History of Halloween Costumes
You might already know that the basic idea of Halloween comes from Celtic traditions, but what does that have to do with dressing up in spooky costumes? Well, a long time ago, the Celts thought that, in the hours between October 31st and November 1st, the line between the physical world and the supernatural world was at its thinnest, allowing for all kinds of apparitions to walk about. In order to protect themselves from these creatures, people would paint their faces so that they’d blend in with the said creatures and thus be safe from getting stolen away by them.
As the Celtic religions became less-practiced as Christianity rose, this celebration, called Samhain, was replaced by All Saints’ Day (also known as All Hallows Eve), which honors all saints, both known and unknown. However, people never lost their fascination with the evil spirits of the dark, or their eagerness to be someone else for a night, and so they found other ways to live a little on the wild side.
In the medieval era, wealthy people dressed up in masks for masquerade balls, but this wasn’t associated with any holiday and could happen at any time of the year. In the Victorian era, people got a new fondness for dressing up, as it reminded them of simpler, pagan times in an era of spiritual confusion and technological advances. Due to Gothic novels like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, people dressed in spookier attire at these balls, and hand-stitched costume inspired by Egyptian deities and ghosts.
People didn’t really start dressing up for Halloween in the modern sense until the twentieth century, when costumes started being manufactured and mass-produced. In the 1920’s, Collegeville Flag and Manufacturing Company, H. Halpern Company, and Ben Cooper Company were the main producers of costumes. These companies made costumes based on well-known monsters cultural icons, and people loved dressing up in fun costumes that didn’t require them to put in hours and hours of painstaking work.
It was around this time that special children’s costumes became a thing, and trick-or-treating, a variation on old Cristian traditions of asking for alms, gave kids a great reason so show their one-night alter-egos to the neighborhood.
Adult costumes got sexy in the 70’s, when the gay community and second-wave feminists started using them as a way to celebrate their sexuality. People didn’t used to see them as problematic or illustrative of oppression. In fact, marginalized groups embraced them fully and even did parades and pinups to show them off.
The costume business has kept booming since then, and now people wear all sorts of masks, makeup, and costumes all October long. People have fallen so in love with Halloween that it’s no longer a one-night ordeal- it’s a month-long celebration of all things spooky!
Written by: Rachel Manning
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