“Trick or treat!”
“I got a rock.”
Such phrases have become synonymous with Halloween. Halloween itself has become a billion dollar industry with super stores popping up in recently abandoned retail locations. From scary masks and fake blood to unlicensed likenesses of trending pop culture characters, you can get just about anything in these stores. Almost. Due to licensing reasons, you can’t get a Captain Jack Sparrow costume, but they will have Captain Dreadlock Pirate Guy. Does your child want to become Groot, the lovable giant from Guardians of the Galaxy? How about, instead, your child goes about the neighborhood as Rooty-G, the talking stickman? $35 well spent, I say!
Maybe we, as a culture, have become spoiled with so many creative options so readily available. Whether we’re going downtown for an all-night party or just staying home and having drinks with a few friends, elaborate costumes are easy to come by and, frankly, somewhat expected.
There was a time, though, when people had to rely more on their own creativity and resourcefulness. Below are old-time costumes that were quaint in their simplicity.
1. No Mouth Kid
Back in 1949, this was one of the most popular costumes around. By simply placing their hand over their mouth, any kid could become the kid their parents always wished they were. However, by 1950, many children realized that being unable to say the necessary words “trick or treat” yielded less candy. By 1951, a very vocal protest was led by actual kids without mouths. This was, of course, a written protest, but it was effective. By the end of 1952, No Mouth Kid was as much a no-no of a costume as blackface and plastic Japanese buck teeth.
2. The Castro
When most people think of Castro, they think of that colorful section of San Francisco decorated almost exclusively with rainbow flags and postmodern furniture. Back in the mid-50’s, though, everyone (and I mean everybody!) simply embraced and adored baseball enthusiast Fidel Castro. His trademark beard and hat made him an icon of his day. On Halloween of 1954, adults answers their doors to find hordes of adorable Castros on their porch. More miniature cigars were handed out that year than candy corn and candied apples combined!
3. The Ironic Racists
Who knew that a movement steeped in vile beliefs and perverse ideology could have a wonderful sense of irony? On the one day per year when everyone else was donning a mask, clever racists were removing theirs. From 1957 to 1960, budding racists all across the country traded in their robes and pillowcase masks for street clothes and proud faces of staunch ignorance. This trend toward being unmasked and proud eventually came to halt as more and more neighborhoods became integrated. Young racists realized that they could receive a bigger haul of candy by dressing as vampires or clowns and taking part in the inclusive act of trick or treating.
4. The Migrant Worker
Beginning in 1959, inclusivity became a common theme of Halloween. Instead of such marginalizing costumes as No Mouth Kid, Trust Fund Baby or Polio Patient, children began expanding their awareness by walking an evening in the shoes of others. One of the more popular costumes was Migrant Worker. Using burnt cork for beard growth, worn out jeans for work pants and withheld allowance as economic hardship, thousands of children rang doorbells dressed as migratory workers. Calling themselves either Jose or Juan (the only Hispanic names American children were even aware existed), these trick or treaters brought smiles to the houses they visited, as well as a reminder that ours was truly a melting pot. Unfortunately, many children abandoned the costume of Migrant Worker when they realized they were being given nearly 90% less candy than their traditionally costumed counterparts. While one mini candy bar was the equivalent to, say, 15 full sized candy bars in another country, children grew disillusioned that their long hours and fatigue were netting them an unreasonable and unsustainable amount of sugar.
5. The Somehow Inadequate Monster
Whether we’re rooting for the underdogs or all saying ‘Awww’ in unison at the sight of a puppy, we humans, by our very nature, are compassionate. As children developed a greater awareness for social, economic and cultural differences, there was nothing more important than how to best portray that awareness in Halloween costumes. As their sense of compassion became more refined, children no longer feared the monster under their bed, the boogieman in their closet or the vampire outside of their window. In 1961, there began a completely organic movement to make monsters, the horrific and inhuman, more human. That Halloween, millions of American home owners opened their doors (and, yes, their hearts) to Werewolves Suffering From Mange, Mummies Requiring Moisturizing Bandages, Ashamed Ghouls and Apologetic Jack the Rippers.
So, if you catch yourself donning an expensive persona from the nearest costume rental, remember that you aren’t defined by the amount you spend, but on the thought behind your outfit. Sometimes, subtlety can be even more creative and nuanced than a trendy movie character. Another thing to remember is that you are not obligated to wear a costume, at all. In fact, some people (me!) spend Halloween at home with my loved ones. At some point in the evening, one of us will utter the sincere Calahan-ism, “Oh, right. Tonight’s Halloween, isn’t it? Oh well.”
All images courtesy of Life