26th 2013
Really creepy costumes of the past

Posted under: American history, local news, race

babyjaneI saw this Buzzfeed collection of 19 Deeply Horrifying Vintage Halloween Costumes at some link farm somewhere on the internets–my apologies to you if it was on your blog, as I can’t remember exactly where & therefore can’t credit you with it.  It’s hard to choose my favorite, but I think mine is the one on the left.  (I guess we know now what happened to Baby Jane.)

I was struck by the racist costumes and the degree to which many disguises in this collection of photos bear more than a passing resemblance to Ku Klux Klan masks and hoods.  This is in part due to the fact that the Klan started dressing up in the ways that people would have fashioned costumes in the late nineteenth century, I’m sure–it’s not like they could go to the Five and Dime or Target to purchase ready-made costumes with plastic masks, so yards of muslin or burlap with eye-holes and topknots were in order.

It’s difficult to see these images and not think of the other uses that white Americans had for costumes.



Most surprisingly, Fratguy and I have been invited to a costume party next weekend.  (I think we threw one of these 20 years ago.  Doesn’t everyone throw one costume party and then get over the whole costume thing?  As I recall, I dressed as Hester Prynne because all it took was a white blouse, a long black skirt, and a construction paper red letter A pinned to the front.  I’m not big on complicated costumes.)  We’re supposed to dress as our favorite cocktails.  How would you interpret EmergenC and vodka as a costume?  (Just kidding!)  If I had a ruff and a brocade jacket I could go as (Bloody) Mary I.  Maybe I’ll go in a 50s vintage dress with a mink wrap as a pink lady?  Help!


14 Responses to “Really creepy costumes of the past”

  1. Comradde PhysioProffe on 26 Oct 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    Flannel shirt and wool beanie: go as Portland India Pale Ale.

  2. rustonite on 26 Oct 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    Both of you wear swimsuits and look slightly disheveled, and call yourselves sex on the beach.

  3. Janice on 26 Oct 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    Suit for frat guy while you don a red dress and a veil with a little fake blood painted on your neck? It’s a nice year for a Red Wedding, whether you do it in pseudo-medieval garb or something easier – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehva5dHjMUw

  4. Tenured Radical on 26 Oct 2013 at 8:30 pm #

    One of you as gin the other as tonic.

  5. quixote on 26 Oct 2013 at 8:51 pm #

    Comradde wins the internet today. I love it.

  6. Susan on 27 Oct 2013 at 8:12 am #

    Oh, I hate those parties where you have to be imaginative! If you go as a cosmopolitan, you can just wear something incredibly chic . . .

  7. Historiann on 27 Oct 2013 at 8:37 am #

    I know! I’m as imaginative in my RL as I can be–writing eighteenth-century history without very many primary sources, teaching listless students and trying to keep them from dropping off entirely in class, and writing clever blog posts. That requires imagination in spades, people!

    Why the heck do I need to be imaginative on a WEEKEND at an ostensible recreational activity? Don’t I deserve a day off, too?

    (But, thanks for the suggestions!)

  8. Indyanna on 27 Oct 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    Many years ago down in a small West Virginia town where I was visiting I went to one of these parties dressed as the Famous (macho) Astronaut, John Gland, a “look” (sic) achieved mostly with silvery garbage bags and a lot of masking tape, plus a vacuum hose and a cardboard oxygen pack. This was when JG had a real chance to run for President, or so it was thought. Only time I went to such mummery lengths. After midnight I made a convenience store run with a woman who was wearing her actual wedding dress as a bridal thing. We got kicked out of the store, but they were kicking out everyone who looked like a possibly-unidentifiable robber. Or maybe it was a prediction of the fact that the famous astronaut wasn’t going to get many electoral votes in Appalachia. Or that they just didn’t like Ohio.

    But whoops, I’m stalling for suggestions here, and just can’t think of any. Did that link farm have a corn maze by any chance?

  9. History Maven on 27 Oct 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    “Mad Men” look: The Modernista: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Modernista

    Or, in keeping with Halloween, the Corpse Reviver: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpse_Reviver.

  10. Dr J on 29 Oct 2013 at 9:44 am #

    Get one of those two-person horse costumes, slap a hammer and sickle on it, and call yourself a Moscow Mule.

  11. Historiann on 29 Oct 2013 at 10:28 am #


    We’re actually thinking about cutting a foam bowl in half, putting it on our heads, and putting straws into the halves for Scorpion Bowls.

    The advantage to this costume is that it’s basically a hat, which is very removable.

  12. Northern Barbarian on 29 Oct 2013 at 11:12 am #

    If it’s warm enough, wear a preppy/nautical outfit (top-siders, Tommy Hilfiger anything) and call yourself a Cape Codder.

  13. Dr. Virago on 29 Oct 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Thread a string through a lemon and tie the other end to your wrist. Wear yellow clothes (optional). When someone asks what you are, let the lemon drop out of your hand like a yo-yo and say, “I’m a lemon drop.”

    Draw the Manhattan skyline on a white t-shirt — voila, a Manhattan.

    Get a cardboard box and paint it black with chrome details. Cut out square in the top and leg holes in the bottom. Step into it and hold it up with string over your shoulders (like a sandwich board or overalls). Wear a helmet. You’re a Sidecar!

    Couples costume: you and FratGuy write the number 7 on two white t-shirts, one for each of you. Together you’re a 7&7.

    Get a plastic snake from the Halloween shop, attach it to yourself to look like it’s biting you. Use Halloween make up to make it especially bloody-looking, and you’re a Snake Bite!

    Or, just go as yourself and say you’re a Hot Toddy. ;-)

  14. Historiann on 30 Oct 2013 at 7:10 pm #

    I’ve got it!

    Gin buck: I’ll get a pair of Xmas reindeer antlers and write “gin” on a piece of duct tape and slap it on my forehead.

    The advantage to this costume is that I actually really like gin bucks, which are like Moscow mules except with gin. (Dr. J.’s suggestion above seems too complicated!)

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