Dressed in Halloween costumes, a group of children go trick or treating in the 1960s in the police station. They receive apples from a police officer.
Spooky Halloween traditions can be dated back to Samhain, a Celtic Pagan festival that signified the end of summer and the start of the dark half of the year. People wore masks and cover-ups because they believed the world of the gods had become visible to humans. Over the years, these costumes developed in response to cultural trends, public interests, current events, and more. Homemade costumes in the late 1800s have inspired store-bought costumes that are available today.
Halloween was celebrated at the start of the year’s “darker” half in the British Isles. During this time, people believed that the world of the gods was visible to humans, which kicked off a series of supernatural acts. To trick wandering spirits, people offered them treats and wore coverups, like animal skins, to make them believe they were also spirits. Sometimes, these disguised villagers would play pranks on each other and accuse the spirits of having caused these incidences. These costumes began to have many uses and soon went on to become a tradition for Halloween.
As costumes began to pass through different cultures, races, and countries, they evolved their own names. The evolution of Halloween costumes in the United States came through different events and pop cultures. By the 19th century, it had become the norm to dress up on October 31. The late 1800s carried the popular looks of witches and ghosts. The Dennison Paper Company increased its mass production of paper costumes and masks from the 1900s to the 1920s as Halloween became more popular in places such as schools and parades. Around this time, Halloween’s theme of yellow, black, orange, and purple was created. In the 1930s to 1940s, disposable paper costumes and plastic masks hit the shelves as a luxury for those who could afford them after World War II.
As pop culture started to change society, people started to wear costumes that were based on what they saw on TV. From Disney to E.T, this tradition began reflected what the media had to offer. For instance, the core-rocking 1978 film by John Carpenter, “Halloween,” introduced an even darker, more spookier side of the holiday, influencing costumes to become even bloodier!
Halloween expert, Lesley Bannatyne, described it as "...always spooky, and it was always otherworldly and weird, but it wasn't bloody and violent until John Carpenter's 'Halloween' cracked it open." In the 1990s, brand-name products were popular Halloween costumes because of the subversive political theme. Nearing the present day, the 2000s, filled with political scandals, introduced presidential masks. Later on, a Halloween costume theme appeared to make them more appealing. Because of the increased focus on cultural appropriation, fewer and fewer cultural costumes have been seen in recent years. Lists of Halloween costumes, ranging from cats to wizards, can be found in stores and on the internet today. This Halloween tradition will carry on for many years to come, constantly evolving with the themes in society.
It may seem that these Halloween costumes have no significance, however, they provide information on what the public appeals to. Starting in the 2000s, when presidential masks became popular, the results of every election except for the one in 2016, have been accurately predicted by them. This demonstrates the influence these costumes have on public opinion and the media.
The history of these costumes has molded the holiday into what it is today. The 2,000-year old festival of Samhain has paved the way for the largely popularized tradition of Halloween. From witches and ghosts, to television shows and movies, these costumes transform the fall season into a spooky and thrilling time of year!