Halloween costumes are costumes worn on or around Halloween, a festival which falls on October 31. The Halloween costume has a relatively short history. Wearing costumes has long been associated with other holidays around the time of Halloween, even Christmas. Among the earliest references to wearing costumes at Halloween is in 1895, where "guisers" are recorded in Scotland, but there is almost no mention of a costume in England, Ireland, or the United States until 1900. Early costumes emphasized the pagan and gothic nature of the holiday, but by the 1930s costumes based on characters in mass media such as film, literature, and radio were popular. Halloween was originally promoted as a children's holiday, and as a means of reining in the wicked and destructive behavior of teenagers. Early Halloween costumes were aimed at children in particular, but after the mid-20th century, as Halloween increasingly came to be celebrated by adults, the Halloween costume was worn by adults as much as children.
Although Halloween is often claimed to be a cultural descendant of the Celtic festival of Samhain, such claims are generally not considered either historically accurate or scholarly. In particular, the custom of dressing up in costumes and going "guising" or trick-or-treating at Halloween developed from Christian customs created in Western Europe around the 15th century. Guising at Halloween in Scotland is recorded in 1895, where masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips, visit homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. The practice of Guising at Halloween in North America is first recorded in 1911, where a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario reported children going "guising" around the neighborhood.
The holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day were often celebrated with costume parades, wild parties, and licentiousness of all sorts. In the 18th century in the United Kingdom, Halloween was celebrated in rural areas by farmers as a fertility rite, while in cities it had a Carnival-like atmosphere. But as Halloween was transported to the United States by waves of European immigrants, the licentious and rowdy elements of Halloween were domesticated to conform with the emerging Victorian era morality. Halloween was made into a private rather than public holiday, celebrations involving liquor and sensuality de-emphasized, and only children were expected to celebrate the festival.
These little ones are dressing in costume for All Saints Day at their private Catholic school. This costume celebration is fast becoming a popular alternative to traditional Trick-or-Treating. This is in part because of the current trends towards gore and inappropriate adult content surrounding the secular culture of Halloween. Guising on All Saint's Day also emphasizes the imitation of positive, historical characters throughout Christian church history.
While wearing costumes at Halloween is recorded in Scotland in 1895, there is little evidence of costumes in England, Ireland, or the United States prior to 1900, however. Early Halloween costumes emphasized the pagan and gothic nature of Halloween, and were aimed primarily at children. Costumes were also made at home, or using items (such as make-up) which could be purchased and utilized to create a costume. But in the 1930s, A.S. Fishbach, Ben Cooper, Inc., and other firms began mass-producing Halloween costumes for sale in stores as trick-or-treating became popular in North America.
Halloween costumes in popular culture are often designed to imitate supernatural and scary beings. Costumes are traditionally those of monsters such as vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, skeletons, witches, goblins, trolls, devils, etc. or in more recent years such science fiction-inspired characters as aliens and superheroes. There are also costumes of pop culture figures like presidents, athletes, celebrities, or characters in film, television, literature, etc. Another popular trend is for women (and in some cases, men) to use Halloween as an excuse to wear sexy or revealing costumes, showing off more skin than would be socially acceptable otherwise. Young girls also often dress as entirely non-scary characters at Halloween, including princesses, fairies, angels, farm animals and flowers.
Halloween costume parties generally fall on or around October 31, often falling on the Friday or Saturday prior to Halloween. The wearing of costumes for the purpose of "Trick-or-Treating" or guising, is traditionally done on the eve of Halloween and the tradition of wearing costumes for All Saint's Day generally is done either on All Saint's Day or on a school day that has been chosen for that purpose in parochial schools.