Education for Kids, Adult Education, Featured

Halloween Trends Through The Decades

Ready to see some throwback Halloween Costumes? We thought so. 

Halloween is one of the most fun-filled days of the year especially for young children. However, the history and origins of Halloween may surprise you (literally and figuratively ). We here at The Handwork Studio love combining fun, hands-on activities like sewing, baking and more of what we regularly teach at our interactive camps, with a rich background of history. Which is exactly why we look forward to the spookiest season of the year! 

The origins of Halloween

Halloween, first established as the festival of Samhain (Sow-In) by Celtics in Ireland, attributed this day to symbolizing the end of summer and the beginning of winter, which was associated with death due to the frigid cold. It was a superstition that at this time ghosts would come back to earth, starting the tradition of people disguising as ghosts and ghouls to blend in with supernatural spirits. This required handcrafting costumes to resemble witches, ghosts, goblins and animalistic figures.

As time went on, this tradition spread throughout other areas of Europe and made its way over to the United States when the Irish immigrated after the potato famine.

It is rumored that people would offer food to the ghosts as a way to please them and receive good karma, which eventually transitioned into trick-or-treating in the 20s.

Halloween transitioned into a fun experience for all ages by the 20s, where children would play and trick-or-treat throughout the neighborhood while adults would attend frivolous costume parties. There was something in it for everyone!

Costumes through the eras

Families were handcrafting costumes well into the 50s before costumes became produced in the mainstream. Once that started happening, the world saw a shift from very disturbing crafty costumes, to ones that reflected pop-culture and politics. Let’s trick-or-treat through the years…

Halloween Trends of the Early 1900s

halloween costumes through the ages

I mean… need we say more? This is from the early 1900’s where families took blending in with afterlife VERY seriously, but also had no option but to hand-make their costumes therefore, these disturbing masks equal the byproduct. Although these costumes are quite chilling, you’ve got to admit the amount of craft that went into making these ensembles is impressive in terms of sewing up garments and making larger than life masks out of papier-mâché.

Halloween Trends of the Early 1920s

1920s…. the decade where Crepe paper became all the rage for creating table settings and decorations, to faux flowers, to, you guessed it, Halloween costumes.


Crepe paper was, and still is a very inexpensive yet durable material to work with. Therefore, many would follow the commercial patterns of the time to create a witchy ensemble to layer over their slip dresses. By the 20s, much like the fashion, Halloween costumes transitioned to being much more exquisite and polished rather than spooky as prior years.

Transitioning out of popularly dressing up to the likes of ghouls, spirits, animals (insert anything creepy for a human to dress up as here: ______________), the most common costume of the 20s was the Pierrot Clown.

Although many were still hand making their Halloween costumes either by crepe paper or home sewing, department stores started sparsely carrying Halloween costumes for purchase.

The Start of Disney Costumes in the 1930s

Once the 30s were upon the nation, communities became more organized with the structure of Halloween due to the chaos and vandalism that took place after the huge stock market crash in 1929 which was just a few days prior to Halloween. Rather than letting adults and children run amok in partying around the neighborhood; families and centers started hosting trick-or-treating.

Untitled design - 2021-09-23T222050.403The 30s were another huge turning point in the tradition as Ben Cooper, Inc., started manufacturing Halloween costumes after buying the rights for a few signature Walt Disney characters and other famous characters seen on film. For the first time, one was able to buy the costume of their favorite beloved character, making Halloween even more popular.

The Commercialization and Impact of World War II in the 1940s

Retail costumes were widely spread throughout department stores nationwide and included the traditional fun skeletons, ghosts all the way to famous characters fans adored. The 40s also started to incorporate more risqué ensembles as pin-up models were fashionable. The trick-or-treating side to the holiday started to reduce however, due to the sugar rationing during World War II, resulting in less candy.

Welcome to the 50s! The Golden Age of Film & Celebrity Costumes Take Off

The 50s presented a huge shift for our world… the age of household televisions! With one's favorite movies and TV shows which included Superman, I Love Lucy, Leave It To Beaver and more right at their fingertips, people were inspired to dress up like Hollywood characters now more than ever. Retailers met the supply with the demand of signature icons, however, people also continued to handcraft their own versions. We also start directly seeing people’s response to pop-culture and political events taking place in the world.Untitled design - 2021-09-23T222240.279

Girl power of the 60s! Costumes shift with the political climate.

The 60s were filled with many events that shook up the political and social climate. One of many revolutions that took place during this decade was the strong movement towards Feminism. Women wanted to enter the workforce and to be seen equal to men. The power of being a woman became widely embraced and many women represented icons throughout Halloween inspired by the movement, such as Catwoman, Batgirl, and other Superheroes. 

Let's boogie into the 70s...

Pop-culture and women’s empowerment continued to steer the Halloween tradition, as many chose from their favorite superheroes such as Wonder Woman and Batwoman to Raggedy Ann or Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal. However, some still inspired from previous decades chose to dress more retro in terms of clowns, ghosts or ghouls, although these costumes were more often store bought combined with a handmade garment. Overall, after the 60s it was very ‘in’ to be satirical and topical when dressing up for the holiday for the majority.

The 80s! Can you guess? Star Wars Mania

So we’re seeing a common thread (teehee) in all of these costumes, am I right? Can you guess what one of the most popular themes of 1980s Halloween was?

You guessed right. The Star Wars Franchise inspired mannnnny looks worldwide. Folks were dressing as Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, Yoda and very popularly Princess Leia.

Star Wars didn’t have a total monopoly on what was popular, surprisingly enough. Many others dressed as Alf, Freddy Kruger and Barbie.Untitled design - 2021-09-23T222336.580

The comics of the 90s are iconic & made for legendary costumes.

Comics were a HUGE inspiration in the 90s for a lot of the most popular television and film. Halloween, as we’ve established, is a great day for people to dress according to what is popular in current events and media at the time. Therefore, we saw a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman and Robin, Star Wars, Harry Potters and more!

Full of memorable characters and memorable costumes...the 2000s

Ahhh now we are in the new MILLENIA! The 2000s provided many glamorous pop artists, girl groups and boy bands, like Josie and the Pussycat Dolls, Spice Girls Mariah Carey, JLO, Paris Hilton and more as well as many iconic movies such as Napoleon Dynamite, Mean Girls, and 13 Going on 30. Another result of the huge uptick in engaging with the internet was video games such as Mario Kart, Oregon Trail and more! Since these icons were mostly straightforwardly dressed, we saw a rise in assembling costumes at home again versus strictly being store-bought.

All the way to…..2020 Halloween

We have come full circle in terms of hand making, crafting and baking during the pandemic. For a few decades, the hand crafting elements of Halloween were a bit more sporadic than when the Holiday was first established. However, the global pandemic created a result of many things and home sewing was one of the most popular. In fact, the demand for sewing machines grew five to eight times more than prior, as many wanted to pick up a new hobby during the shutdown! 

People also celebrated in adjusted ways, such as simply decorating their homes or pets, and drive-thru trick-or-treating became a popular option during the Halloween of 2021. That didn’t stop people from handcrafting creative looks that integrated the historical events happening at the time.

We can’t wait to see what Halloween brings in 2021, and we are happy that more folks are opting back to DIY costumes! It always yields for more fun, if not occasionally creepier results. 

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Education for Kids, Adult Education, Featured