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Vintage Halloween Costumes

Old Halloween photos from the 1800s & 1900s. Read more >>

Halloween probably originated with the Celtic festival of Samhain, which celebrated the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. During Samhain, the spirits of the dead, as well as other spirits, were presumed to walk the earth. Some of the less pleasant spirits needed to be kept away, thus bonfires were lit and some people dressed up as fearsome beings to scare away the evil.

In the mid-18th century, the term "All Hallow's Eve" became popular and our current customs started. It was in the beginning of the 20th century that Hallowe'en made it to America, although it wasn't until the 1950's that store made costumes became popular.

Below are some examples of early Halloween celebrations and costumes as well as some ideas for costumes for this Halloween! << Read less
A bicycle outing for two - when one of the two is a skeleton! An obvious studio Halloween photo from the turn of the century. Funny and a bit macabre - it probably reflects the humor of the time. Or it could be a message against dangerous bicycle riding!
In the 1950's, science fictiton and robots were the "big thing" - in the movies and with little boys. This Halloween photo of two boys (yes, they were probably boys although the names and date, as well as location aren't known) was typical of the times. A couple of boxes, some clever graphics, and voila - a robot! ; )
It looks like this Daddy is ready for Halloween but the little girl? Not so much! The date, location, and names in this photo are unknown but it looks to be the 1930's. And to tell you the truth, if I saw this face on Halloween, I might be scared, too!
A photo of several children dressed as "lil' devils", probably on Halloween in the 1940's. (Although the date, location, and names of the children are unknown.) Dressing up as the devil isn't quite as popular as it once was!
A family dressed up for Halloween - before the Adams family. Actually, the pillowcases tight over their faces are seen in a lot of photos in the 1920's or 1930's. I wonder where that idea started?
A group of adults celebrating Halloween in style! Or, if not necessarily with style, at least with attitude. . .
A photo of a Halloween egg, perhaps from the 1920's. The name of the woman in the costume is unknown but the photo is classic - not like Halloween today, which may be full of spooky costumes, this looks to be "Humpty Dumpty", the female version. before she/he fell.
Richard Hill receiving the prize for the most original costume, dressed as the trees and shrubs of Paris,at the Arts Club's Bal Boheme in 1939 in Washington, D.C. The Bal Boheme was held every year from 1916 until the 1980's. This year, the Arts Club is holding the Bal Boheme on Halloween. The theme for the Bal Boheme in 1939 was 'Paris au Printemps' and Senator Theodore Green of Rhode Island gave out the prizes for most original (Hill), most amusing (Samuel Staples as a Paris Stevedore) and most beautiful (Marcia Evert and Parr Hanna). Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Harris and Ewing
People in this photo:
Richard Hill
Born: Aug 31, 1837
Nan Grey was an American actress who was born July 25th, 1918 in Texas, and died on July 25th 1993 in San Diego, California. Some of Nan Grey's most memorable roles were starring in Dracula's Daughter, Three Smart Girls, and as John Wayne's opposite in Sea Spoilers (1936).
People in this photo:
Nan Grey
Jul 25, 1918 - Jul 25, 1993
Photo taken by G.S. Smallwood: A double exposure "spirit" photograph of a girl holding flowers, surrounded by "spectral" faces of four people. You may look at this and just see a double exposure. But this kind of "spirit" photo (often purposely faked, not accidental) was very popular around the turn of the 20th century. Photography was relatively new and spiritualism was very popular. This photo would have been seen as proof that the girl had three spirit guides around her, protecting her. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, G.S. Smallwood photographer
"Our cousin Dale Forsyth from Minnesota...59 pound pumpkin..good old summerime. Property of Mrs. O.L. Wilson." handwritten on back. I am not related to Dale and have no other info. I just really loved the photo and couldn't let it remain in the antique store! Photo found in an antique shop in Washington state.
People in this photo:
Checkout these old homemade halloween costumes! I can make out a clown, a farmer, a mechanic, a Robin Hood, and I THINK that one child on the bottom right was pretending to be the pope? :) This photo is one of many found in a series of old early 1900's Badger Gem family scrapbooks that were donated anonymously by a family in Green Valley Arizona. These photos seem to be of select areas including Southern California, Chico, Coronado San Diego, Long Beach Pasadena, Yellowstone National Park, Colorado, and the Continental Divide.
A photo of the house built (continuously, until her death) by Sarah Winchester, wife of the gun maker, in San Jose California.
A photo of Thomas Bernard Coll
People in this photo:
Thomas Bernard Coll
May 25, 1929 - Aug 19, 2002
Hyattsville, MD
A photo of Ted and Steve, October 1967, carving a pumpkin on Grandma Ruth's Kitchen Table
People in this photo:
Ted J Yoder
Dec 11, 1945 - Nov 17, 1993
Goshen, IN
A photo of Doreen Marie Bergan Wiltse (r) & sister Jeanette (l)
People in this photo:
Doreen Marie (Bergan) Wiltse
Sep 12, 1922 - May 7, 2001
Logandale, NV, United States
This is my grandmother Josephine Reinhard Harstad, sitting far right, and her two sisters and their friends....I love the dark pumpkins...perhaps black???? It had to be about 1908 or so as she looks like a teenager....Eau Claire Wisconsin
