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Oct 7, 2012

Memories of Halloween Costumes Past



Real quick: the MPB Halloween Sew-Along starts this coming Wednesday!

If you'd like to join our Flickr group, shoot me an email (peterlappinnyc at gmail dot com) and I'll send you an invite (you can do this directly through Flickr if you already have an account there).   Photos can be viewed by anyone, but only members can post or leave comments/questions.  Of course we'll all be sewing different costumes most likely, but we'll be sewing them together -- or virtually together.  Anyway, it will be fun.  I'll have more info in the coming days.

Meanwhile, friends, is it me, or has Halloween become a very different holiday than when I was a kid?  Or back even further...



I was in the New Jersey suburbs this weekend and everywhere you looked you saw these pop-up Halloween stores.  They're in NYC too, half a dozen within walking distance from me!





I remember Halloween as strictly a kids' holiday.  You went to a costume party or out trick-or-treating and that was it.  Today Halloween is big business, and it's as much an adult holiday as one for kids, and there are all those sexy this and sexy that costumes.  Halloween stores may be convenient, but where's the creativity in shopping at one?

I stumbled upon this pattern last week and I immediately thought to myself, Would any child today want to go trick-or-treating as a nurse?  It would be seen as sexual stereotyping or just plain dull, am I right?  Maybe if she were a zombie nurse...



I love looking at old costume patterns.  They seem to reflect more innocent times, though they could be a little ethnocentric -- I mean, all those gypsies.  Today, an "Italian Costume" would be a Versace jumpsuit.


 Can someone please explain the fascination with little Dutch girls?


Historical costumes seem a little elaborate for a contemporary child, too Shirley Temple. Actually I think Shirley was both a little Dutch girl and an Eighteenth Century lady in a Heidi dream sequence.


Remember when a hanger on your head was enough to communicate the Space Age?


I don't have children of my own, of course, but I do see the kids in my neighborhood, and my sense is that the kind of things they want to dress up as has changed dramatically.  I remember being a clown, a ghost, a French painter, and a railroad train conductor.   Today, generic costumes like those don't cut it.  Halloween has been branded.




Once upon a time you were a princess or ballerina.   Today it's the latest hot toy or cartoon character. Blame it on TV, I guess, and mass marketing.





Who would even recognize a Pierrette or shepherdess?  (And who is Priscilla?)



Readers, do you agree that Halloween is too focused on brands and TV characters, and just too commercial? 

And what's with all those one-stop shopping Halloween mall stores? (Have you ever shopped in one?)

Don't forget to join the Flickr group!

(For you little Dutch girl fans...)

41 comments:

  1. It makes me glad we didn't celebrate Halloween in Australia when I was a kid. Can you imagine the competition between mothers that goes on in the suburbs?

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  2. Remember when a hanger on your head was enough to communicate the Space Age?

    That looks like a Teletubbies prototype.

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  3. Heidi has to be my all-time favorite Shirley Temple movie. Thanks for the flashback.

    ~Sewjourner

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  4. and I thought Priscilla was a bus!

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  5. I like my dad's memory of a time when Halloween was simpler (he is 88): "you put on an old shirt and pair of pants of your dad's, rubbed some charcoal on your face and you were a bum!"

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  6. Hm. Well, Bit has two costumes... sorta. See, she was all set to be a bat. My SIL bought the costume on after-Halloween clearance last year. With her employee discount, it was 90% off. She figured that even if Bit refused it for Halloween, it would make great dress-up. And Bit's excited about being a Bat, because it lights up. (Daddy is the tree, Baby Bit is an owl, and Mommy swears she's going to be a bat house!)

    But then her preschool declared that on Halloween, the children must come dressed as storybook characters. I suggested that she could just be Stella Luna (children's book character) but apparently it had to be well-known. Since I made her a Rapunzel dress for dress up for her birthday, she's going to be that... which means I now have to make the wig! (Not paying $25 for the commercial one!)

