Halloween costumes through the ages


Photo by: Ollie Millington

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Once a year, on the last night of what many like to call “Spooky Season,” it has been tradition for Americans to dress up in costumes and go trick or treating. The entire holiday of Halloween has been modernized overtime, and the costumes are no exception. 

While some costume classics will always be relevant, most reflect the generations and the time period surrounding the present Oct. 31.

Halloween costumes have always depicted people’s fears and favorite characters, the most popular figures in the media and so much more. These costumes are key in learning what things defined a certain time in history. As you could imagine, Halloween costumes have certainly changed a bit over the years. 

Originally, Halloween costumes were made to genuinely disguise someone, deeming them completely unrecognizable. They were also actually meant to be spooky, as the “trick” in trick or treat was once more emphasized, and young people would go around scaring others with their costumes. 

Before Halloween costumes began being mass-produced by commercial companies, most were homemade with paper masks and bedsheets. Though they had little flexibility, many trick-or-treaters grew creative and this allowed for people to dress as ghosts, witches, pumpkins and black cats; essentially everything we tend to associate with the holiday. 

However, with the playful fun also came the not-so-harmless “jokes.” Many costumes that were worn back then would not be acceptable in today’s society, and for good reason. Many white people would wander around appropriating turbans and wearing blackface, presenting all sorts of racist conflicts that are altogether insensitive. Children would also deem feathers and dress as Native Americans. These contrarian costumes are thankfully not as popular today in a society that is more likely to take offense. 

As the years passed, Halloween costumes became less problematic and more about entertaining the children. Many began dressing as characters from popular radio shows like Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Around the 1950s, companies began to mass-produce costumes. This gave many children the chance to dress up like princesses, cowboys, clowns and popular characters like Batman. 

In the 1970s, costumes grew more adult themed. Political masks, like Nixon after Watergate, were often worn for Halloween and have remained popular since. To this day, it is not uncommon to find someone sporting a frightening mask of their Congressman of choice. 

In the 1980s, costumes began surrounding everything new in pop culture, including horror movies and Star Wars. The streets were filled with big-haired gruesome killers as well as Darth Vader, C-3PO and Princess Leia. 

By the time the 1990s and the early 2000s rolled around, in pure “Mean Girls” fashion, the emergence of “sexy” costumes began. You could put a sexy spin on anything, from a nurse to a vegetable. The list surprisingly goes on and on. 

Also beginning in the 1990s, it was popular for costumes to reflect current events, no matter how controversial. Even after the O.J. Simpson trial, there were masks and gloves packaged up into a Halloween costume on the shelf. 

Anything is fair game. 

These days, Halloween is all about going to parties and haunted houses, getting candy, and dressing up. Friends coordinate group costumes based on popular tv shows and movies, couples dress up together, even pets wear Halloween costumes now. Today’s costumes span the themes of all Halloween’s past. The classic sheet ghost has even made a recent resurgence thanks to TikTok trends. 

From ghosts and witches to princesses and presidents, you never really know what you will see on the street today. Except for Harley Quinn, you will always find somebody dressed as Harley Quinn!