20th Century

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!  Hope you are all having a delightful holiday with lots of inventive costume fun-ness, apples to bob for, caramel corn, doughnuts on strings and other delicious old-fashioned treats.

Do you need some last minute costume inspiration?  Let’s look at some suggestions from a 1930s Bestway Fancy Dress and Carnival Costumes catalogue.

Would you go as a ‘Flower’, a ‘Clown’, or ‘May Day’?

Or perhaps you want to lord it over ‘May Day’ as the ‘May Queen’, go as a different variant of the clown look in ‘Hoop-La’, or throw political correctness to the wind as a ‘Red Indian’?

A more acceptable form of national dress might be ‘Tyrolean’, or you can avoid cultural issues altogether as a generic ‘Peasant’ (I’d love to see the kid who dreams of being a peasant for Halloween).  Slipping even lower on the social scale is the ‘Charwoman’ costume, and slipping between the sheets is the adorable ‘Lavender Bag’ (sorry, that sounds wrong).

How about an adorable ‘Kitten’ (or Black Cat, if that’s how you play it), ‘Drummer Boy’, ‘Robin Hood’ (though it would probably be more obvious in green), ‘Little Star’ (Starry Night?), and ‘Sunflower’?

Even more saccharine sweet is this ‘Fairy’.  I wonder what people would make of the ‘Son of the Desert’ costume?  And who would guess ‘Folly to be Wise’ and ‘Pierrette in Print’?  Why is she carrying a stool anyway?

I’m trying to imagine tinies loving their ‘Madame du Barry’ and ‘French Courtier’ costumes (also, was dressing your toddler up as Madame du Barry the ’30s version of baby bikinies?) or teens loving any of these costumes (correction, teens except for me – I would have been all over these as a teen).  The ‘Hallowe’en’ is classic, the ‘Spinning Top’ is too cute, and probably too esoteric, ‘Pompoms’ is such a classic ’30s Pierrot look, and I think one or two clever people might just get ‘Powder Puff’.

Finally, for the ultimate in disbelief, here are some ‘Styles Boys Like to Wear’.  Do they now?  I think you might get littlies into the ‘Penguin’ suit, maybe even the ‘Canary’, but I reckon when it comes to the ‘Knave of Hearts’ & ‘Tommy Bardell’ you are all out of luck (also, why would anyone dress as Tommy Bardell?  He’s such a minor character, and a nasty one at that!)

What do you think?  Which would you wear?  Anyone rushing to make a Powder Puff costume?


  1. That’s it. I’m being a Powder Puff next Halloween. (quoting Despicable Me) IT’S SO FLUFFY I’M GONNA DIE!

    • Elise says


      I was going to be a flower like above, and my husband a bee…and then someone said that was too…um…suggestive. (You botanists ruin all my fun with your theories about pollen!)

      Is it funny to adore the makeup worn by the fairy? And I wonder if peasant would have been easy. Basically, you could steal your grandmother’s clothes if you were a recent immigrant family. Anyhow….

      And who says tops are esoteric! Spanish speakers grow up with them…so…many….tops. (That reminds me, I need to buy tops for my nice and nephews for the holidays!)

      • If you made a flower & bee costume anything suggestive would never occur to me! And I don’t think most people would notice either – especially given the suggestive costumes that most adults wear these days!

        I stand corrected on tops – they might be too uncommon where I am.

        • Elise says

          No worries–there are more things to do in Hawaii! Who needs a stinking top? –Except Leonardo DiCaprio from that one film.

          The Powder Puff would be SWELL! (Do it, Meg–do it!)

    • Demented Seamstress says

      A powder puff costume sounds like a brilliant and hilarious idea!

      You could fill it with corn starch and shed white dust everywhere you go.

      • Lynne says

        “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.” Very anti-feminist, unless you played it for the irony!

      • Ruby Armoire says

        Whoops that’s what I get for typing when half asleep! Here in the UK, every example of academic regalia I’ve seen is based on the standard medieval Oxford/Cambridge design. I wish my graduation gown had been half so cute! There are some typical 30s features about the cut, don’t you think? The narrowness through the chest and waist with a flared skirt, and of course, the epic gathered shoulders! I can see a parent making this for their daughter and making her wear it regardless of the time of year. If I ever get around to making something similar (my to-do list is getting ridiculously long!), I’d have narrow wrist cuffs to make it a bit less graduation-y.

        Also meant to say, I’m a huge fan of your writings, I’m aspiring to make mine as thoughtful and interesting (and meticulously researched!) as yours.

  2. Lynne says

    Pierrette in print has got me, too. Why would she be going a’milking?

    Love the Lavender Bag!

    What a wonderful collection! A real joy.

  3. Hayley says

    Anyone else spot the ‘Other designs in stock but not illustrated’ include…

    ‘Highway Code’
    ‘Little Chinese’
    ‘Goody Goody’ and
    ‘Tudor Wench’

    Oh dear.

    • Heh, I like Highway Code! I wonder what that looked like? I’m sure the Tudor Wench was much better than any costume called Wench these days!

    • Daniel says

      “Pixielated” intrigues me. It seems a surprisingly modern pun to find in a 1930s publication.

