15 Vintage Halloween Costumes Your Mother Will Remember

Take a stroll down Halloween memory lane, and see if any old favorites made the list.

classic halloween costumes pumpkins
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Halloween has long been a favorite holiday in the South. Dressing up in a clever costume, trick-or-treating with friends and family, and munching on the evening’s spoils of candy and sweets makes this a memorable night for children and adults alike. After talking with our mothers, we learned that some vintage Halloween costumes actually look a lot like our favorite costumes today. Sourcing inspiration everywhere from film to comic books to animals, Halloween costumes that your mother will remember are fun, classic, and have stood the test of time.

Cat
Felt cat ears affixed to a headband—plus drawn-on whiskers—ensure that this easy, ever-popular costume is still a Halloween favorite today. More than a few of our moms dressed up as cute cats growing up and practiced their “Trick or treat…meow!” greetings for days and weeks leading up to the holiday.
Cartoons
One night a year, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and their cartoon friends spring to life in costume form. Mom will surely remember that, for decades, these animated pop culture icons have emerged from television’s Saturday morning programs to roam the streets for Halloween trick-or-treating adventures.
Clown
Beyond the circus, there was once a time when Halloween clown costumes were as popular as Captain America and Iron Man costumes are today. Face paint in primary colors and a bright red nose are essential items for creating a believable clown costume on Halloween night.
Cowboy
Beloved by children everywhere, cowboy costumes were an overwhelming favorite during the middle of the 20th century. All kids needed was the essential cowboy combination: a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, which they usually already had stowed away in the closet in anticipation of a special event like Halloween.
Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz
In 1939, cinema was forever changed with the release of The Wizard of Oz. Still celebrated today, Dorothy Gale provided the inspiration for a favorite Halloween costume throughout the 20th century. Together, our mothers and our mothers’ mothers sewed blue and white gingham dresses in preparation for Halloween night. They shined their glittering red shoes, tapped their heels together, and recited, “There’s no place like home!”
Dracula
The ultimate vampire costume, Dracula has long been a source of spooky Halloween inspiration in the public consciousness. From the infamous 1922 silent horror film Nosferatu to the well-known Bela Lugosi Dracula of the 1930s and 1940s, the vampire is a quintessential cloak-clad, pointy-toothed Halloween ghoul.
Flapper
Inspired by the style of the 1920s, the Jazz Age Flapper remains a popular costume for Halloween. A dress with layers and layers of fringe plus a short bob haircut ensures that you’ll evoke the style of the Roaring 20s and that you’ll be ready to bust decade-appropriate moves in dances like the Charleston.
Ghost
A perennial favorite, the ghost is perhaps the easiest and most ubiquitous Halloween costume of the past century. Spooky and ghoulish, all you need is a white sheet and a “Boo!” on the ready. (But be sure that you cut eye-level holes in the sheet so that you can see. This is essential.)
Grimms’ Fairy Tales
Fairy tale characters are forever being translated from the page into clever Halloween costumes. Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White…we could go on and on. Growing up, your mom probably saw more than a few of these fairy tale character costumes on Halloween night.
Nursery Rhymes
Nursery rhymes have provided Halloween costume inspiration for years. Mother Goose’s beloved Miss Muffett, Humpty Dumpty, Little Bo Peep, and all of their friends have been made into picture-perfect costumes ready for a night of trick-or-treating.
Pumpkin
Always seasonally appropriate, the pumpkin costume requires lots and lots of orange. When they were growing up, our mothers helped their brothers and sisters paint triangles and toothy grins on orange shirts to ensure that they were perfect replicas of Halloween jack-o’-lanterns.
Skeleton
Now you can buy pre-packaged skeleton costumes in any costume store, but our mothers tested their artistic skills by painting white bones on a matching shirt-and-trousers pair made up of a black long-sleeved shirt and black long pants. Get out the white paint, look up a diagram of a skeleton to ensure that you connect the right bones in the right places, and try your hand at a skeleton costume this year.
Star Wars
An overwhelmingly popular costume in the 1970s and 1980s, the world of Star Wars is currently experiencing a resurgence thanks to the recent reinvigoration of the series. Grandmothers, moms, and grandchildren alike will recognize these costumes, as the films are becoming touchstones that transcend decades. Mom will definitely recognize these costumes from when they first appeared, inspired by a small 1977 film written and directed by one George Lucas.
Superman
Anyone can feel like a superhero with a flowing red cape and an “S” emblazoned on your costume. During the Golden Age of Comic Books, from the 1930s through the 1950s, superheroes like Superman became some of the most recognizable, go-to, kid-approved Halloween costumes. Superman was—and remains—an American favorite, a hero for kids everywhere, and a pop culture icon loved as much, if not more so, today.
Witch
Thanks to the ever-popular Harry Potter book and film series, our idea of a witch costume today looks a bit different from the witches of Halloween costumes past, but what remains the same is the winning trio of pointy hat, sweeping black cloak, and broom—for flying, of course.