Topical Halloween costumes are a great way of saying, “I have a general awareness of current news and events.” But if you happen to get sucked into a wormhole and sent to 1915 this weekend, your lion-killing dentist outfit won’t make much sense. To help you avoid this embarrassing situation, here are a handful of the freshest costume ideas from 1915.
1. HARRY HOUDINI
Houdini routinely wowed crowds with his straitjacket escapes, often performing the stunt upside-down in front of theaters in order to drum up excitement for his traveling show. This costume will be a surefire hit in 1915, though obtaining a straitjacket might be difficult. The easiest way will likely be by having yourself committed to an asylum, which, in 1915, wasn’t that difficult.
Do any of the following and you’ll have no trouble getting that straitjacket:
2. GREGOR SAMSA
Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis was first published in German in 1915. While there is some disagreement over the type of bug into which Samsa transforms—be it a cockroach, dung beetle, or winged beetle—a simple insect outfit, paired with a nightcap, will make for an unmistakable costume.
However, an English translation wasn’t published until 1933, so this literary reference may be too esoteric or, even worse, identify you as someone who knows how to read German in the middle of World War I.
3. TYPHOID MARY
Employees must wash hands. // CC BY-SA 2.0
If you’re the type who likes to wear “edgy” Halloween costumes, this one’s for you. Mary Mallon worked as a cook in New York for eight different families and, as a carrier of typhoid fever who showed no symptoms, unknowingly infected her employers as she moved from job to job,
She was put into quarantine in 1907, but upon her release three years later, Mary changed her name and became a cook again, continuing to spread typhoid. After starting yet another outbreak, she was sent to permanent quarantine in 1915 on North Brother Island in the East River until her death in 1938.
Having become a media sensation by 1915, transforming into Mary for a Halloween party will take nothing more than a cook’s hat and a strong cough. "What a macabre and topical costume!" they'll all say. Good for you.
4. THE TRAMP
Don't talk and the costume is perfect.
In 1915, Charlie Chaplin released two silent films—the The Tramp and The Bank—that helped make his Tramp character a national sensation. It's an easy costume, requiring nothing more than a tattered three-piece suit, bowler, and narrow mustache. (Also, as it’s 1915, Hitler’s rise to power is almost two decades away so no one will think you’re dressing as a genocidal madman.)
5. THEDA BARA
Bara was one of Hollywood’s first sex symbols, known for her femme fatale and vampire roles during the silent era. She appeared in 11 films in 1915, making her easily the biggest movie star of the year. Unfortunately, modern viewers aren't able to see these performances as all the film stock was lost in a 20th Century Fox storage vault fire in 1937.
In 1915, however, everyone will recognize your La Gioconda costume from the film The Devil’s Daughter, though it may even prove to be too popular. Your other choices for widely known movie-related costumes at the time are from by far the biggest hit of the year, D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, and, yeah, please don't draw inspiration from that.
6. ARCHDUKE FRANZ FERDINAND
Flat-top wig sold separately.
Too soon? Too soon.