As October rolls around each year, there is one question at the top of most minds: What am I dressing up as for Halloween? In a sea of witches, clowns, and vampires, topical pop culture costumes emerge each year, solidifying their place in the Halloween zeitgeist. And while many stick around for years to come (We’re looking at you, Elsa and Anna), others fade into obscurity by the next annual celebration.
This year, you’re bound to see a bevy of Squid Game players and guards co-mingling with Bernie Sanders and his inauguration mittens around the punch bowl. While these looks are new to the Halloween atmosphere, they are taking the same influential cues as in previous years. Here are some of the most popular adult Halloween costumes from the past seven decades.
1955: Davy Crockett
If you’ve ever had a Halloween costume that consisted of a hard plastic mask and plastic sheet “outfit,” you likely had a costume from Ben Cooper, Inc., which dominated the Halloween costume industry for decades. The company got its start with a lucrative Disney contract in the late 1930s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that Ben Cooper truly began to corner the market. Their booming business was largely thanks to a wide array of pop culture-inspired costumes that arose from household televisions becoming more common. Masks from Davy Crockett was the big winner of 1955.
1957: Frankenstein (AKA Frankenstein’s Monster)
The green-faced horror icon has been around since Mary Shelley penned Frankenstein in 1818, so what made ‘57 a big year for the monster costume? You can thank The Curse of Frankenstein, the first movie in British production company Hammer’s film series centered around the science experiment, which hit theaters earlier that year.
Batman the television show may have lasted just three seasons in the mid-1960s, but its impact was vast — including on the world of Halloween costumes. After Julie Newmar appeared onscreen in her black catsuit, gold belt, and cat ears in 1966 and 1967 (Eartha Kitt took over in season 3), women across the U.S. were inspired to recreate the sultry look for Halloween soirees.
1974: Richard Nixon
Presidents and presidential candidate masks have become a Halloween staple in recent years, but it wasn’t always that way. In 1969, Nixon’s daughter, Tricia, threw a Halloween party at the White House — and one guest wore a Lyndon B. Johnson mask. But after Nixon’s Watergate scandal in 1972 — leading to his resignation in August 1974 — the former President became the in-demand costume. Watergate made Americans more cynical about government and politics, and thus Halloween masks mocking (or supporting) candidates have been popular ever since.
KISS kicked off their “Dynasty” tour in June of 1979, and by October, Americans were in full-on KISS-mania. Costumes representing Demon (Gene Simmons), Starchild (Paul Stanley), Spaceman (Ace Frehley), and Catman (Peter Criss) flew off of shelves, while others used their artistic abilities to recreate the band’s iconic black-and-white stage makeup.
1985: Freddy Krueger
One, two, Freddy’s coming for you — at least, he definitely was on Halloween night in the mid-80s. The release of Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984 meant that Freddy’s grotesque face was on everyone’s Halloween mask wish list the following year. Add the famous fedora, razor-fingered glove, and garishly striped sweater, and adult Halloween enthusiasts had a fairly easy costume to die for. The costume has been popular ever since.
The beloved children’s look-and-find Where’s Waldo was published in 1987. Folks immediately latched on to the red-and-white striped look as an easy one to replicate for Halloween, whether purchasing a licensed Waldo costume or simply drawing some red stripes on a white shirt and throwing on a pair of black-framed glasses. Half of the fun of wearing a Waldo look was hiding in the crowd at parties and waiting to be found.
Yes, even adults got hooked on the big purple guy back in the early ‘90s — as evidenced by Kurt Cobain dressing up as the dino for a 1993 Halloween concert in Akron, Ohio. Barney & Friends premiered on PBS in 1992, and by 1993, parents were fully aware of the power of purple. (Sadly, Baby Bop doesn’t appear to have made the cut.)
When Scream burst into theaters with one of the most memorable opening scenes in a horror movie ever, audiences took note. The elongated fright mask, later dubbed “Ghostface,” quickly became a favorite for adults looking to inspire a few screams of their own on Halloween night. The mask was originally produced in 1991 for a company called Fun World, which called the look “Peanut-Eyed Ghost.” Wes Craven discovered it when he was searching for a suitable Scream villain disguise and was able to purchase the rights.
2000: Austin Powers
Michael Myers was the headliner for Halloween 2000 — but not the villainous Michael Myers you’d typically think of. After Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me became a box office smash hit in 1999, adults clamored to look like Mike Myers, the actor who portrayed the shagadelic spy. All it took was some groovy ‘60s threads, a set of misaligned teeth, and a lot of “Yeah, baby” references.
2017: Eleven From "Stranger Things"
Stranger Things debuted on Netflix in July 2016, and by 2017 the “Stranger Things Adult Replica Eleven Costume” had reached the top of the Spirit Halloween sales charts. The set came complete with a blonde wig, pink dress, and knee socks. (Eggos not included.) Less popular? The “Barb” costume, aka a plaid ruffled shirt.
2020: Inflatable Dinosaur
Perfect for a very pandemic, socially distanced Halloween, the inflatable Jurassic World dinosaur was one of Amazon’s best-sellers last year. But its popularity wasn’t limited to the spooky season; inflatable dinosaur costumes were also spotted at airports, bus stops, and even weddings.
Featured image credit: Sergeeva/ iStock