Step into Halloween stores these days and you’ll see all number of elaborate costumes. They’re branded, they have accurate logos, and they feel “official.” Looking like your movie and TV heroes wasn’t always so easy. Depending on your age, you might remember getups released by companies like Ben Cooper or Collegeville Costumes that included vinyl jumpsuits featuring strange imagery which was only tenuously related to the source material. Then there were the plastic masks that clung to the head with the help of an inevitably too-tight elastic string and nose holes that had a tendency to pierce the wearer’s nostrils.
These were neither cool-looking nor especially fun to wear at the time, and now, looking back, we can also see that they were often culturally insensitive. Still, the costumes are a part of our shared history, so lets take a trip back to look at these utterly outdated costume choices:
Before the current ISIS came along (or Archer’s I.S.I.S.), the name belonged to the lead character of the 1970s Saturday morning live-action show The Secrets of Isis (she also appeared in DC comics of the era). This Isis was a strong female role model on television at a time when, Wonder Woman and Mary Tyler Moore aside, such a thing was a rarity. Although the series was only a modest hit, it was popular enough for Halloween costume manufacturer Ben Cooper to release an Isis outfit in 1976.
Besides the name, the costume has a few other features that might not make it a hit with kids in 2015: that tiny mouth hole that collects your spit every time you mumble “trick or treat” and the razor-sharp plastic that digs into your eye sockets.
Like the Kenner 18-inch action figure before it, this 1979 Halloween mask based on Alien was the result of a company (in this case Ben Cooper) scrambling to grab the merchandising license for the next sci-fi blockbuster a la Star Wars. As audiences found out, though, the only thing remotely cute about Ridley Scott’s masterpiece was the misguided idea by merchandisers that Alien was another action-comic space opera for kids of all ages.
It must have been quite a scene when 5-year-olds asked their parents to see the movie that their costumes were based on. “Whoops. Trick or treat! Good luck ever sleeping again!”
One downright fascinating thing about Halloween costumes is how they hold a mirror to their zeitgeist of their respective eras. So in the 1960s, several hippie themed costumes (such as the Flower Power one from Collegeville Costumes seen here) were released to gently poke fun at the counterculture. In other words, someday in the future a writer will be cracking foxy about the irrelevance of this year’s hashtag culture in the exact same way that I am goofing on the peace and love set.
Still, questions abound: Why do you need a hippie mask? Isn’t having a face enough to make you a passable hippy?
This Collegeville Costume from the 1950s reveals the implicit desperation of #clownlife. A lonely scamp, wandering from town to town, doing tricks. Was his circus wiped out in the Dust Bowl? Did his one true love leave him for the Strongman? If he had a clown car, would he pack it with his regrets and drive it off the nearest cliff? Hobo clown costumes are still around if you look hard enough, and they are every bit the downer that they were 50 years ago.
From Collegeville Costumes comes this baffling bit of madness that let kids pretend they were a soldier with a gaping head wound from the Revolutionary War. Both fun and educational! Side note: Isn’t it rather politically incorrect to call something “flame retarded?”
This cultural appropriation and stereotyping definitely isn’t cool (although it is a 100 percent certainty that a bunch of sorority girls will still try to pull this sh*t off this year).
The whole thing about Halloween is that inside your costume you feel like someone or something else. You feel like a pirate, or a kitty, or a ballerina. But knowing what we know about this brand, in this era, we can bet that no one put this on and resembled a shark in any way whatsoever.
Sadly not based on the 1991 Crystal Waters hit, this elaborately detailed Collegeville Costumes release from the 1950s plays off of Romani stereotypes (i.e. that all gypsies are mysterious fortune tellers who travel from place to place living lives of exotic mystery). Fortunately, mass-produced ethnically insensitive outfits like this one are now a thing of the past.