Halloween costumes of the 1970s and 1980s

Door-to-door Halloween festivities in the 1970s and 1980s (otherwise known as “trick-or-treat) could be fun. My last trick-or-treating Halloween was in 1979. 

But there is no denying that costume technology of that era left much to be desired.

If you were very, very lucky, you had a stay-at-home mom with arts and crafts expertise, and lots of time on her hands. If this was you, your mom would make you a comfortable, individually tailored costume.

That wasn’t me, and it wasn’t most of my friends, either. Such kids were in the minority in those days. This was the time of the working mother and the latchkey kid. My mom, wonderful as she was, worked a full-time job. She had a Singer sewing machine, but rarely turned it on after about 1976 or so.

That meant going to Woolworth, Kmart, or Ben Franklin (there were few Walmarts then) to pick out a mass-produced costume in a box, probably made in Taiwan. 

As the above meme suggests, the masks that came with those boxed costumes were usually thin but rigid. The holes for breathing and seeing were seldom adequate. For a four-eyes like me (I’ve worn glasses since my tenth year), proper alignment of the eye holes was next to impossible. 

Another thing about the masks, which is not readily apparent in the above meme: the thin rubber bands that slipped behind your ears (to keep the mask in place) inevitably threatened to cut off the circulation in those portions of your head.

The costumes that came with the masks were made of plastic or vinyl, and didn’t breathe. Even if it was cold on Halloween night, you were sweating after two hours of trick-or-treating.

And yet…the whole affair was almost always lots of fun.

Kids in the late 1970s and early 1980s didn’t have as much as kids have now. I was a middle-class white kid, growing up in the Midwestern suburbs in an intact, two-parent household. I was therefore what we would now call “privileged”. 

Nevertheless, few kids, circa 1980, had much material abundance lavished on them. To begin with, many of the toys and gizmos bestowed on children today didn’t yet exist. 

But such distinctions have always been relative. My grandfather, who was a kid in the 1930s, was never without a story about the Great Depression, and how tough they had it then. For that matter, my dad grew up in the 1950s, in a house without central air conditioning. 

Fair enough. While I recognize that kids today have access to luxuries that were beyond the technology and economics of my childhood years, I’m quite grateful for the childhood—and the Halloweens—that I was given.