Superhero and Star Wars costumes are great, but sometimes you want a costume that's a little more...old-fashioned. You know, like a witch or a vampire, maybe a ghost or skeleton. Those fun but scary costumes that are always in style! Or how about the classic costumes from decades past, like pumpkins and animals? Maybe even clowns and other funny costumes? Sure, costumes like this could sometimes be terrifying or outright incomprehensible, but we're reminiscing about the good ones! So if these are the types of old-fashioned, traditional, or vintage Halloween costumes that you’re looking for, then this guide is for you. Let’s take a trip through the Museum of Classic Costumes and find the perfect old-fashioned Halloween costume!
Did you know that witch costumes have been one of the top-selling Halloween themes for decades? It’s true! They're wildly popular and there's such a variety of different styles, too. You’ve got historical Salem witches and fictional witches, like the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the South from L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. And then there are mythological witches, like the green-skinned hags. Besides the hags, there are so many cultural depictions of witches from American, European, and African folklore that you'll have a tough time picking your favorite. And you can also find witches from the Harry Potter books and movies, Hocus Pocus, and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. There are so many to choose from!
Ghost stories have been told by cultures since antiquity. You can’t throw a stone without it, well, passing right through a ghost. Because they’re incorporeal, right? Okay, it’s not a great metaphor. But what we’re saying is that there are all kinds of ghost stories and just as many ways that ghosts are portrayed. You’ve got ghosts that drag chains and do other spooky stuff, and ghost brides that haunt houses. Then you’ve got your “friendly” ghosts going bump in the night because they can’t see well in that sheet. (Safety first!) And then there are evil ghosts that steal souls, which gets into Grim Reaper territory! And speaking of that bag o' bones, let's look at some skeletons.
Skeletons are another classic Halloween costume theme. The earliest vintage skeleton costumes were just black clothing with white bones painted onto them. Our classic skeleton costume emulates that look, but we’ve also got a more modern, “realistic” take with the x-ray skeleton costume. Then there are fun, nostalgic costumes like the skeleton suits the Cobra Kai kids wear in The Karate Kid. And of course you’ve got ghost pirate skeletons, because skeletons go great with other kinds of costumes. What’s next? A skeleton ninja? Maybe a skeleton dinosaur? Or even a skeleton Victorian gentleman? Okay, those are all fantastic old-fashioned Halloween costume ideas!
Vampires are another supernatural creature from folklore. Once thought of as grotesque monsters, thanks to Bram Stoker’s Dracula they're now usually seen as charismatic and seductive anti-heroes. This dreadful vampire and vampiress are simply captivating in velvety Victorian dress! Some vampire costumes also feature batwing-shaped veils and collars or ruffles, like these ensembles for kids and toddlers. But you'll also find vampire costumes that are more gaunt and terrifying, as inspired by F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. Just like with other Halloween costume themes, it's all about the variety!
Pumpkin masks are a Halloween classic, and we’re not talking about facial peels. (Pause for laughter.) But seriously, people have been carving faces into gourds and turnips for hundreds of years, making grotesque jack-o’-lanterns for spiritual or religious purposes, or even just to frighten people. That’s exactly what the Headless Horseman does in many adaptations of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. (It helps that the jack-o’-lantern replaces his severed head!) If you’re into scaring your neighbors with vintage Halloween masks like kids have for decades, a pumpkin is sure to do the trick. But pumpkin costumes can also be fun and totally not scary at all, as you can see in these kids and toddler costumes!
Animals are one of the most old-fashioned Halloween costumes. Vintage Halloween photos invariably include some kind of animal costume, and they’re usually pretty terrifying. You can try those looks, sure, or you can go for something far more cute. We recommend going the cute route! How about a cat costume? They're always in style, just like real cats! So are mouse and dog costumes. The White Rabbit from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is another classic storybook costume, too! And for adults (or anyone else) who doesn't want to wear a whole costume, there are all kinds of animal accessory kits!
Clown costumes have been worn for centuries, too, though they haven’t always been associated with Halloween. Pierrot was a French/Italian comic character from five hundred years ago, and both men and women continue wearing vintage pantomime costumes. The circus clown tradition is half that age, but it’s constantly being revitalized and updated. Some of those big-top clowns are cheerful and wacky, while others, like this frightful clown costume, are more sinister. Jesters are another tradition from centuries ago, one that’s been revamped over the past several decades because of the DC Comics character Harley Quinn.
Halloween isn’t always about being serious. It’s also about having fun and wearing something ridiculous and off the wall. Hand puppets have been part of puppeteers’ arsenal–or maybe “arm-senal”?–for centuries, though in childrens’ puppet theater they’re usually just sock puppets. So what’s more fun than a sock puppet as a costume? The same with a two-person horse costume, a staple of slapstick comedy. And then there’s bacon, which is pretty much in everything nowadays. Well, it’s in Halloween costumes, too. Which makes sense, because a side of bacon was the winning costume in one our favorite early Halloween costume contests!
Are you excited for Halloween? Are you planning on wearing something old-fashioned? Or maybe a modern take on a traditional Halloween costume? Tell us all about it in the comments below. Remember that scary costumes never go out of style so we’ll always have what you need!