Cassandra Peterson on Elvira's Legacy, Goth Glam, and Feminine Power

"No guy sweeps in to save Elvira. You do it yourself!"

Elvira aka Cassandra Peterson on Goth Glam

Getty Images

In her New York Times bestselling autobiography, Yours Cruelly, Elvira, Cassandra Peterson details her renaissance from showgirl to the magnificent witch we all love: Elvira. She gets deep about her life and uses her brutally honest voice to discuss everything from family, sexual assault, and her rise to fame. Peterson bravely lets us peek behind the illusive curtain of her most famous character. And for the first time, we get to see the real her — an inspiring and beautiful woman all on her own. 

But the road to becoming an icon wasn’t easy – especially in the beauty space. When Peterson was 18 months old, a pot of scalding hot water spilled on her, leaving third-degree burns and subsequent scarring on more than a quarter of her body. But after discovering the world of fashion in her formative teenage years, she was able to rebuild up her self-esteem. Then at the age of 17, she became a Las Vegas showgirl.

Years later, Peterson developed the character Elvira, when asked to host a series on local Los Angeles station KHJ-TV called Elvira’s Movie Macabre. With the help of late makeup artist Robert Redding, they created the now infamous Elvira look by drawing inspiration from a Kabuki makeup book and the hairstyles of doo wop group The Ronettes.

The result was women, myself included, now looking to Elvira as a character who embraced her sexuality and promoted body positivity. Coming into fame at a time when women were being told to button up and be docile during the Reagan era proved she had no issues defying conventional rules — and still doesn't. As only a cool girl would, she had no qualms about putting on plunging necklines, wearing high slits, and embracing glam goth early on — she saw the power in being unique. 

Peterson and Elvira taught the world that there is no one-size-fits-all beauty standard. In fact, those days are numbered.

InStyle recently sat down with Peterson to discuss Elvira's legacy, goth glam, being a feminist icon, and what she's using in her current beauty routine. Plus — some tea on her new make up line.

InStyle: The message that comes across in all that you do is that "women are here to save the day and don’t fuck with us." I always admired that you always saved yourself in films. No man whisked you off into the sunset — you did it without them. 

Cassandra Peterson: I’ve made that concerted effort in every movie I’ve ever written: No guy sweeps in to save Elvira. You do it yourself! 

Speaking of DIY, what are your current favorite skincare products? 

I use Immortelle HydroSoul and Pomegranate Repair Serum, both by evanhealy, that I mix together. My skin has never felt better and more hydrated. 

What about beauty products?

I wear [Weleda Skin Food and Lit Up Highlighter Stick] in lieu of foundation in the daytime.

And... red lipstick like Elvira? 

It’s funny because Elvira wears blood red lipstick and I do have a line of makeup coming out soon. As myself, I generally wear a more natural look which is a juxtaposition to Elvira. 

[Editor's note: the high quality line that will feature Elvira’s signature blood red lipstick.] 

When did you start to see people copying your goth glam vibe? 

By the end of 1981,  the first year of being Elvira. I would go to conventions and see people staring at me with the same makeup. 

How do you feel about the resurgence of this look?

I think it’s fantastic. It never goes away. It’s a super sexy look — red lips and dark eyes are a sexy look. 

Just like Elvira’s nails!

That is one thing that nobody had seen. When I would go to the store as myself with my nails still on— the looks I would get from wearing black nails. They’d look at me like I was an insane person. It’s hard to believe now when black is a normal polish color.

If you could change one thing about the Elvira look, what would it be?

Probably the hair. Although I love it, it’s a pain in the butt.

Before we wrap, I just have to say that I've always looked to you as a feminist icon because you weren’t afraid to embrace your sexuality and feel body positive. 

I hope so. I get asked "What’s the best thing about being Elvira?" Being able to help people. I can’t tell you how many times fans have come up to me and said "I felt like a loser, a geek, but when I watched your movie I realized that it’s okay to be different and it’s okay to be weird and I don’t need to hide." That is the best thing about being this character. 

Related Articles