I’m sure it hasn’t escaped anyone that Halloween has become a BIG HOLIDAY, comparable in some ways to Christmas in the percentage of store space devoted to decorations and assorted costume paraphernalia. I recently stopped at one of those temporary Halloween stores that spring up this time of the year in commercial buildings vacated by the recession. Looking for costumes for my grandkids, I felt like I had stepped into some goblin fantasyland. There were costumes for every fancy, and well-made costumes at that. Well-made, and expensive, and a large percentage of them for adults.
How times have changed—and how old that statement makes me feel. Even though we complain about today’s discouraging economic times, America was poorer in the ’50s, in my trick-or-treating days. Granted, enterprising merchandisers hadn’t grasped Halloween’s consumer potential back then, but if they had, I suspect practical parents who came of age during the Depression wouldn’t consider spending more than a couple of dollars, if anything, for a costume their kid would wear for one day.
Store-bought costumes then weren’t the dazzling ensembles they are today. For example, my grandsons’ Spiderman costumes came with padded “muscles” built right into the fabric, along with a cool hat, gloves, and shoe coverings. Most fifties-era costumes sold in stores looked like they had all been cut from the same pattern, resembling one-piece pajamas that you tied at the back of the neck. They were typically made from a thin nylon fabric, stamped on the front with a picture of Casper the Friendly Ghost or Little Audrey, or something else that proclaimed your identity. A scratchy, sight-limiting molded plastic mask completed your “look.” Despite, the cheesiness of those costumes, I still wanted one, for some reason. Mom usually nixed the idea, proclaiming homemade better and more original. The photo at the right suggests she must have relented at least once, for my nurse’s costume clearly looks store-bought. Very cute, very fifties—a nurse, not a doctor.
I’m glad I have this picture, for I remember few of my Halloween costumes. The options were limited—nothing like today. Hobos were the go-to costume of my era, probably suggested by parents who remembered real-life hobos from the Depression. Do today’s kids even know what a hobo is? We could cobble together a costume from old clothes ripped and dirtied to make us look down and out. Mom blackened a cork over the stove burner, then rubbed it on our faces and arms to make us look like we’d been living in a railroad boxcar. We capped off our costume by fashioning a kerchief stuffed with rags to the end of a stick and resting it on our shoulder hobo-style. I remember it was always such a nuisance traipsing around the neighborhood, juggling the hobo stick and a pillowcase full of candy.
Another easy and popular Halloween costume in my day was the beachcomber look. All you needed was a pair of cut-off Levis, an old ripped shirt, and a big straw hat. With the arrival of Mickey Mouse Club on television, many pre-pubescent girls of my era hankered to be a Mouseketeer. We could easily pull it off by printing our names on a piece of cloth or paper and pinning it to the front of a pull-over sweater. Growing up in Orange County with Disneyland practically in our backyards, we had no trouble finding Mickey Mouse ears.
I love all the hoopla surrounding today’s Halloween celebrations, even if merchandisers have led us by the nose. I love the kitschy and elaborate yard decorations, the Halloween-themed sitcoms on television, and all the sales clerks and doctor’s receptionists who dress up for the occasion. My Vietnamese friend tells me they celebrate Halloween in her home country nowadays—another bow to Western culture.
And so my two grandsons are going to be muscled super heroes this year, and my grand-daughter will be an adorable fairy princess. I adore those glittery net princess costumes you can find anywhere from the Disney Store to Costco nowadays. How I would have loved to exchange my hobo rags for one of those frothy sequined confections. We tend to wax nostalgic about the good old days, but I like the way they do Halloween today. The candy’s better, too. Happy Halloween everyone!