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12 Halloween Ideas From 1884's Hottest Costume Guide

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Are you seized with panic because you can't think of a costume for this year's Halloween celebrations? Relax, we've got you covered—well, technically Male Character Costumes, a Guide to Gentlemen's Costume Suitable for Fancy Dress Balls and Private Theatricals, an 1884 costume guide, has you covered. We've combed through the illustrated text and found 12 of the best costumes that still hold up in 2014. (Basically, we picked the 12 that aren't racially or culturally insensitive—people in 1884 were awful).

And while the book is for "Gentlemen," everyone is welcome to wear these duds. No one will take to the fainting couch in 2014 if they see a lady Faust.

1. Faust

How to pull it off: “Doublet of velvet, cut square at the throat, and filled in with a plaiting of muslin. The sleeves are full in the upper part, slashed with white silk, and formed into a double puff, fitting close on the forearm. The trunks are of velvet, slashed white. Long hose of lavender silk. Velvet cloak, lined with silk. Soft velvet hat, trimmed with a feather. Velvet sword belt, embroidered with gold.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: This is for the Goethe version of Faust. If you go around telling people that you are Thomas Mann's Faust, you will be a Halloween laughing stock and appear a common fool.

2. Skeleton

How to pull it off: “Close-fitting tunic and trousers of black velvet, painted down the front to represent a skeleton. This can be done with Judson’s luminous paint, or with Judson’s glitterine paint. Another way is to cut the shapes in white satin, and shade them up with crayons. High boots. Large cavalier cloak and hat.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: The guide-makers seem like they're getting some kickback from Judson's here, but, just to be safe, we have to recommend that you use Judson's brand paint and only Judson's for this costume. Judson's®: "That's Some Dang Good Paint!"

3. Napoléon Bonaparte

How to pull it off: “Blue cloth coat faced with wide revers of white, edged round with buttons. The skirt of the coat is cut away from the front. White silk vest and leather breeches. Hugh Leather boots. Gold epaulets. Sword handle and spurs. Brilliant star on the breast.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: At the time of this guide's publication, Napoléon had been dead for little over 60 years. Now that more time has passed, it is 100% appropriate to take some liberties with the costume for humor's sake. May we suggest a giant diaper or a sandwich board reading, "I'M A SHORT LITTLE FRENCH BABY"?

4. German Student

How to pull it off: “A military tunic of black velvet braided across the chest. Light tight-fitting trousers, and high boots. Belt round the waist, from which is suspended a tobacco pouch.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Keep in mind that the "military tunic" is from 1884. Don't wear any, uh, more modern German military garb.

5. Gondolier

How to pull it off: “Fancy costume. Shirt of black satin, with a V piece of red let in at the chest. Red sailor collar and cuffs, trimmed with gold braid. Trousers of red and black striped satin, with gold braid between each stripe. Red silk sash round the waist. Black satin bun hat, with a gold band and red tuft.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Feel free to wear this one year-round; it is too fly not to.

6. Harlequin

How to pull it off: “Close-fitting jersey and pantaloons in diamond shape, and three-cornered patterns in various colours, spot end and edged with gold. Belt round the waist. Cap with a black mask. Black wand. Low pointed shoes.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Nothing. It's perfect.

7. Mephistopheles

How to pull it off: “Doublet of scarlet satin, slashed trunks to match. Scarlet silk tights. Scarlet cape, short, with a high collar. Cape forming a point in front, with two scarlet feathers.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: People will ask who you are, and when you say, "Mephistopheles," they will likely go, "Oh, so like the devil?" Please memorize this in-depth text on Mephistopheles and how he relates to the modern world so you can recite it to fellow party-goers when they ask about your costume.

8. Punch

How to pull it off: “Tunic made in a very gaudy coloured cretonne, with a hump in back and front, and trimmed with small bells. Breeches in parti-colour, and stockings to match. Shoes turned up in points at the toes. Pointed cap, with a turned-up brim.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Look at that dog's little hat. Make sure you have a dog and it wears that hat. Nothing else about this freak show costume matters.

9. Quack

How to pull it off: Single-breasted frock coat covered with quack bulls, pill-box labels, etc… Knee breeches, stockings, and low shoes. Broad-brimmed hat.

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Many wares that were considered forms of quackery in the 1880s—balms, herbal tonics, etc...—are now actually celebrated for their holistic healing qualities. Quack accordingly.