Anyone know the Halloween Fairytale of the Gnome and the four kitties? I didn't think so but why would these 5 people be acting it out?!
The man in the mushrooms never achieved the popularity of the man in the moon - and you can understand why! This Halloween man is scary, not friendly - and those mushrooms don't make you think of Halloween!
These Halloween costumes are scary on the "face" of them - homemade costumes were all that were available in the 1930's but did they also have to sacrifice half their bodies for them?
It sounds like the beginning of a Halloween joke! And since these children? adults? are posed with a crystal ball, perhaps there is a joke associated with this that has been lost in time?
Now THIS is a Halloween costume - if you can outrun Orkin! And evidently, this pest has found the way to do it . . . hop on your bike!
These three amigos would terrorize your neighborhood on Halloween! Homemade costumes in the 1930's and 1940's could really scare you - especially the masks! These poor deformed boys probably got a lot of screams!
Or a horror film! This must be a woman dressed as a girl (the teddy bear, the doll, the pig tails?) But the face truly makes it a Halloween horror! I'd rather see a few wrinkles, myself. But what is Halloween if not spooky?
Before the 1950's, almost all Halloween costumes were homemade. This is definitely a picture from the 1930's or 1940's and so these masks were probably homemade - but pretty good, if so. It's just that they are scary in their own way - like giant heads on small bodies! Those noses! Those lips!!
I don't know what year this is, but it looks like a homemade Halloween costume from the 1930's. Not sure what he's dressed as but I know he's wearing long johns and he looks like a deranged bunny rabbit to me! What do you think? (And do you think he's a he or a she??)
Adrian Loraine Sinclair dressed as Peter Pan for the fall Church bazaar ca 1957 in Houston Texas.
People in this photo:
Adrian Loraine Sinclair
Born: Jun 1,945, 1
That's me, Peter Smith, 2nd from Rt.1951 Halloween party, Springfield, Massachusetts (F Harris school or Faith Congr. Church) Too many years have gone by for names of others. Date could be 1952.
People in this photo:
This photo of a woman dressed as a carousel may have been a costume for Halloween - or it may have been just a fanciful costume for a photo shoot. The name of the woman is unknown, as is the date and place of the photo, but it's looks to be from the 1910's - and she looks like she has a lampshade on her head!
A group of men on a "spooky" Halloween. This photo seems to be a group of pirates with a skeleton behind them - perhaps it was a "cautionary photo" with a message from the 1930's? It seems to have some kind of message since the photo is signed by "Gray" and so it is a professional photo. The date of the photo and the names of the men are unknown.
This looks like a group of neighborhood children celebrating Halloween in the 1930's - the names are unknown and the actual date of the photo is unknown, but the costumes look homemade like they were in the 1930's (and even in the 1950's!). I see a skeleton, and an "Uncle Sam" and a "newsboy" and maybe a pioneer woman . . . but what is the boy on the left???
This Halloween witch costume is probably from the 1930's . . . and probably homemade. The girl's name isn't known but isn't she a cute witch?
I don't know if these Halloween children are dressed as bunnies or something else? Any ideas? Certainly, a bunny isn't as scary as a witch or grim reaper but this appears to be the 1920's or 1930's when Halloween wasn't about being scary! And they look like they are about to break into the "chicken dance".
Around the turn of the century, there was a French actor who dressed as a rooster. I don't know if this is a photo of him or if he inspired this Halloween costume. But a giant rooster is truly a Jurassic Park moment!
Two men dressed as "giant eyes" on Halloween. Actually, they are dressed as giant eyes but they are in suits with gloves - giant formal eyes? It's difficult to tell when this photo was taken, as the suits and gloves don't seem to be time-specific. Do you see any clues as to the time period?
Gale Sondergaard was initially cast to play the role of the Wicked Witch of the West in MGM's famous film the Wizard of Oz (1939). Gale changed her mind about the role after MGM decided the Wicked Witch of the West should be evil and ugly as opposed to the glamorous villainess Gale thought she would play (as seen in this photo). Gale was afraid that playing an ugly role would forever hurt her career. Of course Margaret Hamilton would end up playing the role of the Wicked Witch of the West in MGM's classic movie.
People in this photo:
Gale Sondergaard
Feb 15, 1899 - Aug 14, 1985
A photo of a purported haunted house (taken when it was the Warrington home) in New Orleans.
This is a photo of Halloween roller skating carnival On the mall, Central... added by Ancient Faces on January 11, 2012.
"The witch and the fat school boy" / R.E. Sherwood. Published in: "Von Nipkin's Defeat" by Boudinot Cole, Harper's Magazine for young people,.
This drawing harks back to the origins of Halloween - Samhain - and shows that even at the turn of the 20th century, those roots were still a part of our culture. Illustration shows a young dryad (or wood nymph) balanced in treetop branches among a bat, owl and insects.
Phil's Hallowe'en - Boys outside by log cabins. This is an illustration for a 1899 story entitled Phil's Hallowe'en.
A drawing published in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow of the headless horseman.
New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner purchasing a pumpkin from Arthur Conklin at a farmer's market in the Bronx. Lima beans 15 cents a pound?!
People in this photo:
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