    When I was a kid, we dressed up in more what was available and bought face paint and maybe a cheapo wig. But Bit has been choosing and more often than not, it's a weird request, like last year's "nice pumpkin, not scary pumpkin, but with big teef and fangs". Talk about not commercial! I mean, where can you buy vampire pumpkin costumes? Year before that started as a make-do year. She'd gotten a princess dress-up for her birthday and it just then fit. So We made her a wand and crown and bought wings and she was going to be a fairy princess--until the last minute when she saw Scooby Doo in clearance and that's what she was.

    The year before that, I made her a Foofa costume from Yo Gabba Gabba (kids show) and the year before that she was a bumblebee thanks to the thrift store.

    While Rapunzel is technically more commercial (I made it from the Simplicity Tangled pattern), overall the girls costumes have been non-commercial. Baby Bit was a vampire pumpkin last year with her sister, and this year she's a pink, chocolate, brown, and cream owl.

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  7. (I won't be participating in the sew-along, Peter. The only costume bit I have to do still is the Rapunzel wig, and that's a no-sew item.)

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  8. Oh, yes. I was a gypsy at least two or three Halloweens in my pre-teen years, just so I could wear a variety of my mom's colorful square-dancing petticoats and peasant tops!

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  9. When I was a kid it was a kid's holiday. Best part was cruising streets around mine that we never went to otherwise to go trick or treating. My mom made us wonderful costumes when my sister & I were little she made us blue corduroy trains with tinsel appliqued crowns & we went out as Queen Victoria & Eleanor of Acquitaine (I am a history professor's kid which explains that)-

    Costumes today are too elaborate. Best one I made for my kids was when my daughter wanted to be Maya the bee, she wore leggings, an oversized black sweatshirt with yellow stripes, cardboard & glitter wings and a head band my mom found that had glitter balls on springs for antennae -

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  10. Elaine (nobody you know)October 7, 2012 at 7:11 PM

    I totally agree with you, Peter. I will be spending 40 hours sewing an "old school" astronaut costume (and spray painting a footbal helmet) no doubt to be outdone by half a dozen Buzz Lightyears whose Moms stop at Target this week. I just don't see the point if we're not going to be putting a little personality and creativity into it. Otherwise, it's just another competitive spending frenzy.

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  11. My sister and I were the little dutch girls. My mom made our "hats" out of severely starched dinner napkins. My sister even wore wooden clogs which were a gift from someone. I'll be looking for that picture so I can send it. It's a classic.

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    1. Eileen, is that based on a children's story book or something? Why a Dutch girl?

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    2. In my youth there were these rubber molds. At Girl Scouts we used plaster of Paris to make little dutch boys and girls. I don't know where the "fad" came in. Maybe Scandanavian furniture (which my folks had) was kind of popular in California.
      Still looking for the picture.

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  12. I was delighted to hear today that my eighteen year old will be wearing her Lord of the Rings Eowyn costume, for the fifth year in a row!

    It was the first dressmaking project I'd ever made and am really glad I'd thought to put a corset back in it. The dress and the cloak were made out of old sheets and velvet and satin curtains. All I had to pay for were the eyelets.

    As for me, as a teenager in Eighties' rural Ireland, we made do with black plastic bags and talcum-powdered faces to turn into witches. Or dressed up in old clothes. And then had to SING for treats or money before walking miles home in the dark to share the loot. Great fun...... :)

    But back even further; I came across this on the Retroscope the other day:

    http://www.retronaut.co/2012/08/fancy-dresses-described-1887/

    Apparently, dressing as a Maltese Water Carrier was all the rage back in 1887......


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    1. I, too, had to sing a song or tell a joke. What happened to that?

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    2. What did happen? Now they turn up at the door with bags open just waiting for treats. If I do ask them to sing, they look at me as if I have two heads.

      Hmmm, given the night that's in it, that's one amazing costume challenge. :)

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  13. I too am sad that Halloween has been taken over by adults who just use it as an excuse to dress inappropriately. When I was a kid back in the middle ages, it was a holiday for kids only. The adults stayed at home where they belong, handing out candy. If they wanted to be "sexy nurse," they confined it to their own bedrooms!

