Vintage Style #23: Trick or Treat Attire

I'm torn between thinking Halloween costumes of the 70s were generally better than they are today.... or that they were much, much worse.  After all, most kids back then got their costume from a box at a drugstore.  The box contained nothing more than a cheap mask and corresponding plastic apron.

But the fact that store bought offerings were so shitty meant that kids had to improvise a bit.  This yielded some pretty interesting results; whereas, nowadays the costumes really don't need much "accessorizing'.  Thus, you'll get 40 trick or treaters dressed as Green Lantern at your door, and every one of them looks exactly the same.

As I look back at my various Halloween costumes through the years, it becomes crystal clear that there weren't Green Lantern or Transformer bandwagons to jump on.  You either gathered together a homemade costume or went to Woolworth's and bought a shitty flame retardant costume-in-a-box.  I mostly opted for the former.

My elementary school age costumes were as follows:
  • A Mexican bandit (complete with guns, poncho and big 'stache)
  • A gorilla (I told everyone I was King Kong, but I just looked like a gorilla)
  • Frankenstein's monster (I utilized the costume-in-a-box mask and threw away the dumb apron.  I made my own black Frankenstein suit in its place).
  • A clown (WTF was I thinking? I hate clowns.)
  • Yosemite Sam (shitty Walgreen's costume-in-a-box - not my finest Halloween.... and what was with my fixation on mustachioed gunmen? )
  • A devil (pretty horrific looking, actually - you should see the old pictures)

This is not me... but it's not much worse than my awful clown costume
Much to my wife's horror, during my 3rd grade year, I was actually a witch for Halloween.  Yes, you read that right - a witch.  Not a warlock, an old grey witch.  Why didn't my parents think to stop me? No one thought to point out that witches are female..... as a male dressed as a witch, I was essentially cross dressing! And even more disturbing is the fact that I was too stupid for the thought to not occur to me on my own.

Sadly, once you get to high school, the element of creative fun goes bye-bye.  In your teenage years, your costumes are no longer dictated by imagination, but rather hormones and the need to fit in with the pack.  Personally, I never wanted to give away the fact that I loved dressing up for Halloween, and so I held back my enthusiasm to appear cool.  Arriving at the party dressed as Darth Vader would've been social suicide.

Fortunately, I now have children (four of them, actually), so I can relive the experience.  Granted, the characters and costumes have changed (one of my kids wants to be General Grievous), the excitement is still alive and well.


  1. Great post, Gilligan! Those Ben Cooper mask-n-smock costumes were the worst. I was stuck with Frankenstein's Monster one year. I think I still have a mark from the elastic band.

    Store-bought costumes have definitely improved, but there's no substitute for homemade. My daughter is pumped this year because the junior high actually let's them dress up for school. Her elementary forbade it and insulted the good name of Halloween by having a "harvest party" for the kids instead. With no sweets, of course. How lame is that?

  2. I remember the costume-in-a-box well. But the greatest costume I ever donned was a jawa costume my dad made when I was 8, complete with a black face cover to black out my face and yellow LED lights for the eyes. It was pretty sweet.

  3. I've got a post up now about my past Halloween costumes. http://www.retrohound.com/my-past-halloweens/ Not too many pics of my childhood yet, there may be more later as I got through the box of photos my Mom gave me. For our kids, we've used both, store-bought (actually garage sale bought) and home-made.

  4. I was a Ben Cooper Batman one year.

    The costume part wasn't bad, but the mask made me hate Halloween.

    I wore glasses, which were rendered inoperable by the mask. You could wear them underneath the mask, or over them, as if the Batman suffered from astigmatism, too.

    Then there was the immediate condensation as your moist, warm breath hit the cool air of a late October New England October 31. In minutes, you'd be dripping breath-water out the nose, mouth and chin of the plastic mask.

    If you weren't wearing that mask tilted back on your head by the second doorbell you rang, you weren't breathing properly.

  5. Yea, I remember I had to get the boys "Astronaut" costume becasue even in the hey day of feminism, nobody made a girl's one.

    You did get more variety though, except that almost every boy went as a HObo at one time or another. What is it about bums that make a boy want to be one?

  6. Too funny...as a kid in the '80s, I also recall the "costume in a box." I had Rainbow Brite, her horse Starlite, and Lady LovelyLocks (blonde princess with long-tailed mouse and bird creatures...weird now that I reconsider it).

    My best costume, though, was a homemade Frankenstein. I had a cloth bought mask that I still own, and a cut-down suitjacket of my grandfather's. Funny, it never occurred to 11-year-old me that I was cross-dressing, either...

  7. I actually still have a tube of that Play Blood that I have had since about 1980 or so.

    We use to do the KISS faces back in those days.

  8. Even (or especially) as a kid, I thought those Ben Cooper/Collegeville costumes were profoundly stupid - the smock/coverall part always had a picture and the name of the character splayed across it, no attempt to actually look like who you were trying to be.

  9. The worst Halloween of my life involved a crap box costume.

    It was 1977 and my mom bought not one, but TWO Bionic Woman costumes for me and my sister. Maybe they were BOGO or something, or maybe she just hated us. She made us go out as twin Jamie Sommers. It was the ugliest costume in the neighborhood. If that wasn't bad enough, it was also moving day for my family. We were only moving across town so my parents were going back and forth with stuff while sis and I were out of their way by trick or treating. After hitting the last house, we go back to ours, only to find it completely dark, empty and deserted. Our parents ditched us... Our faces were soon covered in bionic tears and snot because we were very very scared. We couldn't even wipe our noses on the costume sleeve because it was plastic, like a dollar store tablecloth. Mind you we were only 7 and 5 years old. Apparently back in the 70's it was socially acceptable leave your kids out alone in the dark if it was a holiday.

    We were two blubbering miniature bionic women, wandering the street til we reached a friends house for shelter. Parents came back to get us about an hour later and inflicted even more emotional damage by having us sleep in a strange new house on a plain mattress (bedding still packed in boxes).

    In my heart of hearts, I just know that night would've been less traumatic if I went out as Holly Hobby.

  10. My mom always had an unending supply of old fashioned dresses, petticoats, pantaloons and bonnets. I have no idea what my older brothers did when they trick or treated, although I have seen a picture of them in their Davy Crockett hats, complete with non PC rifles.

  11. Had many a Ben Cooper costume, with all those safety-minded day-glo fluorescent colors! When is Spider-Man bright green, yellow, and red/pink?

    I (with help from my mom) made my own Captain America outfit in 1973, for the 3rd grade outing. Nice custom job, but, since I wore glasses then (my first year doing so), I reasoned THOSE could be my mask! Lots of neighbors answered their doors with "where is your mask?" I crudely drew a shield on my treat bag. Heh.

    I as a mummy for my last Halloween, in '75. It was a home-made outfit, and soon unravelled, so, by the last houses, I was just a chubby kid in street clothes holding a wad of white torn sheets in my hand!

    Recall how CRUCIAL your costume selection was? How many times you'd change you mind?

    Al Bigley

  12. Photo #2:

    Say, are those the Landers Sisters?

  13. My son is going as Krypto the super dog and my daughter is going as a Monarch butterfly. My wife always makes their costumes.

  14. Don't feel too bad Gilligan, remember, Bugs Bunny also cross dressed as a witch in "Broomstick Bunny" when he trick or treated at Witch Hazel's place.