I’ve had my eye on this sweater for years now. So cute. Now if I can only overcome my fear of sewing together a million crochet pieces then I will have an amazing new wardrobe addition. This pattern comes from a 1967 Woman’s Day I found at a church rummage sale. Amen!
Over the past few years it seems that everyone has gone 1920s crazy, thanks largely to the film remake of The Great Gatsby and the new silent film, The Artist. The Jazz Age/Roaring Twenties/Gangster Party has replaced the Early 90s Party and flappers are a dime a dozen at any Halloween party. I think that interest in any bygone era is the cat’s meow (and how!) but I’m pretty sure many who have hopped on this fashionable trend think women wore fringe mini dresses, feather boas, and beaded headbands exclusively. They just wiggle into the mass produced costumes from a Spirit Halloween and never go any further. I find that total baloney.
As I mentioned last week, I’ve been looking through several 1920s Halloween books that offer the latest fads in costumes, decor, games, and party tips. It’s simply amazing what one could accomplish with crepe paper, die cuts and paste! Now if I saw someone walking around in an authentic, homemade 1920s costume this Friday, it would be entirely copacetic and I would be crazy jealous. I dream of recreating a vintage 1920s Halloween party including forcing everyone to arrive dolled up in a handmade costume of 90% paper. And not just any paper, crepe paper.
Our modern Halloween holiday began at the turn of the century when costumed dances were held in order to distract youth and thus (hopefully) prevent vandalism. It was at this point that the Dennison Crepe Paper Company hatched the most brilliant marketing plan ever. Beginning in 1909, Dennison began publishing a “Bogie Book” filled with Halloween party costumes, decorations, menus, and party games. All of course could be created using Dennison’s crepe paper, die cuts, and gummed seals. Hand-crafting all of your party favors out of paper was cost effective for the consumer and made Dennison a household name.
Fortunately for us, the 13th Annual Bogie Book from 1925 (Many sites that offer this book list it as being from 1920 but text inside mentions the previous edition as 1924 so this is obviously from 1925.) is readily available on the internet for free in PDF form. I read through this inspiring book this past weekend and wanted to share some of the highlights.
1925 Dennison Crepe Paper Company’s Bogie Book
“Hallowe’en, the night of October thirty-first, is the one time of all the year when an opportunity is supposed to be given for looking into the future and having one’s fate settled for the coming twelve months.” The book’s pages are filled with wonderful illustrations of homes, halls, clubs, and decorations that have been “…planned so that the busy hostess may achieve the most delightful and unusual results with the least outlay of either time or money.”
I think the most amazing part is the elaborate instructions that are given to ensure you can properly recreate every “Pumpkin Doughnut Clown”, “Ghostly Prize”, “Pumpkin Boy Nut Dish”, or “Autumn Leaf Cricket”. (A “cricket” is a small metallic noise maker. I absolutely had to look that one up.) You need not fret over how to properly “spiral” your wire (steel knitting needle) or what to hang your crepe paper moss from (natural branches) because it is all explained. Paper waitress outfits are described for church suppers and apples are suggested for hanging alongside streamers but be sure to “have the apples quite high up or your guests will be tempted to eat the decorations.”
The “Old Man Autumn” imagery (pictured above is the “cricket”) is the greatest loss to modern-day Halloween decorations if you ask me.
That ghost is pretty terrifying. It looks part alien. Also, I have always longed for a witch pencil party favor.
For party activities, dancing is number one on the list unless of course you’re having a card party. Dances should be interspersed with ghoulish games of devilish divination! One incredibly spooky aspect of the dancing is leaving the choice of partners entirely up to chance and fate. Numerous methods are listed including having guests wear sashes (men) and head scarves (women) adorned with various die cuts and/or colors and matching up for dances, blindfolding guests who walk zombie-style towards the other sex and dance with the first person they grab, and blindfolded “ghosts” matching up partners. Most games include foretelling your fate for the coming year and your matrimonial future. My favorite game is “The Cup of Fate” which involves filling three saucers with milk, water, and vinegar. A (surprise!) blindfolded guest reaches out and whichever liquid they dip their finger into first determines their fate: milk promises a happy marriage, vinegar means your future spouse will have a “sour disposition,” and water means “single blessedness is in store.” I guess back then your only options in life involved a good marriage, a bad marriage, or a happy single life.
The book also includes “stunts” that are staged throughout the night using different party guests with the main event being the telling of a ghost story:
The story continues on introducing the audience to his “victims” which include the ice man, coal man, radio bug, and Miss Flapper de Jazz. Props are used to illustrate the various murders and the lights go out right on cue. A thrilling evening, indeed!
Costumes begin with a muslin foundation and crepe paper is then attached to this base. (Crepe paper basically dissolves in water so you really will be thankful for this under layer if you get stuck in a downpour or if you fall into the barrel while bobbing for apples.) Again, all costumes are easily created with Dennison products but if you need in-depth costume instructions you only need write to the “Service Bureau” and include the costume number you wish to replicate.
The book continues on with some Thanksgiving and autumn party decorations but I will get to those in a few weeks. The end of the book includes the materials you will need to create all of the decorations and the prices are pretty incredible. A sheet of plain crepe paper that was 10 feet long and 10 inches wide set you back 15 cents, while the decorated crepe was 25-30 cents. Crepe paper moss was 30 cents a box and a package of 40 foot streamers was available for $1.50. Even today you can even find authentic vintage Dennison crepe paper on Ebay and Etsy if you’re lucky. Of course it costs a lot more than it did in 1925.
