Spooky season is here, and with Halloween just around the corner, there’s no better time to talk about it – and get some tips on how to stay fashion relevant during this time.
Unlike a lot of the ones we’re used to see now, Halloween costumes from the first half of the 20th century were actually terrifying. Being a holiday that goes way back to its pagan and Christian roots – the first one as a night to ward off evil spirits and the second to reconcile with death – people back in the days often opted for more morbid, serious costumes than the pop culture-inspired ones we see today.
We’re talking about a really ancient holiday, and the genesis of Halloween costumes dates back to something close to over 2,000 years – most historians consider the festival of Samhain, a Celtic pagan festival, to be the holiday’s precursor. The festival would mark summer's end and the beginning of the year's "darker" half in the British Isles.
Actually, as a whole, the origins of Halloween as we know, celebrate – and love – today are deeply rooted in medieval Celtic traditions. It was the Celts the first known people to believed that the souls of the dead visited the living on October 31st, and that’s why they would hold a festival to honor these souls, a great festival that also represented the beginning of winter and the start of the new year for that civilization. During Samhain, one of the traditions was to dress up in costumes and share treats and food with the wandering spirits – very similar to what we’re doing today, but the spirits are actually our very much living friends and the festival is a halloween party. The Celts also believed that those who weren’t wearing a costume would be at risk of being possessed by the visiting souls, and there we have it, the very first historical instance of “costuming” in relation to what we now call Halloween.
Continuing our timeline, we reach the 17th century, when children used to dress in ‘Skeklers’ - a kind of costume made out of animal skin or straw – as they visited houses while dancing, singing and asking for gifts. This was an old tradition called guising, and we now see it as an early form of the modern trick-or-treating. Similar rituals were also happening all across Ireland and Great Britain, and these rituals were responsible for providing the needed foundation to what would be the Victorian Halloween festivities, and later on, as the first Irish and Scottish immigrants began arriving in America in the 18th century, their Halloween superstitions, traditions and costumes travelled along with them.
And that’s where our conversation really starts, as we’re focusing on costumes: once Halloween became part of the American culture, it doesn’t took long for its popularity to spread and for it to become not only a holiday, but one that took over an entire month. People, specially in rural America, really embraced the holiday’s pagan roots of it as a very dark, death centered occasion. For this reason, they wore the most scary, frightening costumes they could think of, those being made at home with whatever was available and good enough to create something very nightmare material, like sheets, makeup and improvised masks. Anonymity and the possibility to feel like someone – or something - eles was also a big part of wearing costumes, by that time, the whole point of dressing up was to hide and be completely in disguise.
Getting a little closer to our current lifetime and getting to the early 20th century, we now see how Halloween started to go through some changes and new traditions were created, such as Halloween parades happening all over towns and children now being the center of the celebrations, many dressed as clowns, witches, devils, and ghosts, which continued to be popular Halloween costumes – but maybe just not as scary as they were before. At that time, it was commom to see many costumes made of crepe paper, due to The Dennison Manufacturing Company publishing the Bogie Books, an annual series, starting from 1909, that demonstrated how to make homemade Halloween costumes and decorations out of crepe paper.
By the 20s and 30s, Halloween was more than a holiday, but part of culture as a whole, something to look forward to – and part of pop culture. People were already starting to hold annual Halloween gatherings and parties, those being for both adults and children and happening on rented salons or family homes, and it was so much of a big deal that the costume and decoration preparations could begin months before, as early as August. And with the date of October 31st happening to be right between summer and Christmas, the celebration also got to benefit from its timing in the calendar, providing a way for people to come together before the turning of the season, and that’s what marketers played heavily on and Halloween became more commercialized, which explains the quick emergence of pop culture influenced costumes and the rise of the first major costume manufacturing companies.
Continuing the tradition of old practices started in the roots of Halloween, the pranks – or ‘tricks’, to go with the trick or treating idea – became a common phenomenon , specially in North America, sometimes even getting to the point of vandalism. It became so big of a problem that by the mid 40s, the press would call it ‘The Halloween Problem’ as towns had broken fences and smashed windows during those nights of this anarchy – and because they give some kind of safeness and hiding, costumes may have played a part in that behavior.
Still on the costumes, it was only in the 60s that we had a real shift in the way we dress up for Halloween. People started to give up on masks and full-on coverage and now costumes were a way to play a different, special version of someone: showing yourself to the world as you really are Wonder Woman or any other character you may choose, with no need to be the most frightening costume known to man – even though there was still a place for scary outfits, of course. Other than superheroes and popular pop characters, Halloween costumes were also inspired by the many horror movies that started emerging in the 70s and 80s, from ‘Halloween’ to ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street.’
It was in that same decades that different communities, like the LGBTQ+ adopted the holiday as an occasion to wear outrageous outfits and hold parades, them being responsible for a boom in Halloween parties and the popularization of provocative costumes as we see nowadays – and I can only say thank you, if I’m being honest. More recently, Halloween costumes have gone from disguises to full-on exhibitionist and the holiday in general turned into one big capitalist celebration, nothing like the traditions that gave life to it. Now, it’s a lot more about dressing up, looking beautiful and going to as many halloween parties as possible – which also explains why it’s such a global success.
And now that we know how important costumes are for Halloween, let’s talk about my real point here: how to look like a real instagram model, it girl this year. Because if Halloween is now about looking your best and we fashion girls couldn’t help but do exactly this, here it is: tips to choose your rock your Halloween costumes this year.
Firts of all, be clever and remember the things you already own – there's not always need to buy new things just to create a costume, if you look deep into your closet you’ll always find something useful. Also, avoid buying costumes from a bag and at least consider going full DIY in this costume of yours. Show off your own, real style by creating a look yourself, that way you can rewear everything – or most of it – instead of spending money on something you'll just wear once and producing more trash.
While creating or choosing your costume, consider the weather – I know most of you girls wont – and the dress code of the place you’re going. Once it’s all set, be ready to look awesome and have the best spooky season ever!