Retro Dee writes about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s on this site. Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every week.
Hi folks, it’s that time of year where goblins and ghouls walk the Earth, so today we’re gonna talk about Halloween in the 1950’s.
Purpose of Halloween in the 1950’s
Halloween, like pretty much everything else in the 1950’s era was fun. Not a raucous, sexually decadent, adult-based fun like it is today, but more of a traditional, honest, family kind of fun.
Obviously the history of Halloween from its start in the 1800’s to the 1950’s, was the same history as it is today (because unlike in Back To The Future, history doesn’t change). As you may know, the bottom line is that Halloween was invented to scare away evil spirits on All Hallow’s Eve (October 31) the day before All Saints Day (November 1) But by the 50’s, Halloween was less of a serious matter and more of a time to enjoy the fall.
Although Halloween in the 1950’s in the United States was mainly a children’s holiday centered around costumes and trick-or-treating, adults enjoyed as well, dressing up occasionally and having get-togethers and costume contests. The idea of making cupcakes, cookies and other edible goodies with Halloween themes to serve at parties was just beginning.
So what was the main purpose of Halloween in the 1950’s? Overall, it was the same as today’s: fun.
Costumes in the 1950’s
Many costumes in those days were home-made! This was a time for some real creativity and some heavy sewing. Costumes were more traditional and character-based, rather than based on real celebrities. For example, you’d see many ghosts, witches, cats and vampires, but kids didn’t usually go as Elvis or Marilyn. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but I’m surmising that the idea of real people-themed costumes had not hit yet.
However! There were quite a few trends that didn’t have to do with spooks and goblins. For example, in the 1950’s pretty much every child wanted to be a cowboy at some point. Overall, cowboys were probably the Number One costume of the era, and with the amount of children playing as cowboys there was also no shortage in cowboy costumes.
Some children dressed as Indigenous People (based on the age-old game of children playing “Cowboys and Indians”) Some children dressed as other cultures from different parts of the world. Today, we consider dressing up as any culture other than our own to be racist and inappropriate. But back in the 1950’s, being something you weren’t for Halloween was not meant as, nor was it taken as a harmful or derogatory statement. They were just innocent costumes, from a simpler time.
Then there were the basic, typical costumes that these days are considered too “gender specific” such as princesses and nurses for girls and baseball players and doctors for boys, and so on. As I’ve mentioned in the paragraph above, in those days the ideas and feelings behind costumes were far less complex, thus leaving more room for fun.
Some popular characters of the era that children dressed as were Superman, The Lone Ranger, Davy Crockett and Howdy Doody. Disney characters like Donald Duck and Goofy were popular too. Boxed, store bought costumes (such as ones by Ben Cooper) included a cloth outfit and rubber masks. Masks were frequently used even if they weren’t part of the costume. For example, a little girl dressed as a princess might also wear a Mardi Gras style mask around her eyes.
So bottom line, when looking back in time to the costumes of the 1950’s you’d see a lot of cowboys, clowns, witches, devils, goblins, ghouls, princesses, pirates, prisoners, skeletons, Lone Rangers and for some reason, bunnies.
Trick Or Treating in the 1950’s
Trick-Or-Treating as we know it came to prominence in United States in the 1950’s decade. After WWII, sugar rationing was no longer needed, and sweets could be made in abundance again. The children who trick-or-treated were roughly around the ages of 5 through 10 years old. Trick-or-Treating (known also in those days as “Tricks or Treats”) was done door to door. There were no malls or stores that handed out candy. There was no need to worry about kidnapping and no worries of candy being poisoned by the neighborhood psychopath. No one would dream of hiding a razor blade or a needle in a candy bar which is something we had to sadly watch for in days to come. Trick-or-treating would occur on October 31st, rain or shine, no matter what day of the week, from approximately sundown to around 9pm.
In the 50’s there were no “fun sized” candy bars. All candy that was handed out were either full sized candy bars or, what was very common, goodie bags filled with penny candy and tied with a ribbon to be given out one bag per child. Some neighbors did, indeed, give out apples, but instead of a razor blade, a shiny penny was stuck in the fruit where you could see it and take it out to save in your piggy bank before eating the apple.
Some children had bags, but others used pillow cases which could hold a lot! In cities with multiple-family homes, children would crowd up the stairs in their costumes to go to each apartment. One house could have up to three families which meant 3x the candy!
Some city kids would simply wear a plain t-shirt, jeans and their saddle shoes and throw on a mask and go like that. Some of the older kids wouldn’t dress up at all. City kids had more of a no-nonsense approach to trick-or-treating than the kids who went door to door to the Leave It To Beaver single family homes in the suburbs.
In keeping with tradition that began long ago, there were tricks played on houses that didn’t hand out candy. But they were not the awful tricks played in later years. For example, there were far fewer bags of dog pooh set on fire or toilet paper in thrown trees and eggs thrown at windows. Tricks in the 50’s were less vicious. Something like a pumpkin being snatched from the front steps would be an example of Halloween trickery.
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