Here are a few other 1920s Halloween costume and decor images from various sources:
It’s no secret that I love Halloween. My college dorm room had pumpkin and bat garlands up year round (Let’s not even start with the number of Smashing Pumpkins posters, okay?) and even now I have a black cat die cut and pumpkin candy pail from the 1960s on permanent display. I love bad horror movies even when it isn’t October but I still love autumn and feeling the Halloween spirit inhabit everyone else for a little while. I don’t have too many plans this year save for a Twin Peaks-themed dance party in Brooklyn. (Last year it was a hoot.) I usually try to DIY as much of my own costume as I can but this year I’ve been dragging my feet a little. Mostly because I haven’t had an amazing costume idea yet but there’s still time to make and create.
For inspiration I’ve been reading a few vintage 1920s Halloween booklets and learning a bit about the beginnings of Halloween. While doing this, I kept noticing lots of references to apples. Apples? When was the last time you got a Halloween card with a big smiling apple on it? Me neither. I bobbed for apples once as a kid but only because that was the only time I ever even had the opportunity to apple bob. I decided to find out why blindfolded children were always biting at apples on strings on vintage Halloween cards.
Hallowe’en or All Hallow’s Evening is believed to have originated with the Gaelic harvest festival of Samhain. The festival began on October 31 at sunset, half way between autumn and winter, and celebrated the end of the harvest and the beginning of that part of the year where the spirit world was nearest to our own. They believed that the barrier between the world of the living and the dead was weakened during this time and the souls of the dead could come visit them and help foretell their lives for the coming year. Feasts were had, bonfires were lit and costumes were donned. As Pagans associated the shape of the pentagram with fertility and the inside of an apple yields a five-pointed star, apples were seen as a promise of rebirth after a long winter and used in divination rituals. Offerings to the spirit world included burying apples to feed dead souls during their journey from this world to the next. You could also cleanse your soul by cutting an apple in half, “filling” the halves with your bad habits and diseases, putting the halves together and burying it in the ground. Supposedly, as it rotted, so to would your misgivings.
The apple has long been a symbol of fertility, also associated with the Roman goddess Pomona, and the game of apple bobbing or ducking comes from this. The star-shaped orientation of the apple pips or seeds has lead to its use in more modern fortune telling games. Suspending apples from strings or floating them in a barrel and allowing blindfolded guests to bite them was supposed to determine your future mate or who was first to be wedded. Another old Hallowe’en tradition, “apple peeling”, involves a young woman paring an entire apple, yielding one long peel which she then throws over her left shoulder. Whatever shape it lands in is the first initial of her future husband. If you peeled an apple at midnight on October 31 while gazing into a mirror, the image of your future husband would appear. Sometimes it wasn’t exactly what you had hoped for.
I’m not sure exactly why we stepped away from apple symbolism but it likely has to do with the shift from Halloween parties to trick or treating. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Halloween parties and dances started as a way to keep kids from getting into mischief and committing acts of vandalism. The city of Anoka, Minnesota claims to be “The Halloween Capital of the World” because it hosted the first organized Halloween celebration in 1920 which manged to keep pranksters from tipping over outhouses and opening livestock gates. (It took me all of another two seconds to find another city in Kansas that was also boasting to have created the first “Halloween Frolic” in 1914, so I’m hesitant to take the capital claim with any certainty.) It wasn’t until the 1930s that the holiday shifted its focus almost entirely over to children and the trick or treating that we now associate with the holiday.
I’ll leave you with a few more vintage Halloween cards and images and in my next post I will share some 1920s Halloween party decorations and games.
I absolutely love Halloween and can think of no better way to get into the spirit of the season than by sharing some amazingly imaginative and often times horrifying retro DIY costumes. They’re not horrifying in the typical sense, but more of a “I can’t believe this costume was even thought up, let alone published in a book.” Yep, all the costumes are coming out of a vintage costume book from 1983 called Jane Asher’s Fancy Dress. My mom picked it up for me at a library book sale recently and I am so excited to share with you thirteen of its greatest hits:
1) Firework (or Hayley’s Comet)
I actually like this one even though you’d never guess what the person is supposed to be in a million years. I also love that it is Hayley Mills modeling it. Yes, THAT, Hayley Mills.
2) Shorter Oxford Dictionary
For the budding bibliophile in your family.
3) The Future
I love that the future is always made of bubble wrap, plastic cups, and foil.
4) Loch Ness Monster
This sort of costume always seems incredibly impractical. How long can multiple persons really wear that over their heads all at the same time? I love cryptozoology so the fact that this isn’t just a random dragon or sea serpent really grabs me.
This book has a costume for EVERY SIGN.
6) Jail Bird
Let the puns begin!
7) Secretary Bird
I warned you.
8) Statue on a Pillar
This one is genuinely awesome and I would love to see this in action at a party. I would definitely turn it into a Mombi head from Return to Oz though.
9) Salmon (Smoked or rock!)
“A very easy-to-wear, comfortable costume for someone who doesn’t fancy a complicated outfit.”
10) A Pair of the Same Suit
The best couples costume you’ve never seen nor ever will.
11) The King and I
One of the ‘Last Minute Jokes.’
12) Video Pirate
“…it’s always pleasing to do something up to date.”
13) The Last Straw
This is on par with the leaf blower costume that was all the rage in the early ’00s.