Fiction Fiasco

Halloween Costumes Of Old – When Less Was More… More or Less

“Trick or treat!”


“That’s scary!”

“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!

“No, I’m not Baggy the Bag Monster. I’m Rooty-G!”

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.

Here, Jackie Benson gives an unheard acceptance speech after winning Best Costume at Vandenburg Elementary.


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!

“It’s not Communism! It’s representative democracy and social justice in a well-planned economy! Yippee!”


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.

“Trick or treat, Mrs. Stansfield! We’re dressed as proud Americans defending what we believe is a calculated attack on our culture and way of life. White chocolate! White chocolate!”


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.

With 25 extra pounds of supplies weighing him down, Rusty Barton, a natural ginger, prepares to walk a few miles of suburban homes as Jose Jose Juan Jose y Juan.


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.

Nowhere was the marriage of empathy and monstrosity better personified than Vampire Suffering Crippling Arthritis. Seeing what is presumably a thirsty vampire unable to even lift his drinking glass without reeling in pain is heartbreaking to anyone with (or without) a soul.


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.”


Sidenote: This was originally written for Chris at Long Awkward Pause. However, due to a computer crash, I missed my deadline. Sorry, LAP!

All images courtesy of Life

9 thoughts on “Halloween Costumes Of Old – When Less Was More… More or Less”

  1. And let’s not forget the Soviet Russian Communist costumes, which were somewhat popular in the early 50’s, but quickly fell out of fashion when people realized that trick-o-treaters wearing these costumes were met with gunfire nearly as often as with candy.


    1. The best Russian Communist costumes were the ones disguised as other costumes. They would infiltrate groups of trick or treaters and plant the seeds of insurrection and distrust.


  2. More brilliance from Barely Legal Original Gangsters. I loved these timeless treasures. I’m not sure why, but I was particularly tickled by “The Fidel.” For Halloween ’84 or ’85 I dressed as Reagan, complete with mask and cheap suit.

    However, by FAR the most common costume when I was a child was the Somehow Inadequate Monster. It seems like he was everywhere!


    1. I’m glad someone took time to read!

      I was never a gypsy, but I was once a hobo. I never took the costume far enough, though. No rickets, malnutrition or DT’s. Looking back, it was a really lazy costume.

      Liked by 1 person

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