In the count down to October 31, a post from 2016 might help the desperate eliminate the myriad possibilities for dressing up and settle on something unique but within the capabilities (and/or pocketbook) of the average person. Perhaps some of the books featured here will get the juices flowing…
Now that the end-of-the-year holiday season in America has been pushed back from Thanksgiving to Halloween over the last ten years or so, the festivities associated with October 31st have changed dramatically, not the least of with their profitability–$8.4 billion this year. One thing hasn’t changed: the pressure to design an unforgettable costume that no one else will have….
To put this seasonal anxiety in perspective, we invite you to look at some gay apparel children donned during the heyday of fancy-dress balls in Victorian England. Fairy tale and storybook characters, queens and clowns (Pierrot was not a scary creep), all were all favorites for dress-up. The publisher, Dean’s Rag Book Company, also marketed a brochure promoting different costumes based on illustrations in their books. The customer paid for the instructions and received the “rag book material” gratis as the publisher’s thanks for the willingness to be a living advertisement at a public ball or carnival. Unfortunately, the Cotsen textile collection does not own an example of the fancy dress costumes.
Another book in the collection, Children’s Fancy Dress Costumes, features a dozen plates of costumes, any of which makes the construction of the adorable mermaid suit look easy. For each of the costumes, color choices, fabric suggestions, estimates for yardage and special materials are all provided. It was also possible for families to purchase them ready-made. The text did suggest that the costumes were built to last for more than one party for more than one child.
Today’s trick or treaters wouldn’t recognize many of the characters in Children’s Fancy Ball Costumes, because so many new ones from contemporary children’s books, cartoons, and movies have taken their place. Some of them, such as strong women from Greek mythology and French history celebrated in the book of pantins, or jointed paper dolls, could be the inspiration for a new super heroine with or without the horse. No need to explain who Penthesilea was, except in a head-to-head with a mom with a chair in the Classics department.
How about something less ambitious, more modern, but retro? This paper doll book manufactured as merchandise to be sold during super-model Twiggy’s American tour in 1968 made it easy for her little fans to strut her style.
If the man in your life asks for help coming up with something to wear to the office Halloween party, take a hint from the newest addition to Cotsen’s paper doll collection. Inspiration is as close as the closet… Add that chicken suit lying around from a previous Halloween, he can say he’s Albert Einstein going to a party at the Institute.
Take heart, set up the sewing machine, grab your glue gun (or credit card) and remember that even Martha Stewart doesn’t hit the bull’s eye every year..
Now I realize how shocking low the bar was set during the 1960s in Manhattan Beach, California, where I grew up. A day or two before Halloween we hacked crude faces in pumpkins with kitchen knives instead of a selection of cunning little saws. By first grade, I had graduated from trick-or-treating under the supervision of a sane adult to running around with a pack of neighborhood kids after dark. Most of us wore homemade costumes and carried swag bags recycled from the grocery store. When we had reached the legal limit of candy or our curfew, which ever came first, we would head over to the house of Skipper Frank, a local kiddie television show host, to admire the audio-animatronic horror sitting on his porch, being careful not to set off his bad-tempered Afghan hounds. Never mind, we had fun anyway…