Halloween's Fashion History

Candice brings you back through the fashion archives of Halloween to discover where all the masked goblins and bedsheet ghosts began and how it came to be what it is today.

With Samhain, the Celtic day of the dead Autumn Festival, as its roots, Halloween has branched out and evolved into a bunch of variations across the globe. In 1840s America, where the notorious (and sometimes outrageous) Halloween celebrations are most associated with, this festive day was shaped by the European influences that came into the infant nation. With little festive differences, each country has its ways of celebrating the departed all while looking fabulous or ghoulishly terrifying!

As the first day of the Celtic New Year, Samhain marked that transitional border between seasons and between the living and the dead. This usually fell on the full moon closest to the first day of November, after the completion of the harvest.

Celebrations similar to what we associate as Halloween today would be undertaken on the eve of Samhain, October 31st. Bonfires would be lit to deter the spirits away as well as call on Celtic deities, oftentimes with livestock sacrifices used. The tradition of trickor-treating came from playful and mischievous Celts dressing up as spirits and going from house to house doing silly acts for donations of foods or drinks.

With the belief that the spirits were wandering around at night, people also disguised themselves in feathers and furs to remain undetected. Masks and blackened faces (not to be confused with blackface) were done to impersonate deceased ancestors, and some of the younger men and women are believed to have even crossdressed, which we are all here for!

Some other traditions included those of match-making with women bobbing for apples or tossing peels in hopes that their future love life would be revealed to them. With more organic ways of meeting a significant other, as well as other unconventional means (Tinder, Hinge, and etc.), we, luckily, don’t need to depend on these superstitions as wholeheartedly anymore.

All Hallows’ Day or All Saints’ Day transformed and blended with Samhain when Christian leaders took over, but many of the traditions remained the same. All Soul’s Day, the churchsanctioned holiday, was celebrated on November 2nd with people in costumes ranging from saints and angels to devils, but All Hallows Eve, the day before Samhain, came to officially be known as Halloween.

In the 1800s, when the Irish-American immigration really boomed, Halloween traditions crossed the seas into the stilldeveloping nation and left their permanent marks. Intertwining with the traditions of the indigenous people, a distinctly American Halloween emerged.

Ghost stories were shared across fires and the usual mischievous ways of the youngsters continued. Although the original pagan festivities of bonfires and apple-bobbing matchmaking are less focal to the festivities now, the influences are still apparent in modernday traditions. As time progressed, the celebrations and costumes became more elaborate in America, which drew its influences from Europe, as well as Mexico’s El Dio de Los Muertos.

An estimate of $9 billion was spent on Halloween in America in 2018, with costumes making up a good chunk of that. Houses are decked out in spider webs, fake spiders, and more wild Halloween decorations as they compete for the spookiest house on the block. Halloween is a serious deal in America. Not to say that America is the only country that celebrates Halloween, but the scales are definitely incomparable.

The now termed “trick-or-treating” is a classic nostalgia for many Americans, including myself, and other youths. Instead of food and drinks, candy is the main offering now, with even more generous donators occasionally giving out cash. A quarter of all candy sold in the U.S is purchased for celebrating Halloween. Isn’t that astounding?!

Some of the most popular costume characters are those of witches, vampires, ghosts, and a plethora of animals. As television became more influential, more and more people would dress up as their favourite celebrities or animated characters. The rise in meme culture brought in more ridiculous costumes, such as laughing emojis and actual memes. You will even be able to find people with a plain white tee with the word “costume” written across it. The possibilities are endless.

Additionally, there are also extreme contrasts between similar costume options. You can find a cute black cat costume with a simple all-black ensemble and drawn-on whiskers and ears to a barely-there or all leather cat dominatrix situation. There’s even a sexy variant for a Ronald McDonald costume, which is deeply disturbing in and of itself.

The variety is mind-boggling. With so many decisions and people throwing elaborate Halloween bashes and celebrations, costume parties are ongoing throughout all of Halloween with a giant parade usually capping the month off on the actual Halloween day of October 31st. It isn’t uncommon for many to start costume searching weeks, if not months, in advance, spending upwards of 50 dollars or more.

The youth were also more commonly known to dress up for Halloween, but you see more and more adults donning their spooky garments now as well.

For all the haters that say, “You’re too old for Halloween and trick-ortreating,” forget them! You’re never too old to celebrate, so get those vampire fangs or Spongebob Squarepants overalls and show them off!

Only having been around for the past hundred years or so, these costumes are definitely more light-hearted and less religiously influenced compared to their origins. Regardless of whether you’re trying to scare off the haunting spirits or just want some free candy, it’s a festive time to enjoy yourself for a night of being something or someone else!

If you have your own traditions, let us know what they are! Tweet us your costumes or tag us @londonrunwaymag!
You can see more of Candice’s work on Instagram by following @Candice_x9.

Images via Instagram, Amazon, Unsplash, and Wikimedia Commons

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