Before mass-produced costumes entered the scene, Halloween costumes were a lot more…creative. Forced to make their own masks, dresses, and props–often using highly questionable crafting skills—adults and children across the nation created costumes that were creative, bizarre, and often a LOT more scary than ones we see today. Want to tap into a wellspring of vintage creativity this Halloween? Then ditch those tacky flapper and gangster costumes and follow these steps to create a truly authentic 1920s Halloween costume…
STEP ONE: PICK A POPULAR COSTUME
Guess what the most popular costume choice was during the 1920s? Oddly enough, it’s the one that we’ll probably see stalking the streets this year—only it won’t be this cute:
Check out this cute couple:
Kids got in on the act, too:
Don’t want to be a clown? If you’re a woman, you could always go the witch route. The shapeless drop-waist dresses and skirts popular during the Roaring Twenties lent themselves easily to witch costumes, so they were pretty easy to manage. Throw on a plain black dress and a pointy hat, and ta-dah, you’re a witch!
But maybe standard fare isn’t for you. Maybe you want something more topical. So why not go as…the Spirit of St. Louis?
If none of these costume ideas work for you, though, you could always buy one. While everything I read said that true mass-produced costumes didn’t exist until the 1930s, I found evidence of them being sold in department stores during the mid to late 1920s. Both of these Chicago Tribune ads sell Halloween costumes:
So, you could buy a costume. This makes sense, too, seeing as it was the 1920s that saw the birth of Halloween parties, particularly among the rich and middle class, that often required one come in costume. It seems people had more fun making their own costumes, however—and to do that, they used stuff like…
STEP TWO: EMBRACE THE CREPE PAPER
As I’ve said in other holiday posts, crepe paper was BIG during the 1920s. Every single thing I’ve seen regarding holiday decorating in the Chicago Tribune during that time mentions crepe paper. Apparently, people were really, really excited about it—and popular booklets like The Bogie Book (1926) helped to spread the love. Created by paper product supplier Dennison Manufacturing Company, the book demonstrates how crepe paper could be used to make Halloween costumes, decorations, and many other things. Their book featured charming costumes for adults and children, all supposedly made out of crepe paper. Take a look:
And these lovely detailed things were made out of paper. Paper!!!
Crepe paper wasn’t a horrible choice of material, however. Not only was it light, cheap, colorful, and fairly plentiful, it actually held up pretty well to rough play—provided you didn’t get it wet—which made it excellent for children’s costumes.
It was also useful for making “slip-over” costumes, which, as the name implies, allowed one to slip the costume over regular clothing, leaving a hole for one’s head, then tie it at the waist, creating something a bit like a poncho with a belt. Thanks to its ease of wear, this style of costume was particularly popular with young children. As the Bogie Book tells us, “the slip-over is the most popular kind of costume because it is so simple and inexpensive to make and because it is equally appropriate for either girls or boys.” However, as you may have noticed—literally none of the costumes above look like a simple slip-over! That’s because their simple bases have been heavily embellished by professional designers (I doubt anyone actually succeeded in making them look like these drawings). To understand better how these costumes were constructed, check out this pattern for a rose costume from another Dennison book, How to Make Paper Costumes:
If you were willing and able to sew fabric, however, your Halloween costume options increased dramatically. Check out these lovely sewn examples:
Clothing was only part of your costume, however. What about a mask?
STEP THREE: MAKE YOUR OWN CREEPY MASK
Before the advent of mass-produced masks, people made their own masks out of paper mache and fabric. Thanks to questionable crafting ability, these often turned out looking probably waaaay more creepy than intended. Check these scary photos from the 1930s:
But if you didn’t want to use paper mache, you had another option: yet MORE crepe paper! (Sensing a theme yet?) These freaky-looking crepe paper masks come from The Bogie Book:
STEP FOUR: GO OUT ON THE TOWN!
Now that you have a costume, you’re ready to out and have fun! During the 1920s, children roamed the streets in costume, burning stuff and trashing the place, until adults instituted more controlled celebrations in the form of parties and events at schools, churches, and other public areas, as well as at home. Adults, meanwhile, went to fun, lavish costume parties, full of dancing, festive treats, and party games. All ages enjoyed showing off their costumes and playing at being someone else for the night.
Hopefully you will, too! 🙂 Happy Halloween!!!! 😀