Vintage Halloween Costumes
From pagan spirits to miracle worker: a brief history of the Halloween costume
This black and white photograph from the early 1900s shows a woman in rural America with an ominous white mask on her face. In another, from 1930, a tall figure stands in a field, tightly wrapped with something like a white sheet and black ribbon, and in a 1938 photograph, three people are walking to a party wearing 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 the night to ward off evil spirits or come to terms with death, respectively – people often choose more morbid, serious costumes than today’s pop culture costumes, according to Leslie Bannatin, a writer who has written a lot about the history of Halloween. … …
“Before it became a family holiday, we know that October 31st was closely associated with ghosts and superstitions,” she said in a telephone interview. “It was an unusual day when you act outside the norms of society.
The origins of Halloween costumes can be over 2000 years old. Historians consider the Celtic pagan festival Samhain to be the forerunners of the festival, which marked the end of summer and the beginning of the “dark” half of the year in the British Isles.
It was believed that during the festival, the world of the gods became visible to humans, which led to a supernatural disaster. Some people offered food and food to the gods, while others wore disguises – such as animal skins and heads – so that the wandering spirits could mistake them for one of their own.
“Under their costumes, the villagers often laughed, but blamed the spirit,” Bannatyne says. “Masks and disguises have come to be seen as a means to avoid trouble. This has continued throughout the evolution of Halloween. ”
Christianity embraced October 31 as a holiday in the 11th century, as part of an attempt to reimagine pagan holidays as their own. In fact, the name “Halloween” comes from “All Saints ‘Eve” or the day before All Saints’ Day (November 1st). But many of the folkloric aspects of Samhain were included and transmitted – costumes are included.
In medieval England and Ireland, people wearing dresses that symbolized the souls of the dead went from house to house to collect snacks or spicy “cakes” in their own name (a Christian custom known as “mental business”). From the late 15th century onwards, people began to wear creepy outfits to personify winter spirits or demons and recite poetry, songs, and folk plays in exchange for food (a practice known as “muttering”).
When the first wave of Irish and Scottish immigrants began to arrive 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, fashion historian and director of the costume program at New York University.
“People in rural America are really rooted in their pagan roots and the idea of this dark incident was centred around death,” she said in a telephone interview. “They wore scary, scary outfits that they made at home with what was at hand: sheets, cosmetics, impromptu masks.
“Anonymity was a big part of the costumes,” she added.
By the 1920s and 1930s, people were hosting annual Halloween masquerades for adults and children in rented halls or family homes. Preparations for the costume sometimes began as early as August, Bannatin said. Fall between summer and Christmas, the celebration also seemed to capitalize on its time on the “It was a way to get ready for the season.”
In those same decades, along with the first major costume companies, costumes emerged under the influence of pop culture. According to Bannatin, J. Halpern (better known as Hulk) of Pittsburgh, PA, began licensing images of fictional characters such as Popeye, Olive Oil, Annie’s Little Orphan, and Mickey Mouse.
“People were also fascinated by the imitation of characters at the edge of society,” she said, adding that pirates, gipsies, and even the homeless have become common clothing choices.
Continuing the tradition of old customs such as animation and muttering, Halloween jokes have become commonplace in North America – sometimes to the point of vandalism and unrest. By the mid-1940s, the press dubbed nocturnal anarchy (or at least it’s broken fences and shattered windows) the “Halloween problem” – and the costumes may have “partially tolerated this behaviour,” Bannatin said.