Vintage Halloween Costumes
From Pagan Spirits to Wonder Woman: A Brief History of Halloween Costume
A black and white photograph of the early 1900s depicts a woman in rural America, whose face is covered in an ominous white mask. In another, since 1930, a tall figure stands in a field tightly wrapped in something like a white sheet and black ribbon, while the 1938 image shows three people going to a party in masks with skull hair.
The Halloween costumes of the first half of the 20th century were terrifying. Relying on the pagan and Christian roots of the holiday – like night to ward off evil spirits or come to terms with death, respectively – people often choose more painful, serious costumes than today’s pop culture costumes, according to Leslie Bannatin, an author who wrote a lot about Halloween stories.
“Before it became a family holiday, we know that October 31 was closely connected with ghosts and superstitions,” she said in a telephone interview. “It was seen as an“ out of the norm ”day when you act outside the norms of society.
The genesis of Halloween costumes can be more than 2,000 years old. Historians consider the Celtic pagan festival Samhain, which marked the end of summer and the beginning of the “dark” half of the year in the British Isles, the forerunner of the holiday.
It was believed that during the festival the world of the gods became visible to people, which led to supernatural disaster. Some people offered food and food to the gods, while others wore disguises – such as animal skins and heads – so that wandering spirits could mistake them for one of their own.
“Hiding behind their costumes, the villagers often made fun of each other, but blamed the spirit,” said Bannatine. “Masks and disguises have come to be seen as a means of avoiding trouble. This went on throughout the evolution of Halloween. ”
Christianity took October 31 as a holiday in the 11th century, as part of an effort to rethink pagan celebrations as their own. In fact, the name “Halloween” comes from “All Saints Eve” or the day before All Saints Day (November 1). But many of the folklore aspects of Samhain were included and conveyed – costumes included.
In medieval England and Ireland, people dressed in dresses that symbolized the souls of the dead, going from house to house to collect refreshments or spiced “cake souls” on their behalf (a Christian custom known as “mental business”). From the end of the 15th century, people began to wear creepy outfits to personify winter spirits or demons, and recited poems, songs, and folk plays in exchange for food (a practice known as “muttering”).
When the first wave of Irish and Scottish immigrants began arriving in the United States in the 18th century, superstitions, traditions, and Halloween costumes migrated with them.
After Halloween entered American culture, its popularity quickly spread, said Nancy Deal, a fashion historian and director of the costume program at New York University.
“People in rural America really took its pagan roots, and the idea of this dark case was centered around death,” she said in a telephone interview. “They wore scary, frightening outfits that they did at home with what was at hand: sheets, makeup, improvised masks.
“Anonymity was a big part of the costumes,” she added.
By the 1920s and 1930s, people were organizing annual Halloween masquerades for both adults and children in rented lounges or family homes. According to Bannatine, preparation for the costume sometimes began back in August. The fall between summer and Christmas, the celebration also seemed to benefit from his time on the calendar. “It was a way to get together before the season,”
In the same decades, along with the first large costume manufacturing companies, costumes appeared influenced by pop culture. J. Halpern (better known as Halco) from Pittsburgh, PA, began licensing images of fictional characters such as Popeye, Olive Oil, Little Orphan Annie and Mickey Mouse, according to Bannatin.
“People were also fascinated by the imitation characters on the edge of society,” she said, adding that pirates, gypsies, and even homeless people had become the usual choice of clothing.
Continuing the tradition of old customs, such as animating and muttering, Halloween pranks have become commonplace in North America – sometimes down to vandalism and unrest. By the mid-1940s, the press dubbed night anarchy (or at least its broken fences and broken windows) the “Halloween problem” – and costumes may have “partially allowed this behavior,” Bannatine said.