Halloween costumes are costumes that are worn on or around Halloween, a festival which falls on October 31st . An early reference to wearing costumes at Halloween comes from Scotland in 1585, but they may pre-date this. There are many references to the custom during the 18th and 19th centuries in the Celtic countries of Scotland, Ireland, Mann and Wales. It has been suggested that the custom comes from the Celtic festivals of Samhain and Calan Gaeaf, or from the practise of “Souling” at Hallowtide. Wearing costumes and mumming has long been associated with festivals at other times of the year, such as on Christmas. Halloween costumes are traditionally based on frightening supernatural or folkloric beings. However, by the 1930s costumes based on characters in mass media such as film, literature, and radio were popular. Halloween costumes have tended to be worn mainly by young people, but since the mid-20th century they have been increasingly worn by adults also.
The practice of wearing costumes on Halloween may have originated in the Cletic festival of Samhain, which was a pre-Christian celebration that fell on October 31st or November 1st in various Celtic nations. It was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits or faries, and the souls of the dead, could more easily come into our world. After the Christianiztion of Ireland in the 5th century, some of these customs may have been retained in the Christian observance of All Hallows’ Eve in that region, and some continued to call the festival by the name of the ancient Celtic one, Samhain, blending the traditions of their ancestors with Christian ones.
From at least the 16th century, the festival included mumming and guising, which involved people going house-to-house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting verses or songs in exchange for food. In 19th century Scotland, youths went house-to-house with masked, painted or blackened faces, often threatening to do mischief if they were not welcomed. In parts of Wales, men went about dressed as fearsome beings called gwrachod. In some places, young people dressed as the opposite gender. In parts of southern Ireland, a man dressed as a Láir Bhán (white mare) led youths house-to-house reciting verses in exchange for food. Elsewhere in Europe, mumming and costumes were part of other yearly festivals. However, in the Celtic-speaking regions they were “particularly appropriate to a night upon which supernatural beings were said to be abroad and could be imitated or warded off by human wanderers”. It is suggested that the costumes were a means of imitating, or disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí. It has been suggested that the ancient pagan festival included people wearing masks or costumes to represent spirits, and that faces were marked with ashes taken from the sacred bonfire. It has also been suggested that the wearing of Halloween costumes developed from Christian customs created in Western Europe around the 15th century. “Soaling”, the custom of baking and sharing soul-cakes for all christened souls, has been suggested as the origin of trick-or-treating, and “used to consist of parties of children, dressed up in fantastic costume, who went round to the farm houses and cottages, signing a song, and begging for cakes (spoken of as “Soal-cakes”), apples, money, or anything that the goodwives would give them; the practice was mentioned by Shakespeare in his play The Two Gentlemen of Verona. The custom of wearing costumes has been explicated by Prince Sorie Conteh, who wrote: “It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints’ Day, and All Hallows’ Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving to the next world. In order to avoid being recognised by any soul that might be seeking such vengeance, people would don masks or costumes to disguise their identities”. In medieval Christian celebrations of All Hallows’ Eve, individuals paraded through the streets with statues and replicas of the martyred saints, some of the less wealthy churches could not afford these things and so they dressed like saints instead. Some believers continue the practice of dressing as saints, biblical figures, and reformers in Halloween celebrations today.
Many Christians in continental Europe, especially in France, acknowledged “a belief that once a year, on Hallowe’en, the dead of the churchyards rose for one wild, hideous carnival,” known as the danse macabre, which has been commonly depicted in church decoration, especially on the walls of cathedrals, monasteries, and cemeteries. This danse macabre, which was enacted by “Christian village children who celebrated the vigil of All Saints” in the 16th Century, has been suggested as the predecessor of modern day costume parties on this same day.
The custom of guising at Halloween in North America is first recorded in 1911, where a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario reported children going “guising” around the neighborhood. In 19th century America, Halloween was often celebrated with costume parades and “licentious revelries”. However, efforts were made to “domesticate” the festival to conform with Victorian era morality. Halloween was made into a private rather than public holiday, celebrations involving liquor and sensuality de-emphasized, and only children were expected to celebrate the festival. Early Halloween costumes emphasized the and gothic nature of Halloween, and were aimed primarily at children. Costumes were also made at home, or using items (such as make-up) which could be purchased and utilized to create a costume. Halloween costumes are often designed to imitate supernatural and scary beings. Costumes are traditionally those of monsters such as vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, skeletons, goblins, trolls, devils, etc. or in more recent years science fiction-inspired characters as aliens and superheros. There are also costumes of pop culture figures like presidents, athletes, celebrities, or characters in film, television, literature, etc. Another popular trend is for women (and in some cases, men) to use Halloween as an excuse to wear sexy or revealing costumes, showing off more skin than would be socially acceptable otherwise. Young girls also often dress as entirely non-scary characters at Halloween, including princesses, fairies, angels, cute animals and flowers.
There have been controversial costumes over the years. One that sparked enormous controversy well before Halloween in 2015 is a “Caitlyn Jenner” corset costume. Despite public outcry claiming that the costume is offensive, popular retailers plan to go full steam ahead with selling the costume; one defending their conviction to sell the costume as a celebration of Jenner.
Halloween costume parties generally take place on or around October 31st , often on the Friday or Saturday prior to the holiday.
Researchers conducted a survey for the National Retail Federation in the United States and found that 53.3 percent of consumers planned to buy a costume for Halloween 2005, spending $38.11 on average (up $10 from the year before). They were also expected to spend $4.96 billion in 2006, up significantly from just $3.3 billion the previous year. The troubled economy has caused many Americans to cut back on Halloween spending. In 2009, the National Retail Federation anticipated that American households would decrease Halloween spending by as much as 15% to $56.31. In 2013, Americans spent an estimated $6.9 billion to celebrate Halloween, including a predicted $2.6 billion on costumes (with more spent on adult costumes than for children’s costumes) and $330 million on pet costumes.
Halloween costumes in the contemporary Western world sometimes depict people and things from present times and are sometimes read in terms of their political and cultural significance. Halloween costumes are sometimes denounced for cultural appropriation
n when they uncritically use stereotypical representations of other groups of people.