Spike’s Character Evolution Through Wardrobe (meta under the cut)
I kept saying if we keep him in the same costume, we’re communicating to the audience that he’s the same person. That there’s nothing more to learn from him, about him. -James Marsters (x)
Spike’s iconic costume is the heavy boot, black jeans, black tee, and black leather duster… which only makes alternative costumes all the more important for the character.
1) Spike’s earliest timeline appearance is in Fool For Love, when we meet William the human. He’s all fully buttoned, pressed collar, glasses, and dandy. He is completely constricted. His costume in this period shows how restrained he was as a human, both in his timid actions with others as well as his world views. William was an upper class Englishman living with his sickly mother, with little to no experience outside his self imposed cage. His wardrobe for this time shows that the human William is the antithesis of everything we see when we first met him in School Hard. This is of course after Dru literally had to pull away his collar to turn him, the first step in becoming the “legendary dark warrior” from later seasons.
2) The Boxer Rebellion has William becoming William the Bloody/Spike. He has a new accent, new name, and a new wardrobe. Spike’s clothing here is looser, more billowy. We see an earlier version of his duster, a long period appropriate jacket. As a vampire he has broken out of his cage of humanity and is ready to take the world by force. It is at this time that he also gains the notorious eyebrow scar in a fight with a Slayer. William has literally unravelled and Spike has been born.
3) New York City, 1977. Spike has the punk look we have come to know and love- the ash white hair, black attire, and even the “fuck you” attitude to go with it. By stripping the leather duster from the body of a Slayer, he literally coats himself in the skin of a mythic warrior and puts that solid barrier between himself and his past life. The jacket becomes symbolic of his carefully crafted persona.
4) Spike in Sunnydale: one half of the Sid and Nancy duo of the vampire world. Spike wears heavy boots and a blood red shirt overtop of his black tee, the colours of death and mayhem. They look lived in, comfortable, the way Spike is comfortable with his new identity. He is completely at ease in this costume, with the comfy-wrinkles in his outfit to prove it.
5) Spike in Sunnydale 2.0, and things have never been worse for Spike. Captured and neutered, Spike wanders through a vague nothingness period. He has no real identity anymore, trying to keep the attitude of a baddie even if he’s incapable of being one anymore. His outfit is simple black on black on black. Well, unless he shrinks everything and is forced to wear Xanders clothes… a far cry from Slayer’s gear.
6) Spike’s in love and the duster is off. Spike tries to appear more “normal” and “good” by switching up to a less aggressive looking ensemble. Unfortunately, what’s in the packaging remains the same and his get up doesn’t fool anyone. This is yet another example of how Spike deliberately alters his outward appearance in order to assume a certain role or status. In this case, “goodness”. He dressed “bad” and became so, but quickly discovers that a bloodless outfit doesn’t wipe out all the blood from his past.
7) Spike in season six takes on the role of “bad boyfriend” to the Buffster. His new outfit choices reflect this. The black nail polish is replaced by heavy silver coloured jewellery. It’s a more adult version of the same old dirty bad boy vibe he was rocking back in season 2. His hair is also allowed to curl a bit more, look a tad unruly to reflect the bedhead he’d adopt after taking the Slayer to bed. The duster stays but makes an appearance less often, more often overshadowed by the call for nudity or printed black long sleeve button-ups. He takes on a harder edge that goes along with his departure as comic relief and introduction as sexual partner. His costuming for season six is clear- bad news.
8) Spike post-ensoulment is absolutely raw and vulnerable. He is stripped of his former self and his clothing. This tone during shirtless scenes is a stark contrast to last season’s nudity, which was always portrayed as sexy. With a soul and without clothing, Spike has nowhere to hide from his past sins. Spike’s clothing was always his costume, and stripped of that he is without solid identity or purpose; this is a clear reflection of his state of mind at the beginning of season 7.
9) Spike’s in-between wardrobe for season 7 features a little bit of what we’ve seen before, as well as some all new costume choices. Spike’s hair is back to being perfectly dyed, but the polish and jewellery is gone. He’s lost his punk edge for the most part. Instead Spike wears denim and cargo, earthy colours meant to ground him. His green jacket has a military flavour to it, which goes along with his new role as full on soldier for the Slayer brigade. His clothes are still loose and casual, things you could fight in, but they no longer scream “serial killer”. There’s a deliberate distance from the way he used to dress. There’s even a bit more blue, like when he tried to be “different” in season 5.
" I really felt like once Spike had a soul, he would not want to go back to the emblem of his evil, and I was really clear about that. (…)I’d like to hope that we kept him out of the coat for long enough, and then explained why he needed it again. So he’s gonna go back to his violent power and own that again, but he’s not gonna give into the evil that comes into that. ”-JM (x)
Ultimately Spike does retrieve his old duster, but only after Buffy makes it clear he needs to resurrect some of his old fighting mojo. Of course Spike’s physical ability to fight was never literally helped nor hindered by any garment, but it seems that in order to take on the role of badass Spike needs to layer up once again. Season 7 has Spike struggle between William the priss and Spike the killer, and only when he’s able to accept both versions of his past is he able to start kicking major ass again. The persona of “Spike” that he has created is what allows him to to do his job, and this persona is only ever comfortable to him when he’s in his coat. The duster, as mentioned in AtS is literally his second skin now. His wardrobe directly reflects this complicated transition as we see him go from a bold blue “costume” shirt in Beneath You, to the casual jacket, and finally to the leather Slayer duster once again. Spike’s S7 wardrobe is by far the most interesting as it shows the broad emotional journey he takes throughout the final season, and the entire show itself.