10. Oliver Cromwell

How to pull it off: “Buff jerkin of leather with a deep steel collar. Knickerbockers. Jack boots. Long clock. Wide-brimmed beaver hat. Sword and belt.”

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Costumes that lampoon current events can be touchy, so make sure there are no King Charles sympathizers at any Halloween get-togethers you attend while dressed as Cromwell.

11. Huguenot

How to pull it off: "Leather doublet fastened round the waist with a broad belt. Brown cloth sleeves, and hanging sleeves to match trimmed with braid. Roll epaulet. Trunks of cloth striped with broad braid. High leather boots reaching to the trunks. White linen collar."

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Believe it or not, but Huguenot styles have changed a little in 150 years. To make sure people know who you are, make sure you act like a Huguenot. Really get into it; do that Huguenot walk, drink your beer like a Huguenot—you know the way, with the little thumb thing they do. Commit to the costume.

12. Image Boy

How to pull it off: The guide has no instructions for how to be an "image boy."

Notes for the 2014 wearer: Trust us—be the image boy.

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Warner Bros.
Pop Culture
Why Are We So Scared of Clowns?
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Warner Bros.

With the box office-smashing success of the new adaptation of Stephen King's It, it’s safe to say that coulrophobia (fear of clowns) isn’t a fringe phenomenon. The colorful circus performers are right up there with vampires and werewolves on the list of iconic horror villains. But unlike other movie monsters, clowns were originally meant to make kids laugh, not hide under their beds in terror. So what is it about clowns that taps into our deepest fears?

According to Yale doctoral candidate Danielle Bainbridge, the unsettling clown stereotype goes back centuries. In the inaugural episode of the new PBS digital series Origin of Everything, Bainbridge explains the long history of this pervasive part of our culture.

Before clowns wore floppy shoes and threw pies at each other’s faces, early versions of the performers could be found in royal courts. The court jester wasn’t evil, but he was the only person in the kingdom who could poke fun at the monarch without fear of (literally) losing his head. The fact that fools didn’t fall within the normal social hierarchy may have contributed to the future role clowns would play as untrustworthy outsiders.

From the medieval era, clowns evolved into the harlequins of 16th-century Italian theater. Again, these weren’t bloodthirsty monsters, but they weren’t exactly kid-friendly either. The characters were often mischievous and morally bankrupt, and their strange costumes and masks only added to the creepy vibes they gave off.

Fast-forward to the 19th century, when the white-faced circus clowns we know today started gaining popularity. Unlike the jesters and harlequins that came before them, these clowns performed primarily for children and maintained a wholesome image. But as pop culture in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s showed us, that old perception we had of clowns as nefarious troublemakers never really went away. Steven King’s It, the cult classic Killer Clowns From Outer Space (1988), and that scene from Poltergeist (1982) all combined these original fears with the more modern association of clowns with children. That formula gave us one of the most frightening figures in horror media today.

If you’re not completely spooked yet, watch the full story below.

[h/t Origin of Everything]

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Courtesy of Magic Wheelchair
This Oregon-Based Nonprofit Creates Amazing Costumes for Children in Wheelchairs
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Courtesy of Magic Wheelchair

Ryan and Lana Weimer celebrate Halloween all year round: The couple from Keizer, Oregon, runs a nonprofit called Magic Wheelchair, which the two founded in early 2015 to build elaborate—and free—costumes for kids in wheelchairs.

The Weimers’ eldest son, Keaton, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) when he was 9 months old. The rare genetic disorder affects the control of muscle movement, so Keaton uses a wheelchair to get around. In 2008, the 3-year-old asked his parents if he could be a pirate for Halloween. It was then that Ryan had an idea: Instead of simply giving Keaton a tri-corner hat, why not build a pirate ship that fit around his wheelchair?

Weimer constructed the wooden ship, and “what happened when we went out trick-or-treating was really just a wonderful, wonderful experience for us,” Weimer tells Mental Floss. “There's this weird awkwardness around disability. People don't always look at the kid and say hi, or talk to him or look at him. Instead, they just pause, or stare … But with that [pirate ship] costume on [Keaton’s chair], his disability really seemed to disappear, and people saw him before they saw his wheelchair.”

Kids swarmed around Keaton as they admired his ship, and he even wound up getting his picture published on the front page of the local newspaper. An annual tradition was born: Not wanting to rest on his laurels, Weimer continued building Keaton elaborate, wheelchair-friendly Halloween costumes each year. When his younger son Bryce—who was also diagnosed with SMA—was born in 2011, he included him in the fun, too. The positive reactions they received, Weimer says, inspired him and Lana to eventually “create a nonprofit to duplicate the experience we had for other kiddos and other families.”

