Halloween History: Costumes Through the Decades


Isabella Ambrose, Writer/Designer

Since the beginning of the Halloween holiday in the 18th century, costumes have been the forefront of the festivities. Whether you make your own homemade costume or buy one from a store, Halloween has always been a great time for creativity and self-expression.

In the 1900s, you could not buy Halloween costumes from stores. (Actually, you couldn’t buy boxed Halloween costumes until the 30’s.) Costumes were all homemade. Witches, cats, and aprons were all very common during this time.

Nothing much changed from 1900 to 1920. The Dennison Paper Company, the main supplier of paper masks during the early 1900s, was known for their Halloween crepe paper masks. These masks were only meant to be worn once.

The 1930’s brought about big changes for Halloween costumes. For the first time, people could buy boxed Halloween costumes from stores, but the costumes were costly. Mickey Mouse costumes were very popular among all ages.

Mass produced boxed costumes were very popular in the 1940s and 1950s. From here on out, people saw a huge increase in pop culture costumes due to the increase of TV’s in homes. Pop culture costumes included Batman and Frankenstein’s monster.

The 50s introduced pop culture costumes, and the 60s and 70s reinforced them. The Addams Family, The Beatles, and Barbie were common costumes in the 60s and 70s. Presidential masks made their debut in the 70s, too.

Popular horror movies in the 80s, including Halloween and Friday the 13th, sparked a new interest in gruesome Halloween costumes. Star Wars had its own influence, too. People of all ages dressed up as Darth Vader, Princess Leia, and C-3PO.

The 90s saw a continuum of pop culture costumes and something new. Brands saw Halloween as a time for marketing. Brand-based Halloween costumes, including McDonalds, Tootsie Rolls, and Lifesavers became popular.

Costumes have not changed much from 2000. Pop culture and political costumes continue to fly off the shelves. Disney Princesses, Harry Potter, the Joker, and Ghostbusters have been iconic costumes since their introduction.

Claire Elliot: “When I was in third grade, I was a turtle with a scythe. Not a ninja turtle, but a turtle of death. This was because I wanted to be a turtle and my brother did not want to carry his scythe. Also, my turtle costume was actually for golden retrievers. We could not find anything else…”