      • Daniel says

        OK, doing some semantic Googling now…

        “…the rather quaint pixielated charm of his top flat in the Vale of Health and by adding that he possesses, in addition to musical-boxes, a cat and a violin, a large number of books…” (Saturnine, Rayer Heppenstall, published 1943)

        “Why even momentarily lower this hilarious ” pixielated,” ” pooka-d ” fantasy to the level of a thriller?” (Corona:
        The Journal of His Majesty’s Colonial Service, Volume 1, 1949)

        “In the playground here the swings were actually given by Barrie, but the stupendously pixielated object, the Elfin Oak, is more in the manner of Arthur Rackham than of Barrie.” (The companion guide to London, David Piper, 1983)

        “Her stage appearance at the Gaiety Theatre in 1985 as Abby Brewster, one of the “pixielated” old ladies in Arsenic and Old Lace, was an entertaining “lark” with her good friend Maureen Potter, who had been impersonating her for thirty years.” (Siobhán: a memoir of an actress; Micheál Ó Haodha, 1994)

        I guess a “Pixielated” fancy dress costume must have represented someone who had fallen under a fairy spell, or was otherwise enchanted/charmed. And I’ve learned a new word, even if I’m not altogether sure what exactly it means…

        And only now do I think to look up dictionary.com… !

        slightly eccentric or mentally disordered.
        amusingly whimsical, prankish, silly, or the like.

        I LIKE this word.

        • Lynne says

          I do too!

          It also extended to have the meaning of being slightly intoxicated. There is a tune called ‘The Pixilated Penguin’ that you can find on YouTube.

          • Me three! I want to make a pixilated pixielated costume!

            There is a small possibility that the 1930s costume actually did include a pun on pixelated – ‘Dazzle’ was so big in the late teens & 20s, and printing was becoming so ubiquitous, it could have happened.

  4. I kind of liked the ribbons on the May Day outfit. It would have been an time consuming endevor though. And not to cheap either!

    • Daniel says

      Unless it’s done using florist ribbons (or indeed crepe paper), and of course, cheaper ribbons were probably quite a bit cheaper then than they are today.

      • If you read the details on costume making in this magazine a lot of them are made from crepe paper and super cheap materials. They really weren’t meant to last. I love the idea of a whole party full of frolicking children in crepe-paper costumes. So much more evocative than a whole party of children in polyester!

        • It’s what happens quite often on holiday camps, actually – in my country, anyway. It’s a fun and – I imagine – a fairly cheap activity. Creating costumes from crepe paper on the spot.

  5. I love the little May Day costume…the woven ribbon bodice is adorable! But I agree with Dawn, it probably isn’t cheap or easy!

  6. I wrote a long comment yesterday (was it?) and got redirected as spam. 🙁 Must be my mobile connection…

    The most important, I think, thing in that comment was the thought that “Kitten” actually reminded me of Catwoman – that lots of comic book superheroes costumes seem to have something in common with these carnival and fancy costumes. When you look at the teenager sidekicks…

  7. Demented Seamstress says

    I like the Robin Hood and the May Queen the best.
    Madame du Barry would not have worn that dress.

    I was Gowan today, I copied the costume he wore in his music video “Strange Animal”. Even though I got almost every detail right, only one person recognized me.

    What did you dress up as today, Leimomi? Do you have Halloween in New Zealand?

    • Agree that Madame du Barry wouldn’t have worn that dress, but I think it works well as a 1930s costume interpretation of 18th century frocks, and for Halloween costumes I think effective interpretation is better than spot-on historical accuracy. It’s about capturing the essence of an idea, not the literal details.

      I’m afraid I have no idea who Gowan is, so wouldn’t have got it either!

      There is a nascent Halloween movement in NZ, but still no reason for an adult to dress up if you don’t have a specific party to go to, and I didn’t, and it was a Wednesday, so I didn’t dress up.

      • Demented Seamstress says

        youtube.comNo reason for an adult to dress up? That’s a shame, everyone should get the chance to look totally ridiculous at least once a year.

        I would have been shocked if you had known who Gowan is. Gowan is a rock star from Ontario, he plays keyboard and sings, he has an amazing voice. Gowan is his last name, his first name is Lawrence. He was extremely popular in the 80’s but isn’t very well known outside Canada, which is a shame. His song “A Criminal Mind” was what really made him famous, it reached number 5 on the charts and is one of my favorite songs ever.


        Isn’t it awesome?

  8. A lot of our costumes when I was a kid were made of crepe paper, felt, or cheap plastic. They were pretty crappy but we thought we looked good.

    I still love dressing up for Halloween. It’s one of the few times of the year I get to do it. I’m the only one at work that shows up in costume.

  9. karenb says

    I had a costume like the Tyrolean one for an end of year school dance thing that we all had to do. Mine was real fabric made by my mother while all the other girls had crepe paper. I loved mine…
    I remember a book of fancy dress costumes by Enid Gilchrist which were very similar to these patterns.
    Same sort of drawings and odd costumes. A different way of thinking back then as some of the costumes seem quite strange now.

  10. kelsey says

    Can I get patters for the may day and flower dress I’ve looked for them online a thousand times and I can’t find anything id really really love to make them but I’m not good enough to just be able to look at the pic and magically make the dresses if any one can help that would be amazing.

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