THEN AND NOW: How 10 classic Halloween costumes have changed over time

Halloween costumes
Halloween costumes are very different today than they once were. Mario Tama/ Getty Images
  • Classic Halloween costumes have evolved considerably over the last century.
  • Costumes like nurses, witches, and ghosts have gotten sexier over time.
  • Other costumes have gotten creepier thanks to the advancement in technology and art.

Minnie Mouse costumes haven’t always been the cute mouse we know.
Minnie Mouse creepy vintage costume in black and white
A woman dressed in a Minnie Mouse costume from 1933. Sasha /Getty Images
Minnie Mouse costumes used to be anything but magical. Instead of a simple red dress with white polka dots, the Minnie Mouse costumes of the past included creepy oversized hands and feet. A full headpiece was worn that resembled the mouse of your nightmares. 
Disney-inspired costumes have gone from creepy to adorable.
Modern minnie mouse halloween costume
Today’s Minnie Mouse costume. FOTOGRIN/Shutterstock
Today, Minnie Mouse costumes are much cuter, especially on children. Donning mouse ears and a simple red-and-white polka dotted dress is a staple for the Minnie Mouse costume these days. In fact, there are endless options for Disney outfits, including ones inspired by its parks.
Superhero costumes date back to the ’50s.
Halloween vintage parade with children dressed as Spiderman
Children parade their costumes through Central Park, New York, on Oct. 30, 1966. Jacob Harris/AP
Hollywood has recently ignited a Renaissance of superheroes with the success of “The Avengers” and other Marvel heroes. But children have dressed as their favorite comic book characters dating back to  the 1950s.
They’re even more popular today – and they’ve gone high-tech.
Modern day spiderman costume
Spider-Man costumes now cover the entire body. Evgeniy Pavlovski/Shutterstock
Superhero costumes today are generally made out of spandex, and thus better fitting and easier to wear. But what really makes the superhero costumes of today stand out are the gadgets. For example, some Spider-Man suits include web-shooters and 3D-printed masks and cost $US300 ($AU401)
Cowboy costumes have always been on trend.
Vintage cowboy Halloween costume in black and white
A child dressed up as a cowboy in 1953. Chaloner Woods/Getty Images
Every year, you know at least one person dressed as a cowboy, and it was no different way back when. Since most costumes were homemade, the outfit was more intricate than what we are used to today. With hand-sewn trousers and vests, the costume would fit right in in the Wild Wild West. 
Though nowadays, cowboys are often considered a last-minute costume idea.
Man dressed as a cowboy with hat and scarf
The modern cowboy costume. NBC/Getty Images
Today, the cowboy costume is still very popular but is often considered a last-minute idea. By throwing on a hat, a button-down, and jeans, many consider this a viable Halloween option. 
Ghost costumes were simple to make.
Vintage ghost halloween costume in black and white
Cutting holes in a sheet made for a great costume. Larry Racioppo/New York Public Library
Ghosts are synonymous with horror and Halloween, so it makes sense that people have been dressing as spirits for decades. By cutting a few holes in a white sheet, both children and adults were ready for trick-or-treating or a party. 
Today, a ghost costume can have a whole new meaning.
Ghosted halloween costume with text messages on the white dress
Ghost versus ghosting. Party City
“Ghosting” has taken on an entirely new meaning in the age of internet dating, so the classic costume has changed too. Since ghosting can lead to some pretty horrifying stories, in 2018 Party City sold a costume that represented an actual ghoster. Adorned with unanswered texts, this ghost may be even scarier than the costume of the past. 
Witch hats have always been a Halloween favorite.
Vintage halloween party where people are dressed in costumes and witches hats
Partygoers celebrate Halloween in 1958. Keystone/Stringer/Getty Images
Ever since the brutal witch hunts of the 17th century, people have been dressing as witches for Halloween. Typically dressed in all black and a pointed hat, the look has been a longtime classic. But the costume had a dramatic change in ’60s after TV shows and movies portrayed the witch as evil, according to Good Housekeeping. Since then, some have chosen to paint their faces green and affix a wart to get that creepy Wicked Witch of the West look. 
While they retain traditional elements today, they’ve gotten a lot sexier over the years.
Modern day witches costume with leather outfit and black hat and broom
Today’s witch costume. Steve Buckley/Getty Images
Today the basics of the witch costume are still evident: a pointed hat, a broomstick, and a black dress. But some choose more elaborate dresses with fringes and drapery, while others opt for the little black dress look. The “sexy” witch is also a popular choice for Halloween night. 
Clown costumes used to look friendlier.
Vintage clowns dressed in polka dots at a parade in black and white
A family of clowns, circa 1956. Three Lions/Getty Images
A simple painted face and oversized clothes always made for a perfect Halloween costume. 
The friendly clown costumes of the past have morphed into something more sinister.
Modern day IT costume with orange balloon
Stephen King’s ‘IT’ is now a popular costume choice. SOPA Images / Getty Images
Thanks to the success of Stephen King’s “It,” the clown costume has taken on a more bone-chilling look. Although some still choose to dress up as a friendly clown, today’s clowns are much more terrifying. 
People used to dress in actual nurse uniforms.
Nurse vintage halloween costume black and white
A child dressed as a nurse. Evening Standard/Getty Images
Nurses also always reliably make an appearance on Halloween night. The costume used to resemble a nurse’s actual uniform perfectly.
Now nurse costumes are less realistic … and more scandalous.
A scandalous nurse costume on a red carpet
Today’s modern nurse costume. Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images
Gone are the days where people dressed as nurses could actually pass for a hospital employee. Today, women often dress as “sexy” nurses for Halloween.