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  14. I had a great ballerina getup - complete with a tutu - for a ballet recital when I was 14 (and already tall). That thing got worn by myself and my brothers multiple times for Halloween. It was very popular in my family and fortunately endured for many years of enjoyment. I have sewn my daughter's costume every year since forever and I enjoy it more every year. I am glad young adults love to dress up, because it is a sentimental indulgence for moi.

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  15. My son will be Spider-Man for the third year in a row.... It's really cold up here and always snows on Halloween so it kind of limits our costume choices. Everything has to fit with sweatpants under the bottoms and function with a bulky coat underneath or on top and of course hats and mittens. So really, unless you're going to a party, no one will see what your wearing. I remember going as a gypsy one year and had tinfoil over an orange for a crystal ball.

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    1. Boy this brings back memories: I grew up in the mountains and never knew a Halloween night with temps above freezing. I was a teenager before I realized that people were actually supposed to SEE your Halloween costume when you went door-to-door. But it didn't matter that I just pulled on what my older siblings had worn for years before. Ellie

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  16. It is fun to reminisce about past Halloween costumes but to label it just a children's holiday is unfair. Clearly, we are all getting a kick out of it still. For those of us that don't have kids to dress up and get creative for we still have ourselves and I for one will continue to don whatever costume catches my fancy every Halloween that I care to until I'm dead.

    This is not a new thing either for adults to want to get dressed up in unusual clothing (costumes) and celebrate something together. Masquerade balls were a big thing for many a century. Why should we deny ourselves the modern day equivalent?

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  17. As a kid, I had many costumes, all of which were made by my grandmother or my mom, or at least put together from things we had around. Often my brothers and I had a theme: one year I was Wonder Woman and my brothers were Superman and Spiderman, respectively. My red "boots" were old red knee socks pulled on over ballet tights and my school shoes, and I had to wear a turtleneck under the halter top. Another year, I was Dorothy, using a dress that my grandmother made for a dance recital, and my brothers were the Lion and the Tin Man. In later years I was Laura Ingalls (Little House on the Prairie was really popular then) and I was Annie Oakley one year, using a fringed suede mini-skirt and vest that my mom wore in the 60's.

    One year I was even a Dutch girl and one of my brothers was a Dutch boy - but then again my Dad was born in Amsterdam.... My parents only dressed up occasionally, and that was if they went to an adult party. My father made an excellent Groucho Marx and my mother dressed in a vintage gown to be Margaret Dumont.

    My kids love to dress up as much as I do (we love to go to Ren Faires in costume!), and they keep raising the bar higher and higher. One of the reasons that I make their costumes is specifically because I know I can create a higher-quality garment than one that is store-bought, and my kids like to play dress-up. We have a Snow White dress that I made 7 years ago for my now 12 year-old. Her younger sister wears it often and it still looks great. I try not to ever set foot in those Halloween stores, although sometimes I need a cheap prop, like a sword or funny glasses. Most of the items in there are just crap and I can't believe people waste their money on them.

    2 years ago my girls were lady pirates: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mommymade/5141334567/in/photostream
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mommymade/5142002402/in/photostream

    Last year my son was an elephant:http://www.flickr.com/photos/mommymade/6371762565/in/photostream
    My oldest was an 18th Century Vampire: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mommymade/6371780335/in/photostream
    and my younger daughter was Cinderella. I don't know if you can call it commercial, since I made that costume, too. This year they're all going as characters from Alice in Wonderland: my son is the White Rabbit, my younger daughter will be Alice, and my oldest will be the Queen of Hearts - à la Tim Burton. That promises to be a challenge.

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    1. Those costumes are marvelous, Jen. Thanks for sharing them!

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  18. This thread is fascinating to me, we don't really 'do' Halloween in the UK, it most certainly wouldn't qualify as a holiday. I'm in my 40s and I have no recollection of ever dressing up as a child or going out trick or treating. My brother has lived in the US for nearly 20 years and, following a visit to him one October, my children came home all excited with halloween candy (we had never even seen it before and that would have been in 1995). I made them costumes that year (a witch and Dracula - we took the literal approach) but I had to call friends first because nobody would have been expecting a knock at the door or had treats to hand. Now it's more common to have kids knock but I buy 1 bag of fun size treats and that's plenty and we live in a family neighbourhood. Generally you see the odd witches hat or mask but not elaborate costumes. So despite the marketing efforts of the local supermarkets etc Halloween doesn't seem to have caught on here really in my experience. Hope you all have an enjoyable holiday :)

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  19. My Mom was happy to make me a costume if I could decide on time. I can be indecisive, so a lot of years I was a bum or a gypsy - both costumes that can be thrown together last minute.

