (including myself) delved into witchcraft after watching The Craft and correlated “witchy style” with the patent leather jackets, fishnet stockings, and pleated plaid skirts worn by Fairuza Balk’s Nancy Downs. But the comfy sweaters and slip dresses that Sally and Gillian wore in Practical Magic are more accessible and easier to wear to this day. It’s no surprise that over on TikTok, the hashtag #practicalmagicoutfits has 1.6M views, with Gen Zers (who weren’t yet born when Practical Magic was in theaters) recreating Sally and Gillian’s crop tops with denim shorts and cardigans with floral dresses.
The sisters are not only different in their personalities but also in their sense of style. While Sally has a more laid back approach to dressing, Gillian’s look embodies the ‘90s angsty bad girl, the type who listened to Mazzy Star and Fiona Apple. The film’s costume designer, Judianna Makovsky, who also designed the costumes for Great Expectations, The Hunger Games, and many Marvel films, met individually with each actor to figure out “how to make them fit in the same world but each have their distinct look.” The women of Practical Magic were also more subtle with their clothing than other witches in pop culture, like the girls in The Craft. “Everybody knew that they were witches, but they weren’t putting it out there,” Makovksy tells ELLE.com. “They’re not out there walking around with pentagrams all over them.”
For Sally, Makovsky figured that she would be the most understated since she wants to “be a normal person” and fit in with the other townspeople. (Which is why, Makovsky points out, she’s the only one who wears jeans.) The costume designer owned a BluMarine sweater decorated with green velvet embroidered leaves that ended up being the starting point for Sally, who owns a botanical shop. When she showed the sweater to Bullock, the actor thought it was perfect. “Once in a while, you’ll find a designer who’s right for a character, and it’s not like it would be their whole wardrobe, but there are certain pieces that will tell the story,” says Makovsky.
Kidman had very distinct ideas, mostly about hair, recalls Makovsky, adding that she wanted to look like Stevie Nicks and Marianne Faithfull, the latter of which you can see in Gillian’s fringe hairstyle. “She’s a bit of a bad girl and likes to party, but she still comes from a family of women who garden and do potions, so keeping that with the sort of Stevie Nicks thing and a little bit of a hippie nod, that was more her character,” she says. In one scene, Makovksy dressed Kidman and Bullock in Dries Van Noten maxi skirts, while Gillian’s other pieces consisted of slip dresses that were either vintage or made by Dosa. There were also many custom pieces made from vintage fabrics or deconstructed modern clothing, such as the green velvet slip dress that is popular with fans and Gillian cosplayers. “It was some designer carried at Fred Segal who was very hot in the ’90s, but it was made badly and didn’t fit Nicole,” says Makovsky. “So, we just remade the whole thing, taking it all apart, cutting it up, getting different fabric, and re-dyeing it. It was basically like making a new dress.” For Gillian’s tiger eye necklace (which is replicated on Etsy) and other jewelry she and Sally wore, Makovsky sourced it from shops on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the aunts, Frances and Jet, played by Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest, are style icons in their own right. They wear ornate jewelry, oversized hats, kimonos, and long, layered dresses with a vintage vibe. When FashionTok was fawning over the “Coastal Grandma” aesthetic trend, I envisioned my own offshoot version: “Coastal Weird Aunt,” inspired by the stylish and eccentric Owens aunties. While similar, Makovsky says there was a distinction between the two aunts. Frances, with her Gibson girl hairstyle and oversized sun hats, “liked to be noticed” so her clothes were darker, more vivid, and tailored. “Besides vintage clothes, we used a lot of Indian fabrics or clothes that we’d cut up and remake into coats and other things,” she said. Jet was more “stuck in the past,” so Makovsky dressed Wiest in more obvious vintage pieces and lighter hues. “It was about keeping them in the same family but giving them each a distinct personality, which was fun,” she says.
Another visual aspect of the film that garners attention year after year is the Owens family home, a beautiful Victorian house with a conservatory and bright, airy kitchen that could put any Nancy Meyer one to shame. Memes and tweets about the house, designed by Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch of Roman and Williams, always go viral. The house, which was merely a shell for shooting, was so impressive, Barbra Streisand wanted to buy it. While the film takes place in New England, it was filmed in Washington State — the house on Friday Harbor in San Juan Island, and the scenes of the town where Sally ran her botanical shop, in Coupeville on Whidbey Island. (This month, Coupeville is holding a “Practically Magic Halloweekend,” featuring a pumpkin race, parade, Practical Magic screenings, and a self-guided walking tour of all the sites included in the film.)
Practical Magic-inspired merch is popular on Etsy, which sells items such as tarot cards, beverage tumblers that say “Midnight Margaritas” and t-shirts emblazoned with some of the film’s most memorable lines. One famous quote, “Always throw spilt salt over your left shoulder, keep rosemary by your garden gate, plant lavender for luck, and fall in love whenever you can,” has been turned into a popular tattoo consisting of a salt shaker, rosemary and lavender twigs, and a heart. If you search the hashtag #practicalmagictattoo on Instagram, the tattoo is almost as ubiquitous as the mustache finger tat of the aughts.
Laura Wong, a lifelong magickal practitioner, co-host of the Third Eye Bind podcast, and owner of the online shop Lady Moon Co., sells Practical Magic-themed items like Crocs charms, bumper stickers, and the number-one selling item, a “Midnight Margaritas Coven” pin. Her mom showed her the film when she was 12 and heavily exploring witchcraft. “I remember feeling like the film understood something about me that maybe I didn’t even fully realize yet,” Wong tells ELLE.com. “It’s a movie about how messy life can get and how your own inner power, love, and connection to others can save you.”
The sisterly aspect of Practical Magic is what drew Kim Simmonds to start her fan page, @iheartpracticalmagic, on Instagram, where she shares her own Practical Magic-inspired Etsy wares and anything else related to the film. “I talk to the members of my community more than I talk to my family most weeks. Practical Magic has given me a purpose that I’ve never really felt I had, and that purpose is to keep bringing the community together.” After they began working together on a Practical Magic-inspired musical project, Justina Carubia and Kristina Babich decided to start a podcast called Magnolia Street (named after the street where the Owens live). “This story is such a ‘safe space’ for a lot of people, and we wanted something that nestled us into that same feeling,” Babich tells ELLE.com. Adds Carubia, “Starting this podcast has given us the pleasure of connecting with so many other fans of both the movie and the books, who share the mutual love for this magical world that Alice Hoffman has created. She has created something so special for so many people, witches or not.”
That’s the thing: At the heart of Practical Magic are the relationships between generations of powerful, mystical women, and there is endless proof that these connections strike a chord for so many people. A television series inspired by Hoffman’s prequel novel, Rules of Magic, was “going ahead” at the former HBO Max, but after its parent company merged with Discovery in 2022, plans are in limbo. “So I don’t really know what happens now,” she tells ELLE.com. Earlier this year, a fake “Practical Magic 2” poster even began circulating online, stirring up a frenzy.
It’s clear that people wholeheartedly connect with the Owens family and want to see more of them onscreen. Maybe it’s because, like Aunt Jet says, “There’s a little witch in all of us.”
Marie Lodi is an LA-based writer and editor who writes about beauty, fashion, and cannabis. She co-hosts the fashion in film podcast Fishnet Flix and runs the food blog, The Bloodfeast. Her bylines include The Cut, PAPER, I-D, Bustle, and more.