A Brief History of Halloween Fashion

Anyone who knows me will know that I will grab any opportunity to dress up with both hands. Next week will bring the best chance there is to go totally over the top, Halloween. I love this time of year, pumpkin carving, free sweets and any excuse to pretend to be a witch, but where does it originate from?

Although Halloween as we know it is only maybe a hundred years old, its roots date back around 2000 years to the Celts. Living in Ireland and England, they split their year into two parts, Summer and Winter. Marking the end of summertime was a festival known as Samhain (summers end), which took place on October the 31st.

The 1st of November marked the season of Winter and thus death for many. So the night before, for one evening only the spirits of the living and the dead were believed to merge together. People killed animals and wore their skins and heads of animals on Samhain. Some believed that it was easier for animals to connect to the spirit world and that by wearing the disguise of the animal you would be able to ward off evil spirits and better communicate with loved ones who had passed.

As the tradition grew, by the 15th century it was now commonplace across much of Europe to dress in animal costumes on Samhain. People were harder to identify in their costumes and so found it easier to ask for food or money, without the fear of being recognised by their neighbours. Children began to wear costumes too, reciting poetry or performing plays in exchange for fruitcake.

After the potato famine, Irish settlers made their way to the US, bringing with them the tradition of Samhain. It didn’t take terribly long before their traditions began to rub off and by the early 19th century the tradition of dressing up to ask for food and money was hugely popular in North America despite the protestant church not liking it’s pagan nature.

By the 20th century, people had of course found a way to make money from the tradition. Costumes were produced en masse and sold and Halloween as we know it today was born.

As an ending note, though it’s not dress related, the story of the pumpkin is too good not to share. There’s an Irish legend that said there was a man called Jack, who was so evil that both heaven and hell rejected him and he was condemned to a life of roaming the Irish countryside with nothing but a turnip for a head. Originally we carved faces into turnips, in remembrance of Jack, but the softer flesh and larger size of the pumpkin made them the practical choice.