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The History of Halloween Costumes

I am a Golden Age Thinker, convinced I have been born into the wrong decade, whereas I should have been born somewhere around the 1900s/1910s. Mainly so I would be old enough to dress like this for Halloween during the era of the Bright Young Thing:


How adorable is the spider costume?

But where did the tradition of dressing up on Halloween come from? And how have costumes changed over time, reflecting the style of the era?


Many people (including myself, which doesn’t stop me using it as yet another excuse to dress up!) will argue that Halloween has been distorted by marketing and branding, creating yet another reason to spend money on products. The origin of Halloween dates back thousands of years, and would encompass a whole other blog post altogether!


It isn’t known exactly when Halloween costumes became popular, but we do know it came hand-in-hand with Trick or Treating, which actually has Celtic and European roots. It was believed that on the night of Samhain (a festival celebrating the end of summer and beginning of winter, which was commonly associated with death) one could avoid ghosts by wearing masks. They also placed bowls of food outside their homes to satisfy the ghouls, preventing them from entering.


While trick or treating and other party games associated with Halloween have diminished in Europe, many Americans will have fond memories of the childhood joy of creating their own costumes.  Not so long ago there were just a handful of ready-made Halloween costumes, therefore many people spent time making their own in order to stand out.


Modern day Halloween has altered further, reflecting various social and economic factors. Trick or Treating has become an activity shunned by teenagers and young adults, now usually an activity for young children and their parents. From my experience, Halloween was not generally celebrated in the backwaters of Essex in the mid 90s, except for little chavlings to egg houses that may or may not have had any sweets. I had the feeling that it was usually considered too dangerous for children to knock on strangers’ doors, but perhaps this just reflected the lack of community spirit my town had.


Costumes have also changed. They have become more extravagant and humorous, often referencing characters from popular culture rather than anything particularly scary. Most of these costumes are relatively inexpensive, yet particularly detailed. Home-made costumes had become rarer, however there seems to be resurgence in ridiculously amazing feats of engineering such as this SLR Camera costume


Halloween has seen an increased interest from adults, who will usually wear their costumes to parties rather than trick or treating. As an industry, Halloween has grown almost thirty percent over the past decade, with American adults spending roughly $1.75 billion on outfits each year!


With that said, what will you be wearing this year? Will you go with a shop-bought costume, a handmade wonder, or something in between? Each year I give myself a very small budget and see what I can put together, either from my current wardrobe, or the high street. Often I will pay a friend to custom make a costume, which means that I’m supporting a small business/designer AND I’m getting something completely original!


Here is a little bit of inspiration from previous decades!


In the Victorian era, costumes were usually just altered versions of everyday dress

Let's party like its 1890.