    We moved to Australia for a few years, and I was bummed to miss out on Halloween. As many have commented, it wasn't a big deal.

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  20. I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, yes, I think pretty much all holidays are too commercialized. On the other hand, they can only be as commercialized as we (we the people) allow them to be. If you want them to be less commercial, celebrate them in ways that don't buy in. I love Hallowe'en but I want it to be spooky; cartoon witches and Frankenstein's monsters and stuff drive me crazy (in a bad way), so I don't buy them. I love holidays and I refuse to let commercialization ruin them for me.

    My parents are both talented and slightly insane so we always had fantastic costumes. We had Tom and Jerry (cat and mouse) costumes when we were little, followed by a tiger, a teddy bear, a horse (complete with 3-D head), and--are you sitting down?--a griffon. The wings were made out of a Boy Scout Indian headdress kit. And one year, my mother bought a bunch of navy blue wool skirts at Goodwill and made my brother a tiny Union general uniform. One of the things that upsets me most about being single and childless is that I don't have any kids in my life for whom I can make overly elaborate Hallowe'en costumes.

    My childhood best friend was the Snow Queen from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe one year. I think it might have been the most beautiful costume I'd ever seen, all white faux fur and silver glitter.

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  21. I made 2 costumes for DS (dragon and clown) before he decided in kindergarted that my costumes weren't suitable. After that he wore purchased costumes - fireman for several years and air force pilot. After that, he did a mix of purchased parts (plastic gun, helmet and face paint) with camo fabric clothing he already had to be army soldier.

    I only recall home-made costumes when I was in elementary school and trick or treating exactly once.

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  22. ohohoh - flashback on the costumes - I may never have gotten much done in the way of halloween things, but I recall that in elementary and grade school, costumes were also done for the Christmas program and another program at end of the year that involved singing and dances. I don't think that's done any more - they may get up on stage in a group and sing for a holiday concert, or whatever it's called now. Maybe that's part of the reason for more generic costumes in the past?

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  23. Dutch costumes: I live near Holland, MI where Dutch costumes are practically mandatory-- the entire marching band wears them, and all the schoolkids in the annual Tulip Parade. Even the kids of the growing Hispanic population have to wear the Dutch costumes. I went to the Tulip Parade once and every politician running for office had a Dutch costume! Except for Senator Carl Levin. Yay, Carl.

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    1. I'm from Grand Rapids, originally, so your reply stuck out at me. My Dad proposed to my mom on Windmill Island, in front of the windmill. Of course, it was WAY less commercialized back then. The costume patterns are mass-produced and sold at Field's Fabrics now. I used one for my oldest when her Girl Scout troop did a project about the Netherlands for their Thinking Day celebration.

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  24. I hate the 'sexy costume' thing. I liked Halloween when I was a kid because it was spooky. Now it's just an excuse to go to the bar dressed like a stripper in a store-bought costume. The only sexy costume that I would actually want to see is Sexy Jabba the Hutt because it would be hilarious.

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  25. As a kid in the '70s, I had homemade Halloween costumes & sometimes envied the 'fancy' commercial store-bought costumes that other kids had. The masks were usually the best part, shaped like some elaborate cartoon character. Meanwhile I was usually a gypsy dressed in castoffs from my mom's closet. Later on tho, I started making my own costumes & could create elaborate things.

    And I'm glad that adults can now enjoy Halloween (tho' not necessarily the dumb 'sexy blah costume' trend). It's a major holiday that doesn't have to revolve around religion or family or obligations or even food & gifts. It can be what you what you want it to be.

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  26. Ahhhh! Lots of childhood Halloween memories!

