The Art of the Halloween Costume
Halloween costume ideas have evolved over the years. People’s creative tendencies come out in force during this time of the year. The only limitations for costume ideas are the imagination of the creator. Costumes come in many shapes and sizes and materials. The creativity and resourcefulness of some people's costumes can only be described as a work of art. Artists all over the world work hard to create images of the characters people want to dress as for Halloween and artists are those who bring those characters to life for Halloween.
Originally costumes were worn during the ancient fall harvest holidays dating back as far as 2000 years. The tradition of wearing a costume was originally called guising. The first records of costuming and visiting friends and neighbors asking for treats was believed to be in an effort to gather offerings in the name of spirits and loved ones long past and to trick the less friendly spirits in an effort to keep yourself and your harvest free from blight. In the early twentieth century, Halloween costumes were traditionally geared toward spooky themes like witches skeletons goblins and ghosts. There weren’t many if any store-bought options and so costumes were homemade. As early as 1930 though, Halloween costumes were mass produced for sale in stores. As time marched on the theme of Halloween costumes shifted toward pop culture characters. Films, books and other characters inspired myths and legends as well as costumes that disguised the wearer as flora and fauna crept into the yearly repertoire.
Costumes and Consumerism
Commercially available costumes in the early years were simple creations, rubber masks, cotton capes, dresses made from inexpensive cotton. Accessories like masks and make-up kits were sold to help customers to create the illusion of becoming a devil, witch or goblin. The quality of a store-bought costume was typically as good as a home-made costume and was a great option for those who could afford them.
The use of plastic to create inexpensive costumes created a broader spectrum of characters available to manufacturers. Costumes starting in the 50’s to the ’80s were plastic masks and dreadful plastic bag-like coverings that were printed to look like popular cartoon characters.
Thankfully by the ’90s kids were becoming less enthusiastic about wearing plastic costumes and manufacturers were starting to create better quality costumes. Costumes now are typically made from inexpensive fabrics and synthetic materials but are of a much higher quality for a similar price as their primitive plastic ancestors.
Cosplay (costume play) is the art of creating costumes based on characters from film, video games, movies, books and the like. The art of cosplay has become a part of every-day life for many people and extends far beyond Halloween. There are now competitions and tv shows dedicated to cosplay creators and designers. The quality of the costumes created by these artists far exceed any store-bought creations and they are sometimes available for purchase. These costumes are not for just anyone; they are for the super fan that has a need for authenticity and realism. They can also be quite costly because of the time, materials and effort that goes into their creation. The costumes created by cosplay artists are also used in the film industry and the creative kinds of people who make a living by dressing up for various functions.
The creativity and fun of making a costume at home and putting in a lot of attention to detail don’t have to just be for cosplay. Any creative, Pinterest inspired kind of artist can create their own costumes at home. Homemade costumes have a certain flair that a store-bought costume often lacks. They also allow the wearer to enjoy more creative freedom and the ability to be literally anything they want to be.
This year my son decided that he wanted to go trick or treating as a spooky or scary person. His choices left his parents feeling a little unenthused until he landed on the perfect compromise. His choice this year was based on a creative art piece by his Grandma, Artist Nancy Lee Lewis. The two of them had created a multi-holiday creature the year before during a conversation they were having. They combined a skeleton, mummy, Frankenstein's monster, the Easter bunny, Santa Claus, and a leprechaun into one creature.
To create a live version of this frightful, mythical creation was a lot of work but the end result was very rewarding. Mom and Grandma got together and, using their combined artistic and creative talents, assembled a compelling likeness to the creature that grandma had drawn the year before.
The leprechaun vest was a fairly straightforward sewing project. With a half yard of green checkered cloth, a pattern and a little time and patience the vest came together quickly. To add to the look some buttons spray-painted gold, and a little gold chain was included to add to the leprechaun style.
The pants were a little on the tricky side. The base for the Santa/skeleton pants was an old pair of pajama bottoms that my son had outgrown. The red pants were left almost the same with a fluffy crochet cuff added to make them look like they belonged to jolly old St. Nick. The other side with the skeleton leg was just added over the top of the red pair. The skeleton bones were hand painted and glow in the dark paint was added to help with nighttime visibility.
The vampire cape was based on the classic Dracula style cape with a soft red lining and a silky black exterior. The pattern was just a basic cape pattern.
The rest of the costume is composed of a hodgepodge of things gathered around town or things found at home. The hair is sprayed first with green to get that Frankenstein's monster look and the top of the hair is sprayed black to pull off that sinister Dracula hairstyle. The bunny ears and vampire's teeth were a lucky find in the Halloween aisle at the local store. The mummy bandages around the arms are strips of an old bed sheet shredded and tied/ wrapped around his arms.
Though there will likely be people who don’t understand the costume, the most important thing is the creativity and ingenuity explored and expressed by our family. Let’s be honest unless you know the story behind it or have seen the original artwork it won’t have the same effect. The beauty of home-made creative costumes and ideas is that there are no real limits; if you can dream it, you can be it. So let your inner creativity shine this holiday season.