Halloween, as we celebrate it today, is the culmination of more than a thousand years of cultural evolution. While there are many fascinating facts about Halloween and Halloween lore, perhaps none are more interesting than those that pertain to Halloween costumes.
While on this Halloween, you are likely to see a motley collection of fire-fighters, football players, clowns, and, of course, scary monsters, early Halloween costumes bore very little resemblance to those worn by early Celts and Europeans. In the UK, the change of seasons at the end of October can bring unpredictable changes.
Shorter days, colder weather, and the need to consume more calories to make it through the impending winter were all factors that coincided with Halloween. Combine this reality with the belief that ghosts returned to earth on Halloween, and you can see our European ancestors had a real conundrum: the need to go out in the dark paired with a fear of ghosts.
The solution: Leave the house in disguise!
Early Halloween costumes, then, were more a matter of survival and less a matter of entertainment like the Halloween costume of today. As such, these costumes were made often made of animal skins or hides to give the illusion of a wild animal, as opposed to a human. Another popular option was to wear scary masks. The idea behind wearing as scary mask was that, in the event of being encountered by a ghost, the ghost would see the scary mask and mistake the person wearing it for a fellow ghoul.
In Colonial America, where the changing of seasons is similar to the changes that occur in the UK, the spread of Halloween to America was seamless. The influence of Native Americans and Native American lore, however, added a new element to Halloween costumes in America. The integration of face paint into costumes began to increase, as did the variety of animal skins used in costumes.
From that point in history, Halloween costumes have followed a predictable course parallel to the cultures in which they evolve, which allows for unique differences in Halloween costumes in contemporary societies. What Halloween costumes will look like years from now, however, is anybody’s guess.