Besides all of the candy, the best part of Halloween has to be dressing up. Every year, people obsessively spend weeks (or months) planning and putting together the perfect costume. And for 2017, that means transforming into the kids from Stranger Things, trying to make people smile (or poo) as an emoji, or throwing it back ‘90s style as a Sanderson sister from Hocus Pocus. But how did people transform themselves for Halloween throughout the decades?
When Halloween became a secular holiday and as trick-or-treating started to become a more popular activity, Halloween costumes started to become all the rage for people of all ages. In the 1920s, costumes started out simple and homemade. The Pierrot clown, with its dramatic black and white painted face, was a popular costume. Other Halloween staples, like witches, gypsies, and farmers, got their start in the 1920s.
Ben Cooper revolutionized Halloween costumes, and was quick to scoop up intellectual properties for mass-produced costumes you can buy at the store. No longer were trick-or-treaters limited to homemade costumes. In the 1930s, Cooper got a big license for Walt Disney creations, including Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Snow White. After these animated products became smash hits, they were easy costumes to buy and become, with rubber masks and cheaply made slips. But Halloween classics like witches, goblins, and scarecrows were still staples for most people.
Spooky skeletons and cute clowns were still all the rage in the 1940s, but one trend that maintains till this day started in the ‘40s: the sexy Halloween costume. With the rise of pinup girls and sexual liberation becoming more and more commonplace, women took classic Halloween costumes like witches and cats, hiked up their skirts, and got sexy all for the sake of dressing up. Bodysuits and fishnets weren’t uncommon, and neither were heels and heavy makeup for these costumes.
To heck with political correctness; it didn’t exist in the 1950s. So taking the tiki trend and luau fascination to the next level by dressing up as a Hawaiian with bright floral prints, grass skirts, and leis was A-OK. Western films were also wildly popular in the ‘50s, so cowboys and Indians were huge themed costumes. As mass produced costumes from Ben Cooper continued to be all the rage, pop culture figures like Zorro, Tarzan, and Davy Crockett were also popular.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane! It’s Superman! Superman, Spiderman, and their female friends Catwoman and Batgirl were hugely popular in the 1960s, and Halloween costumes followed suit. Women could even sex these costumes up with figure-hugging bodysuits and short skirts with capes, like we still see today. Rubber masks also made dressing up like other comic book characters, such as Dennis the Menace, or even pop culture icons like the Beatles, a breeze.
Rubber masks were still all the rage, allowing kids to dress up like favorite characters such as Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang. Generally speaking, pop culture was huge in the ‘70s, with costumes such as Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, Barbie and Ken, and Star Wars all becoming top costumes.
By the 1980s, you could really dress as whatever you wanted and with whatever budget. Ben Cooper no longer owned pop culture-centric Halloween costumes, allowing kids to buy higher-quality outfits to dress as Princess Leia, Freddy Krueger, or the Care Bears. But the ultimate pop culture costumes of the ‘80s were very much of their time. Women dressed like the vampy, sexy Elvira — complete with a big, black hairdo — and men favored squeezing in to a onesie to be Hulk Hogan.
The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were huge with children (and adults alike) in the ‘90s, and Halloween costumes followed suit. Boys and girls could dress up as their favorite Ranger, complete with plastic masks. Speaking of group costumes in the ‘90s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the space voyagers of Star Trek, and the kids of South Park also resonated as fun and timely Halloween costumes.
As pop culture continued to be all the rage, people strayed from just being TV characters to being the singers and actors behind the media. It wasn’t uncommon to see Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Jackson, and Hannah Montana while you were out and about trick-or-treating. From the fictional world, Harry Potter and his Hogwarts friends were all the rage, as were Spongebob Squarepants, Spiderman, and the Joker from The Dark Knight.
Even four years after its release, kids cannot let Elsa, Anna, Olaf, and Sven from Disney’s Frozen go. Other fictional favorites like Marvel’s Avengers, the Game of Thrones cast, and Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad were (and continue to be) hugely popular. But of course, who can forget 2013, when everyone dressed up like Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke, or the 2016 election, when folks tried to make Halloween great again by dressing like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
For 2017, nostalgia and real life will once again be all the rage. Expect to see emoji costumes, plenty of Stranger Things kids, and the witches from Hocus Pocus on your streets and Halloween parties. And now that you know what people dressed like throughout Halloweens of yore, check out what their favorite candies were.