Whilst most people don't take fancy dress too seriously, it is, of course, central to our business, and from time to aspects of dress-up make it to mainstream media. This gives us a opportunity to offer our perspective on a range of costume-related issues. 

Our retrospective on Halloween 2019

This year’s Halloween was notable because by seeming to become more mainstream and get more press/media coverage – possibly because of desperation to provide an alternative to the dreaded B word, which was originally going to be a Halloween highlight (?).

ITV’s Good Morning went all Wizard of Oz, and reflected a trend towards there being a more general fancy dress code, rather than just the spooky/scary, so anything goes  – well, up to a point: Sheffield University hit the headlines with an NUS-inspired campaign against people dressing as Mexicans, American Natives, etc. The PC term for this is Cultural Appropriation, and it last hit the headlines a year or so back, when Norwich University SU took exception to Nandos giving out sombreros as a promotion gimmick. Coverage of this new outbreak of wariness included the fact that despite the posters using a ‘Don’t Make My Culture Your Costume’ slogan, Mexican students themselves were not that fussed at the threat of being appropriated.

The issues of Correctness and Appropriation have great potential for those who wish to be offended on behalf of others regardless of what the offendees in question think: The Zombie is an easy throw-together costume and yet it forms an element of the beliefs of the Voodoo religions originating in Africa and the Caribbean; Witches form a central element of the Halloween season yet, leaving aside the Wicca religion itself, there are those who point to the persecution and killing of those suspected of being witches in bygone days.

We can go on, but won’t. You get the general idea.

The plastic waste issue also reared its head, but we covered that in the last newsletter, and so we move on to another issue which causes controversy - Celeb costuming: Jonathan Ross’ family have celebrated Halloween for years in a sort of ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ way, building to the big event. Their seasonal party has now become the key go-to celeb bash, with press coverage to match – you may have caught the odd picture or two in the media. Some, such as Amanda Holden make the effort: This year a very on-message Morticia (despite having a broken leg). Others, notably males (with an honourable exception of Clive Revel Horwood’s Cruella) not so much – throw on a Joker Mask here, parody the Handmaid’s Tale outfit there. (Some journalists, building on the Sheffield NUS story, questioned why offending cultures and religions is a problem whilst parodying women is okay).

The sexy Halloween question also arises.

Sexy Halloween? Yes, another perennial problem, this year sparked by a Kylie Jenner Ariel (Little Mermaid) outfit which left little to the imagination. This style, nicknamed Slutty Cut is not just the preserve of celebs – sexy Halloween outfits have been on the market for years and, arguably, if there wasn’t a market, they wouldn’t exist. It’s just that the celebs have to outrage to get the media attention. That said, model Heidi Klum is the Mistress of Halloween in the US and in a class of her own. Having built a back-catalogue of sensational outfits over the years, she celebrated the 20th anniversary of her famous Halloween party with an outfit which also seemingly bared all – a sort of Alien Queen/Frankenstein mash-up. The outfit, based on a prosthetic suit, took 13 hours of preparation (much of it in full view of shoppers at Amazon’s New York store) and needless to say, got most of the publicity. No wonder others felt they had to flash the flesh to get noticed.

Addams and Evil-ish

As we hit the Halloween-cum-half term (not that the two necessarily coincide), cinemas will have their usual range of scary seasonal movies, ranging from the family-friendly  (Abominable) to more horror-orientated (such as Zombieland: Double Tap). Amongst this year’s selection is an animated version of the Addams Family, who have been around in various forms for many years: Most of a certain age will remember the 1980s black and white TV ‘sitcom’, although the more nerd-like will know that the characters derive from dark humour cartoons drawn for the New Yorker magazine by  Charles Addams. Whilst this explains the family name, originally the individuals remained mostly anonymous until the TV series gave them some names (although the first choice for the son – Pubert – was vetoed and changed to Pugsley)

Since the TV series (which gets repeated from time to time), there have been a few live action films featuring the Addams’ but the novelty of the new interpretation is that the animation for the most part features the characters as Charles Addams originally drew them (although Wednesday (the daughter) has been upgraded to take a rather more central role). Whether this nod to back-to-basics approach is appreciated remains to be seen,  but certainly there has been interest in some of the vocal talent being used, especially Snoop Dogg as Cousin It (the one with all-round floor length long hair and a bowler hat).

Whilst we’re in nostalgia mode, during the 60s The Addams’ had a rival – the Munsters. Whilst the Addams’ were a family of slightly strange and unconventional characters, the Muster family consisted of a individuals channelling classic horror-monsters: Herman, the head of the family was a Frankenstein derivative, Lily, his wife was a typical pale-but-interesting drac-bride type. Their son Eddy was a small-size werewolf (with a pet dragon under the stairs) and their Grandpa was a classic old-style Dracula with a penchant for turning into a bat. Their live-in niece Marilyn looked perfectly normal. Despite being less complex than the Addams’, the Munsters seemed the more successful of the two, making it to the feature film screen far faster and generating promotional merchandise.

Flights of Fantasy

Last Sunday 1st September saw the anniversary of the release in 1902 of what is widely regarded as the first Science Fiction film – ‘A Trip to the Moon’, directed by Georges  Méliès. Chances are that whilst you may not know the film, you will have come across its most iconic image – the Man in the Moon with a rocket in his eye!

Georges Méliès was an ‘imagineer’ who embraced the new developments  in early twentieth-century cinematography to create a large number of fantasy-style films. He designed elaborate props and costumes, enlisted family, friends and others as his cast and shot his creative tales in a large greenhouse-style studio (saved on lighting!). His work with stop-motion and use of special effects (such as were available, and he pioneered a few new ones) pre-dated the work of later masters such as Ray Harryhausen, and the results were both innovative and spectacular. These days computers can generate worlds and peoples for blockbuster movies, and anyone who has a mind to can use their computers or smartphones to create their own masterpieces, but Méliès’ work is still highly regarded: Martin Scorsese’ s 2011 film ‘Hugo’ develops into an homage to Méliès’ pioneering work, and is well-worth a look.