A custom pirate ship Halloween costume, created by Magic Wheelchair founder Ryan Weimer for his son, Keaton.
A custom pirate ship Halloween costume, created by Magic Wheelchair founder Ryan Weimer for his son, Keaton.
Courtesy of Magic Wheelchair

Magic Wheelchair—which is funded by individual and corporate donors—relies on teams of local volunteers around the country, who work together to build costumes for children in their communities. To be considered for a costume, families fill out an online application, which provides the nonprofit with a kid's biography and a description of their desired ensemble.

After receiving automatic email confirmation that Magic Wheelchair has received their materials, recipients are selected on a first-come, first-serve basis, although kids with life-threatening conditions do get priority. The rest are placed on a waitlist until a local volunteer team is able to complete their build. This process can take a few months or a few years, depending on whether there's an available team in the region.

Once kids make it off the waitlist, they meet with volunteers to discuss their vision. After that, the teams work anywhere from 100 to 500 hours, from start to finish, to construct the commissioned costume. The final product is kept under wraps so Magic Wheelchair can surprise the lucky recipient at a grand unveiling.

One of these kids was 13-year-old Cassie Hudson, a fan of comic books who hails from North Plains, Oregon. Cassie, who has spina bifida and other related health issues, first heard about Magic Wheelchair in 2015 when she noticed a flyer for the nonprofit hanging in the lobby of Shriners Hospitals for Children.

The non-profit was new at the time, so Cassie and her mother, Tess Hudson, figured they wouldn’t have the resources to provide the teen with her dream Halloween costume. But in 2016, Magic Wheelchair approached a physical therapist at Shriners and asked if they knew anyone at the hospital who would be interested in receiving one of their custom creations through a big reveal at the upcoming Rose City Comic-Con. “She was like, oh my goodness, I know exactly the kid!” Tess tells Mental Floss.

Cassie’s favorite fictional superhero is Green Arrow, who appears in comic books published by DC Comics. “I just think he’s super cool—he’s one of those superheroes that doesn’t have any powers and just wants to help people because he feels the need to,” Cassie says. She wanted Magic Wheelchair to transform her chair into his motorcycle. The costume the volunteers built lights up, makes noises, and looks so much like an actual motorcycle that at one comic-con Cassie attended, security teams initially said she couldn't bring it into the building.

A custom Halloween costume created by Magic Wheelchair for 'Star Wars' fan Bryce Amiel.
A custom Halloween costume created by Magic Wheelchair for 'Star Wars' fan Bryce Amiel.
Courtesy of Magic Wheelchair

Designing custom costumes for wheelchairs does pose a unique set of challenges: For one, "these kids need their chairs," Weimer says. "Our volunteer teams don't have the chair to build on, so they take measurements and pictures and build off of those."

Also, Weimer says, "you definitely have to consider what the kiddo is capable of, where [the costume] is going to be stored, and where it's going to be transported—because they're big." Costumes, which wrap around the wheelchairs, range anywhere from 2.5 feet by 4 feet to 5 feet by 8 feet and are sometimes constructed in pieces, which makes moving them around much easier. Like pieces of a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, these parts fit together on the wheelchair's base and are secured in place with brackets, plastic and metal pipes, zip ties, duct tape, and specially designed metal mounts.

These obstacles don't interfere with Magic Wheelchair's goal to build what Weimer calls the "biggest, baddest costumes" imaginable for kids. "The sky's the limit," he says. "The only limitations are what's OK with the family and the kiddo." One particularly ambitious recent build was for an Atlanta resident named Anthony. "He loves cooking, and so [the volunteers] built him this chef's kitchen around his wheelchair, with a stove," Weimer says. "There was even food—a turkey, and different dishes on the stovetop."

In just a few short years, Magic Wheelchair has grown from six volunteer teams, with anywhere from one to 10 members, to around 50 teams. This Halloween season, they plan on constructing around 50 costumes—a far cry from the seven or eight ensembles the nonprofit first produced in 2015. And it's poised to become just as big and bad as the costumes it creates. “We have a complete board of directors now,” Weimer says. “We were also able to get to the point where we have hired a fundraiser and some part-time staff. This just help us to keep on growing.”

For more information on volunteering with Magic Wheelchair, or to make a donation, visit their website.


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