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Popular Costumes Mirror Cultural Climate

Soon, the ghouls and goblins of pop culture will rise from the grave to consume the flesh of the living—and collect as many Skittles and Mr. Goodbars as possible!

In recent decades, Halloween was as much a barometer for our cultural climate as a means of communing with the spirits.

Last year, political figures were all the rage. John McCain and Barack Obama masks paraded the streets while women donned their Sarah Palin glasses and went Klondike bar hunting.

This year, however, due to the economic downturn, political figures will probably be a last resort for trick-or-treaters.

Who wants to see Nancy Pelosi turn up at their doorstep begging for candy when one can’t even find a decent job?
Since money’s tight for most, expect plenty of homemade costumes. Thrift store shopping for vintage clothes will probably make a mark this year. This is the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock.

It’s the Age of Aquarius again and scores of languid flower children will promote peace and cavities with help from Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix. For another image of the era, “Mad Men” popularized the business side of the early ‘60s, which will make for inspired looks.

In these tight economic times Halloween looks tend to be more retrospective: an appeal to the “good old days” and the simple fact that old clothes and accessories are probably lying around the house: easy costume fodder.
This gives folks an excuse to raid their grandparent’s attics for vintage clothes. With a little ingenuity and creativity, anyone can work a decent costume out of old clothes.

For the ladies, this means the “Sexy ______” costumes; you know, “Sexy Witch,” “Sexy Nurse” or “Sexy Notary Public.” The Halloween nerd in me is generally offended by these kinds of getups. Frankly, it’s the same outfit one would wear to the club except with a firefighter’s helmet or furry handcuffs for “Sexy Cop.”

Where’s the creativity in that?

I’m looking for the gal who will dress up like Lady Gaga—preferably from her “Paparazzi” video, though any incarnation will do!

In a more traditional vein, mainstays like witches, ghosts and zombies will be back with a vengeance.

However, pop culture tends to dictate trends. The vampire returns but probably not in the hideous guise of Draculas past. “True Blood” and “Twilight” infused America with new images of the ancient monster, not fiendish creatures but debonair, pasty men who won’t sleep with you on the first date and (unfortunately) glitter in the sunlight.

But, it’ll give men a chance to acquaint themselves with the joy of glitter.

Iconic costumes that require a signature piece and minimum work will show up at lots of parties; for example, Kate Gosselin’s (of “Jon & Kate Plus 8”) reverse mullet will probably be popular as will lots of shiny gloves in honor of the late Michael Jackson.

The sheer multitude of looks will probably make Jackson the more popular figure. There’s Jackson dark and light, Pre-Thriller and Post-Thriller, the gloved one who wowed millions with his talent or Wacko Jacko the tabloid fixture.
Speaking of the dearly departed, the holiday is not known for tact. Patrick Swayze, Farrah Fawcett and a lot of OxiClean carrying Billy Mays wannabes will wander the streets.

Halloween is a time of mocking the dead, so don’t be surprised to see a mysterious white line on Mays impersonators’ faces or a pill-popping Jackson.

However, folks usually don the apparel of a celebrity to honor his or her passing—ladies grab your curlers and prep the Farrah dos, and fellows dust off your dirty dancing shoes.

When times are tough, people turn to pure fantasy.

Escapism is part of the soul of Halloween, endowing its playful spirit with even more urgency this year.

People want to forget about their bills and struggles for just a few hours that night and enjoy themselves.

Everyone wants an excuse to get dolled up or prepare the most gruesome display of horror and carnage for their front lawns. It’s about relishing the creative spirit in the hopes of scaring someone or at least earning candy.

Derrick Austin can be reached at

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