The Most Popular Halloween Costume the Year You Were Born
Halloween costumes reflect the times. Read on for what everyone was talking about—and, of course, wearing—the year you came into the world.
The history of Halloween costumes
Halloween has a rich, centuries-long history (you know, what with the dead returning to earth and people attempting to drive away spirits), but dressing up in costumes and trick-or-treating as we know it today only came about in the 1930s. By the 1950s, kids could buy virtually any costume their hearts desired and go door-to-door on the hunt for candy.
Every year, though, one specific Halloween costume seems to be on every trick-or-treater’s mind. Why do these overwhelmingly popular costume ideas take hold, exactly? “The celebration of Halloween often illustrates what’s going on in our culture,” says Lesley Bannatyne, Halloween expert and author of Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night. “Halloween feeds on zeitgeist in a way that other holidays can’t. It’s expressive of who we are and what we value, what we’re thinking about or are afraid of or love—from bird flu to Game of Thrones to politics to Frozen.”
These are the costumes that everyone had to have the year you were born—from 1950 all the way through 2000. Get ready for a serious walk down memory lane.
When most people think of the 1950s, they imagine a poodle skirt or leather jacket. But what was the go-to costume in 1950? A good ol’ cowboy. Hollywood had an obsession with Westerns at the time. From John Wayne to Gene Autry to Roy Rogers, young boys and men alike had found their heroes, and that was reflected on Halloween night. While cowboys and Indians used to go hand-in-hand, that’s not the case in today’s world. “Indian Chief” is actually one of the 10 Halloween costumes that have been banned from schools.
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Tarzan—the orphan boy raised by apes in the jungle—has been the subject of movie after movie dating all the way back to 1918. By the time Tarzan and the Slave Girl hit theaters in 1950, the character had become a household name. This Halloween costume packed a punch with minimal accessories and became a classic couple’s costume for anyone dressing up with his very own Jane. Believe it or not, Tarzan was actually inspired by a real person.
1952: Don Lockwood
Break out the umbrella and tap shoes: Singin’ in the Rain was released in 1952. It featured dancing and romance in true Hollywood style, and it was the perfect follow-up to Gene Kelly’s award-winning performance in An American in Paris. Many consider it the greatest musical of all time, even if it wasn’t nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. (It’s in good company with these other classic films that didn’t win Best Picture either.) Kelly’s raincoat-wearing, umbrella-toting Don Lockwood was—and still is—an incredibly easy costume to copy.
1953: Mickey Mouse
The Halloween costume business saw a boom after World War II. Once stores like Sears offered boxed costumes, Bannatyne says, “mass-market costumes followed trends in popular culture from comic-book and radio characters to television favorites to movie stars and Internet memes.” One of the biggest trends of the early ’50s, way before the advent of the Internet? Disney everything. On Halloween night in 1953, you would have seen your fair share of Donald Ducks and Snow Whites, but Mickey Mouse was the overwhelming favorite. With hit after hit (Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi) in the late 1930s and early 1940s and Disneyland under construction in California, the Disney impact was undeniable and Mickey Mouse was the breakout star. Love the classic Mouse? Check out how to incorporate him into your holiday decor, along with these other simple no-carve decoration ideas for pumpkins.
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Holy Batman! The 1940s and 1950s shaped Batman into the beloved superhero we know today. Born into the DC Comics world in 1939, crime-fighting Batman quickly caught up to the popularity of Superman. In fact, Detective Comics #27, where Batman first made his debut, is still one of the most sought-after comics. But things started to shift for Batman on April 19, 1954, when psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published a book called Seduction of the Innocent, which linked comics and juvenile delinquency. Censorship took the comic world by storm, but fans still donned the black mask and cape on Halloween. Looking for a costume for your pup? Dress him up as the caped crusader—or in one of these other 22 great costumes for dogs.
1955: Davy Crockett
Everyone’s favorite frontiersman was a Halloween staple of the mid-1950s. Boys (and men) everywhere were charmed by Davy Crockett, especially after the Disney series aired from 1954 to 1955 and Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier hit theaters in 1955. Faux raccoon cap? Check. Rugged good looks and captivating storytelling ability? Check, check. Even today, that distinctive cap can easily transform you into this classic character. Here are another 17 genius ideas for last-minute Halloween costumes.
1956: Anna Leonowens
The King and I is one of those iconic Broadway musicals that everyone’s at least heard of. And when the film adaptation of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical hit theaters in 1956, Halloween inspiration basically jumped right off of the screen. The movie’s female protagonist, Anna Leonowens (played by Deborah Kerr), was the perfect costume for those seeking a bit of glamour and an excuse to wear a ball gown and a sleek updo.
There’s no doubt that Frankenstein, the star of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel of the same name, was one of the biggest Halloween costume trends of the 1950s. But science fiction and horror fans really broke out the green paint and neck bolts on October 31, 1957. Why? Frankenstein was dominating the comic-book world, and movies about the monster were airing on TV. Fun fact that only true bookworms know: Victor Frankenstein is actually the name of the doctor, not the monster.
After Disney’s Zorro hit TV screens in 1957, starring the hunky Guy Williams, masks and swords became the year’s must-have Halloween accessories. The masked, sword-wielding fox (which, by the way, Zorro means in Spanish) of a hero was created by Johnston McCulley in 1919. Now more than 100 years old, Zorro continues to be a Halloween costume favorite. And here are 30 vintage costumes that could still be worn today.