    Growing up in southern California, the weather usually was reasonably comfortable on Halloween. It could be a little nippy or quite warm--one never knew what to expect!

    Halloween definitely was for children at that time. Not very elaborate, trick-or-treating with an occasional party. The neighbors behind us had older children--and one my age--so they usually had a party of some sort. Children and adults were welcome--non-alcoholic beverages only!

    We also were allowed to wear out costumes to school after lunch through sixth grade (elementary school). My mother either made or augmented actual garments to create costumes most years. Two years I wore dance recital costumes, but they really weren't designed for the playground!

    The dutch theme struck my mother as well. One year she augmented a blue skirt and blouse with an apron and cap made from a sheet. I had a pair of clogs, but disliked them, so wore regular shoes.

    One year I was Little Red Riding Hood, which was a dance recital costume recycled from a Santa's helper costume that my mother made the previous year. She removed the fur trim, shortened the sleeves, made a cape from some extra satin fabric, and embellished everything with sequins! The other recital costume I wore for Halloween was a fairy princess, which was made by a local costumer. Not nearly as comfortable as Red Riding Hood!

    Most of my costumes were easy--cowgirl (skirt, shirt, vest, boots, hat), gypsy (long skirt, peasant top, fringed scarf, lots of jewelry). I don't recall the others--apparently not very memeorable!

    When I owned my first business, our fiscal year ended on October 31st, so we always had a "New Year's Eve" party for staff and family. Children's costumes were encouraged and prizes were handed out for various categories, with smaller prizes "just because." We had simple games (guess how many candy corn, jelly beans or bubble gum were in a jar) for both children and adults. And, of course, food, fun beverages (non-alcoholic) and goodie bags for everyone!

    Currently, I don't do anything for Halloween. Usually, I'm working, as it is month-end. On the rare occasion I am at home, I turn off the lights and snuggle in with a book!

    Taja

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  27. Peter, just for you, costumes of Halloween present and past! Owlet, Rapunzel (wig in progress!), Foofa, Cute vampire pumpkins and a better look at the pumpkin face!

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  28. My most remembered costume for Halloween was when I dressed up a toothbrush... I think it was because I thought the dentist was a scary place. Cardboard box and a lot of straws placed diligently by my father was all it took.

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  29. I remember when I was a kid that most of our costumes were dreamed up on the school bus on the way home the day of Halloween. And they were the gypsy/witch/ghost variety. There was a lady down the street that always made popcorn balls - and no one was ever afraid to eat them; it's so sad that you have to be now.

    I made many of my kid's costumes; plenty of princess gowns with the long pointy hats, a red power ranger, a truck driver (baseball cap, suspenders, CB radio microphone and cord pinned into a pocket: can you say 10-4 good buddy!) bag of jelly beans (clear trash bag filled with dofferent colored balloons.) We always had fun deciding on them and they often had the best costumes, compared to the store bought ones. I recently made middle daughter (now 28) a Princess Leia costume to wear to the Star Wars conventions.
    ~Kelly

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  30. VermillionCorsetryCoutureOctober 9, 2012 at 8:49 PM

    I really miss Halloween since moving back to the UK from the States as it's not celebrated here with same enthusiasm to say the least. Every year my friends and I would dress up and go the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas where I lived.One year one of those halloween stores came to the rescue! I had left things to the last minute and had no costume but managed to put together a really cute cat costume by customising some black vinyl shorts and halter top with a tail. ears and black false nails glued to the outside of some black gloves for claws, all from the same halloween store.

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  31. Late to the party here, but Priscilla would be Priscilla Alden of Puritans fame. I went trick-or-treating as a Puritan girl one year. Peter, do you remember the costumes that were also pajamas? I think they were mostly animal ones ... tiger, leopard, etc. A mask and footie pjs. Very practical! My last Halloween trick-or-treating, I went as the 7-Up can from the commercials. Covered a teenager-sized chicken-wire tube with green fabric with a 7-Up applique, cut out armholes and eyeholes, and wore my white go-go boots (it was 1972).

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  32. With this post, I actually agree that there are several classic costumes which look better than the ones out in stores these days.

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