Halloween costumes for the first half of the 20th century were terrifying. People often chose scarier outfits over the “pop” we see today, according to author Leslie Bannetten, who has written extensively on the history of Halloween
In a phone interview, Bannaten said, “Before it evolved into the festive, family-friendly occasion we know, the 31st of October was closely associated with ghosts and myths”.
The origin of Halloween costumes goes back more than two thousand years.
Historians consider the Samhain Festival, which marked the end of summer and the beginning of the “darkest” half of the year in the British Isles, as a predecessor to Halloween.
During the festival, it was believed that the realm of the gods becomes visible to humans, leading to supernatural accidents.
Some people offered food to the gods, while others wore costumes, such as animal skins and heads, so that the spirits thought they were from them, and that they were not human.
And when the first wave of Irish and Scottish immigrants began arriving in the United States in the 18th century, Halloween fairy tales, traditions, and costumes migrated with them.
Once in American culture, Halloween spread in popularity very quickly, according to fashion historian and director of New York University’s MA in Fashion Studies, Nancy Diehl.
“People in rural America have really embraced its pagan roots, and I thought of it as a grim event centered around death,” Diehl said in a telephone interview.
People wore scary home-made clothes, and anonymity was “a big part of the fashion”.
By the 1920s and 1930s, people were throwing annual Halloween costume parties aimed at adults and children alike.
Those decades also saw the emergence of pop culture-influenced costumes, along with the first major costume manufacturers.
Halloween pranks have become so commonplace in America that it has turned into vandalism and riot in an attempt to discourage criminal harm, local officials tried to reformulate the occasion, making the disguise aspect reserved for children.
And after World War II, when television brought pop culture into the homes of families, Halloween costumes increasingly included superheroes.
Around this time, adults began dressing in Halloween costumes again, according to Diehl.
The 1960s saw a shift in the way people deny Halloween, Diehl said, “adults in particular are starting to get rid of masks and full coverage, and have chosen to show their faces.”
However, there was still room for spooky costumes, something that was encouraged by many horror films that began in the 1970s and 1980s, such as “Halloween” and “A Nightmare on Elm Stree”.