Lady Gaga, Disney princess, Spiderman, Snooki? We’ve come a long way from the original notion of Halloween costumes. In ancient Celtic tradition, the end of October marked the end of harvest season and the beginning of winter, a time of paucity and death–and the one day of the year when it was believed that spirits could return to the physical world. To avoid being recognized by roaming ghosts, people donned masks upon leaving their homes after dark in the hope that the specters would mistake them for fellow spirits. Just imagine, no indoor plumbing, no Internet, and the real live fear of rambling phantoms…
Nowadays, people are clearly not dressing up like Michael Jackson to fool the ghost of said pop star on October 31st, so why do people choose the costumes they do? In many old European celebrations serfs dressed up as kings, queens, gods and monsters–an inverted power structure of sorts. Some selections may still be about power, or superpowers as the case may be, but our costume choices say a number of other things about us as well.
Laura Lica at the Seattle Post Intelligence Reporter writes that, “our costume choices are not random, even if we think so. And although you might think your mask hides you, it’s not entirely true. Although price, comfort and convenience can factor in, when you choose a costume, you live a fantasy and you show the others a part of your inner self.”
Sally Foster, a psychology professor with the University of Miracosta, Calif., notes that Halloween is an occasion for people to either dress up as someone they love or would emulate or someone they disdain and therefore want to mock. John Suler, a psychology professor at Rider University has looked at similar themes. From the article by Lica, here is a summary of what the two experts think your Halloween costume might be saying about you.
Costume choices rooted in fame and popular culture tend to follow trends, and like trends, they may spread quickly then disappear, Suler said. People may simply wish to display a knowledge of current events or share their interests. Or they may use them to express personality traits or social issues that are associated with the celebrity’s image (sensuality, intelligence, power, corruption, rebellion, etc.).
“I think this is a likely choice for the Walter Mittys of the world to be someone more dashing and daring, someone with real power,” Foster said.