In 2019, registered nurses told Business Insider these sexualized depictions perpetuate stereotypes that the career isn’t as respectable as being a doctor. It can also normalize harassing language in their workplace.

“Sexualizing any profession that’s mostly women may feel harmless, but it’s creating a caricature and it really does translate to real world harm whether you intended to or not,” RN Kristen Choi told Business Insider.

Dressing up as a cat used to be a full-body commitment.
Vintage cat costume in black and white
An actress dressed as a cat in 1912. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
When people dressed as cats back in the day, they went all out. Dressed head-to-toe in a bodysuit, there wasn’t an inch of skin showing. Cat ears and drawn-on whiskers were great finishing touches. 
Today cat costumes are a last-ditch effort.
Leah Michelle dressed in a cat costume
A modern-day cat costume. Bravo/Getty Images
As a last-ditch effort on Hallo-weekend, many just throw on a pair of cat ears, draw some whiskers on their cheeks, and call it a day. Today, the cat costume is much more simple — and often overdone.

There are other, more creative costumes you can make with things you already have in your closet.

Masks were once homemade.
Little girl dressed in vintage mask costume in black and white
A schoolgirl made her own Halloween mask in 1955. Jacobsen/Getty Images
Halloween masks used to be made from anything around the house, according to CNN, including paper bags, sheets, and loose fabrics. The homemade quality made the coverings even eerier.  
With advancements in technology and artistry, Halloween masks are now hyperrealistic.
A hyper realistic Donald Trump Mask on a stand
A Donald Trump mask. AP
Now that masks are professionally made, they are hyperrealistic. You can transform yourself into a politician, your favorite celebrity, or a scary creature out of a movie. Although it can be seen as a cop-out costume, a mask can completely transform who you are come Halloween night. 
Some Halloween costumes of the past are now considered offensive.
A child dressed as a homeless man in black and white
A boy dressed up as a homeless person in 1974. Larry Racioppo/Getty Images
Some Halloween costumes that were worn back in the day are offensive, such as dressing up as a homeless person or a Native American. 
But there are still plenty of offensive costumes today, too.
Man dressed in sombrero as a halloween costume
Some contemporary costumes just aren’t OK. Shutterstock
From sexy geishas to short-skirted Native Americans, cultural appropriation is still an issue.