Halloween costumes from the early 20th century was quite terrifying. Drawing on the holiday’s Christian and pagan roots – as a way to reconcile with death or ward off bad spirits – people usually opted for a more serious costume than costumes inspired by pop culture.
Before this thing evolved into a more family-friendly affair, this party occasion people celebrate during October 31 was deeply linked to superstitions and ghosts, according to experts. It was seen as outside of the norm when people act outside of what is reasonable for society. Wearing ghostly costumes (not like the horror-inspired costumes of today) was an essential part if this occasion.
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The history of Halloween costumes dates back at least 2,000 years. According to historians, Samhain, the Celtic pagan festival that marked the end of summer and the beginning of the darker half of the year in the British Isles, is the precursor of the Halloween holiday. According to traditions, during this festival, the world of the netherworld became visible to humans.
Because of this, various supernatural mischief happens. Some individuals offered food and treat to the gods, while others wore costumes as disguises so that spirits might misread them as one of their own. Hiding behind custom dresses, villages usually played pranks on one another, but blamed supernatural entities. Cover-ups and masks came to be seen as a means to get away with jokes.
That is continued throughout the festival’s evolution. The Christian world adopted October 31 as a typical holiday at the start of the 11th century, as part of their efforts to reform pagan festivities as their own. Indeed, Halloween derives from the phrase “All Hallows Eve.” It means the day before All Saints’ Day. But a lot of the Samhain folklore was passed on and incorporated – including costumes.
The entry of Halloween to American culture
Once this festivity entered American culture, its popularity immediately spread, according to fashion experts and historians. People in America embraced the pagan roots of this festival, and its idea as a dark occasion focused on death. People wore frightening and scary getups made at home with whatever is readily available. Ideas come from DIY websites like Birdfromawire. Improvised masks, makeups, and sheets became a staple for every home.
Anonymity is a big part of the costume. The whole point of wearing it was to be in complete disguise. People also became very fascinated with impersonating cartoon characters and characters at the fringe of American society like pirates, homeless individuals, and gypsies. Continuing the old practice tradition like mumming and souling, pranks became common in the United States – sometimes even to the point of rioting and vandalism.
Throughout its history, the festivity has gone through a lot of changes when it comes to ownership. Its historical connection to death became more tenuous, making a lot of space for different types of dress-ups. As television brought up popular culture into every home, Halloween costumes in the United States have started to take after comic characters, entertainment figures, and superheroes. They also become more commercialized and store-bought. By the start of the 1960s, manufacturing companies that help commercialize Halloween celebration, owned at least 70% of the costume market.
Dropping the mask
During this time, adults started to dress up for the occasion. Like kids’ dress up, their approach has been usually more fun than scary. It eventually gets inspirations from popular movies like Indiana Jones or Star Wars than ghouls, demons, or ghosts. Generally speaking, this time marked a shift in the way people dressed for the occasion.
Adults, in particular, started ditching full-on coverage and masks, choosing to show their faces. Outfits became a way to play a special version of themselves: showing the community they were Luke Skywalker, Superman, Wonder Woman, or whatever character they love.
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Although there was still a place for frightening suits and outfits, because of the popularity of horror movies, from A Nightmare on Elm Street to Hellraiser, and today, this holiday became a big capitalist celebration, detached from a vestige of paganism or Christianity, and more focused around expressing everyone’s fantasies.
It also explains the success of the tradition on a global level. Experts think that the celebration becomes more of a reflection of the times people are living in. But some few people make their own outfits now, and less creativity going into what individuals are wearing, compared to its early days. Individuals are all drawing from the same range of outfits available in the market today.
And it also creates a lot of waste because of it. Experts think that everyone would express themselves more individually if they created their own outfits like they used to. This tradition has a deep history, but we also need to remember the fun in making these outfits by our own hands.