12 Halloween Ideas From 1884's Hottest Costume Guide
By Nick Greene
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.