Cultural Costumes

If I could set aside the whole capitalizing-on-the-deaths-of-innocents thing, I might like Halloween in Salem a bit more if the costumes were more creative. I buy a cartload of candy, and have to jump up every minute, and what do I see? The same old witches, princesses and superheroes. Very few DIY costumes that display any sort of imagination or creativity. You do see some interesting adult outfits in the second wave that takes over after 8:30 or 9 (standing out in a sea of slutty costumes) but these people are walking right by my door (Thank God!) on their way to downtown. If we have to be the Halloween capital of the world  I think we should have higher sartorial standards.

I was looking around for some inspiration from the past, as usual, and most of the bespoke Halloween costumes I came across were a little creepy—bags over the head with slits for the eyes and mouth: ghost, scarecrow or Klansman? So I went to the treasure chest that is our university archives and found the cutest costumes ever–these kids are not dressed up for Halloween, but rather for some sort of cultural awareness educational activity at their school. I think they look adorable, though I imagine that dressing your kid up as an Eskimo today might be considered a bit politically incorrect–still, these are visual reminders that children in the past had to create and animate, rather than purchase or plug in.

SSU Horrace Mann




Children in costume at Salem State’s Horace Mann Laboratory School in the early 20th Century: an Eskimo, a little Dutch girl, Red Riding Hood, and characters from Alice in Wonderland, Salem State University Archives Flikr. Pretty imaginative backdrops too.

8 responses to “Cultural Costumes

  • Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    The new trend for girls costumes seems to be taking the same old witches, princesses and superheroes and making them slutty. Never mind the lack of creativity, doesn’t anyone – especially a parent – think this is a bad idea for, say, a 10-year-old girl? And I can only imagine what you see in Salem.

    • daseger

      Very slutty costumes, but not generally on the little girls. Around 9 or so this second shift of teenagers and college students comes in, and they seem to go for that look.

  • michellenmoon

    I love your point about kids having to “create or animate” rather than just plug in. An easy point to lose in critiques of the past. The Horace Mann school was actually a pioneer in innovative educational methods – dramatic play for cultural learning was cutting-edge thinking then, though today, with the resources we have at hand, it wouldn’t represent our most inclusive and respectful effort. Great photos.

  • Brian Bixby

    I do recall dressing up in a cardboard box I made to look like an old gravestone when I was a young teen. It was a big long rectangular box, went all the way down to my knees. This was not the brightest idea I ever had, as I wore the “costume” to a square dance.

  • himalayanbuddhistart

    Lovely photos. You are so right about kids having to be more creative in those days (Inuit is the correct term for Eskimo nowadays :-)).

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