A black-as well as also-white photo via the early 1900s shows a woman in rural America, her face covered which has a sinister white mask. In another, via 1930, a tall figure stands in a field tightly wrapped in what looks like a white sheet as well as also black tape, while a 1938 image shows three people driving to a party in hair-raising skull masks.
Halloween costumes via the first half of the 20th century were terrifying. Drawing on the holiday’s pagan as well as also Christian roots — as a night to ward off evil spirits or reconcile with death, respectively — people often opted for more morbid, serious costumes than the pop culture-inspired ones of today, according to Lesley Bannatyne, an author who has written extensively about the history of Halloween.
“Before the item evolved into the family-friendly, party occasion we know the item as, October 31 was deeply linked to ghosts as well as also superstitions,” she said in a phone interview. “the item was seen as a day ‘outside of normal,’ when you act outside of society’s norms.
“Wearing ghoulish costumes — not horror-inspired like today’s, however plain frightful — was an essential part of the item.”
The genesis of Halloween costumes may date back over 2,000 years. Historians consider the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain, which marked summer’s end as well as also the beginning of the year’s “darker” half from the British Isles, to be the holiday’s precursor.
Photo taken in 1905 of a person wearing a ghost costume in a rural schoolhouse. Credit: Historic Photo Archive/Getty Images
the item was believed that will, during the festival, the globe of the gods became visible to humans, resulting in supernatural mischief. Some people offered treats as well as also food to the gods, while different wore disguises — such as animal skins as well as also heads — to ensure that will wandering spirits might mistake them for one of their own.
“Hiding behind their costumes, villagers often played pranks on one another, however blamed the spirits,” Bannatyne said. “Masks as well as also cover-ups came to be seen as means to get away with things. that will’s continued throughout Halloween’s evolution.”
Christianity adopted October 31 as a holiday from the 11th century, as part of efforts to reframe pagan celebrations as its own. Indeed, the name “Halloween” derives via “All Hallows Eve,” or the day before All Saints’ Day (November 1). however many of the folkloristic aspects of Samhain were incorporated as well as also passed on — costumes included.
In medieval England as well as also Ireland, people might dress up in outfits symbolizing the souls of the dead, going via house to house to gather treats or spice-filled “soul cakes” on their behalf (a Christian custom known as “souling”). via the late 15th century, people commenced wearing spooky outfits to personify winter spirits or demons, as well as also might recite verses, songs as well as also folk plays in exchange for food (a practice known as “mumming”).
As the first wave of Irish as well as also Scottish immigrants began arriving from the US from the 18th century, Halloween superstitions, traditions as well as also costumes migrated with them.
Once Halloween entered American culture, its popularity quickly spread, according to fashion historian as well as also director of brand new York University’s costume studies MA program, Nancy Deihl.
“People in rural America actually embraced its pagan roots, as well as also the idea of the item as a dark occasion, centered around death,” she said in a phone interview. “They wore scary, frightening get-ups, which were made at home with whatever was on hand: sheets, makeup, improvised masks.
“Anonymity was a big part of the costumes,” she added. “The whole point of dressing up was to be completely in disguise.”
Three girls prepare for Halloween festivities from the College Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio, 1929. Credit: Felix Koch/Cincinnati Museum Center/Getty Images
By the 1920s as well as also 1930s, people were holding annual Halloween masquerades, aimed at both adults as well as also children, at rented salons or family homes. Costume preparations sometimes began as early as August, according to Bannatyne. Falling right between summer as well as also Christmas, the celebration also seemed to benefit via its timing from the calendar. “the item was a way to come together before the turning of the season,” Deihl said. “Marketers played heavily on that will as Halloween became more commercialized.”
Those same decades also saw the emergence of costumes influenced by pop culture, alongside the first major costume manufacturing companies. The J. Halpern Company (better known as Halco) of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, began licensing images of fictional characters like Popeye, Olive Oyl, Little Orphan Annie as well as also Mickey Mouse around that will time, according to Bannatyne.
“People also became fascinated with impersonating characters at the fringe of society,” she said, adding that will pirates, gypsies as well as also even homeless people became common outfit choices.
Continuing the tradition of old practices like souling as well as also mumming, Halloween pranks became a common phenomenon in North America — sometimes to the point of vandalism as well as also rioting. By the mid-1940s, the press had dubbed the night’s anarchy (or its broken fences as well as also smashed windows, at least) the “Halloween problem” — as well as also costumes may have “partly enabled that will behavior,” Bannatyne said.
Portrait of party goers at the Chicago Art Institute’s Halloween Ball, Chicago, Illinois, 1949. Credit: Robert Natkin/Getty Images
In an effort to discourage criminal damage, local as well as also national officials attempted to recast the holiday — as well as also dressing up for the item — as an activity for younger children. The Chicago City Council even voted in 1942 to abolish Halloween as well as also establish “Conservation Day” on October 31 instead.
“Throughout its history, Halloween has gone through adjustments of ownership,” said Anna-Mari Almila, a sociology research fellow at the London College of Fashion, over the phone. “Its original connection to death became more as well as also more tenuous, which made space for altogether different kinds of (costumes).”
Dropping the mask
the item was around that will time that will adults commenced dressing up for Halloween again, according to Deihl. Like kids’ costumes, their approach was often more fun than frightening — as well as also might eventually be just as inspired by “Star Wars” or Indiana Jones than by demons or ghouls.
A school age boy stands in his living room for a portrait of him wearing a clown costume. Credit: Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis/Getty Images
“Generally speaking, the ’60s marked a shift from the way we dress up for Halloween,” Deihl added. “Grown-ups, in particular, commenced ditching masks as well as also full-on coverage, opting to show their faces. Costumes became a way to play a lighter, special style of oneself: showing the globe you ‘were’ Wonder Woman, or Luke Skywalker, or what have you.”
however there was still a place for scary outfits, encouraged by a slew of splatter-horror movies that will commenced emerging from the 1970s as well as also 80s, via John Carpenter’s “Halloween” to Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” These decades also saw gay communities across the States adopt the holiday as an occasion to wear outrageous outfits as well as also hold parades, contributing to a boom in Halloween parties as well as also the popularization of provocative costumes that will “in recent decades,” Deihl, said, “have oftentimes leaned towards the overtly sexy as well as also campy.”
“Halloween costumes have gone via disguises to full-on exhibitionist,” Almila said. “Today, the item’s one big capitalist celebration completely detached via any vestige of Christianity or paganism, as well as also more centered around expressing people’s fantasies — which also explains its success globally.”
“I think they’ve certainly become more reflective of the times we live in,” Deihl added. “however there are also far fewer people producing their own Halloween outfits at that will point, as well as also a lot less personal creativity going into what you wear, compared to the early days.
that will article was originally published in October 2019.