The History of Halloween Costumes
Of the many loved festive traditions in America is the donning of costumes every year during the month of October is on the top of the list. Although Halloween is known today to be predominantly celebrated by children, many years ago adults lead the festive day and began dressing in elaborate costumes for Halloween parties. These parties were also known as Masquerade parties. At these Masquerade parties, often referred to as Masquerade balls, attendees dressed up in beautiful outfits and elaborate masks. The event was also considered a game. The men and women played by guessing who was under the masks.
Dressing up in what we know today as “Halloween costumes” is a recent tradition that developed in the twentieth century. In fact, the first store bought Halloween costumes were not available until the 1930’s.
The modern Halloween holiday is loosely based on the old Celtic holiday, Samhain. This day was when the wall between the real world and the spirit world was considered to be almost nonexistent. Because of this, Halloween costumes have always had a creepy, spooky, or even down-right frightening appearance and connotation. However, how did the concept of the Halloween costume even begin?
The Beginning of Halloween Costumes
The origin of Halloween masks and costumes came about because of the need to hide one’s attendance at festivals or to change the personality of the person wearing the mask or costume to allow for communication with the spirit world. At this time, the costumes could be worn to ward off evil spirits. Or the wearer might try to use their disguise to try to attract and absorb the power represented by the mask and costume they wore. At this point in history many believed animals had a direct connection to the spirit world. Because of this, many people wore animal disguises (Halloween costumes) to lower the veil between the two worlds.
Another explanation of this tradition of Halloween costumes comes from the medieval Catholic practice of displaying the relics of saints on All Saints’ Day. Many of the less extravagant churches could not afford relics. Instead of displaying the relics, their parishioners dressed as the patron saints and the other church members dressed as angels or devils and everyone paraded around the churchyard.
With the soaring growth of Hollywood horror movies focusing in on characters such as ghouls and goblins and spooky villains, the country was served many times the perfect inspiration for creepy Halloween costumes. Ben Cooper INC, was the first of continuous companies in the 1930’s to start mass producing Halloween costumes to purchase. These companies produced costumes that reflected famous horror film characters as listed above. Before this, the majority of Halloween costumes were made by hand and were much more costly. However, with the mass production of Halloween costumes, they became available to a larger public and quickly created a lucrative consumer market. A new niche was born.
Witches, blood thirsty vampires, scary ghosts, vicious werewolves and many other frightening monsters became the popular choices of trick or treaters everywhere. This was how the American concept of a quote on quote “creepy” Halloween was born. Dressing up in these surreal costumes became popular amongst the public as an opportunity to escape reality and to have innocent fun. It was also an excuse to throw parties and parades.
With the increasing popularity of the concept of “tricks or treats“, it was not long until the children joined the adults in costumes. After that followed the tradition of going door to door in costumes and collecting goodies and candies. Once the children became such a big part of Halloween, the market quickly evolved to offer more than just monster costumes. A plethora of pirates, fairies, clowns and superheroes, such as Batman and Superman began showing up alongside more traditional costumes. The idea of costumes continues to develop with the changing times and there are always new fades and popular choices as each year passes.