By Maya Mabern
One of my most ambitious undertakings during quarantine has been getting through the television show “Angel,” the sometimes lesser, sometimes painful spinoff of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
As much as I love watching the same scenes of Buffster kicking ass in the same Universal Studios backlot alley, I felt like I was missing some puzzle pieces having not watched “Angel,” since their filming overlapped — ”Buffy” ran from 1997-2003, “Angel” from 1999-2004 — and each show constantly referenced the events of the other.
I began my mission in July and because of a particularly horrendous fourth season, I’m still making my way through season five, watching about half an episode every other day. While filling in the gaps of my Buffy knowledge, I learned two important things.
First, Charisma Carpenter — who plays queen bee-turned-warrior princess Cordelia Chase — is a deeply underrated actress. Second, leather costuming plays an essential role in shaping the women in the Buffyverse.
Sure, we’re all well aware of the leather duster worn by bleach-blonde vampire Spike, which he acquired from a Slayer he killed in 1970s New York, and Angel’s less consistent leather coat — sometimes he wears a regular old trench coat or black blazer — but what about the leather worn by the female characters?
Leather is often used to denote some level of badass-ery. Sometimes the leather fits are empowering and other times they take on a more sexist undertone, worn by a woman portrayed as an evil seductress.
One of the first notable leather moments was Buffy’s leather jacket and prom dress combo in the season one finale, “Prophecy Girl.” It was the ultimate recognition of Buffy’s inhuman strength as a Slayer and emotional strength as a teenage girl.
Of course, there are the handful of leather pants, skirts and coats worn by Buffy, Cordelia and even Willow since then — and at one point or another, they try to give almost every male character a signature leather jacket, with varying degrees of success — but leather became synonymous to darkness with the introduction of Faith, the good slayer gone bad, in season three of the show.
This girl almost exclusively wore leather, whether it was a black leather tank, red leather pants, a leather trench, sometimes all at the same time. When it came time for Buffy to fight Faith, even she wore more leather to match Faith’s energy.
The influence of “Buffy” costume designer Cynthia Bergstrom seemed to carry over into “Angel,” in which nearly every one-off evil female character wears a form of leather. The amount of leather a character wears quickly becomes an indicator of their morals.
In “Angel,” one of the stand-out leather queens is the short-lived but compelling Gwen Raiden, who has the power to create electrical surges with her hands, which is why she wears full-length gloves.
We see her for the first time in a bright red leather tank top and pants with red highlights to match. Gwen, though not pure evil, is depicted as hypersexual and unemotional, just as Faith was in “Buffy.” Her character wasn’t actually fleshed out further until her appearances on “Angel.”
I think it’s fair to say that “Buffy” and “Angel” would not be in the canon now were it not for their penchant for making nearly every character wear leather. You can see the lasting impact of leather on television on similar Warner Bros. shows, such as “Charmed,” “Roswell” and “Firefly” and especially in the movies of the time, particularly every iteration of “The Matrix.”
As fashion trends come back about every two decades, leather is having a resurgence. So yes, I did just purchase a leather jacket on Depop.