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Celebrating Halloween in the 1980s + How It Has Changed

by Jim H

Nothing Beat Halloween in the 1980s

Halloween in the 1980s is a significantly different beast than it is these days. Continuing the beast metaphor, Halloween now seems significantly tamer than how it was handled during the “era of excess.” With that in mind, this site has compiled a list of several notable distinctions between Halloween in the 1980s and Halloween as it is now.

Halloween Superstores Were Only Getting Started

While Spirit and Party City have become major vendors for Halloween purchases and that focus began in the ’80s, most kids got their costumes from cheap places like Wal-Mart or made their costumes from scrap and re-purposed clothing.

You Had Two Choices in Candy-Collection Vessels

Kids either used a plastic pumpkin or a sack/pillowcase. McDonald’s contributed toward the former option when its October Happy Meals became now-collectible plastic pails. While young children would be happy to use anything, older kids would switch over to sacks for superior storage space.

Costumes Appearance – Not Comfort or Safety!

halloween in the 1980s. A 1980 photo of children dressed in Halloween costumes.

A 1980 photo of children dressed in Halloween costumes. Image Credit: Jennifer Rogers via Flickr

Character costumes frequently came with mass-produced plastic masks whose factory-cut edges might cut your hand and whose breathing holes were far too small to be serviceable. Even if a costume might count as a fire hazard or be nothing more than a plastic smock with a mask, kids would still go for one of their favorite characters without any consideration for safety or accuracy.

It Was Less Safety-Conscious.

Halloween safety did not entail a litany of precautions, possibly because the cable news cycle had not yet saturated parents with fears of child predators and children seemed to have far fewer dietary restrictions. All children were told to do was let their parents inspect candy; a fear mostly spawned from paranoia, have something reflective, like tape, on their costume and ignore houses with unlit porches.

It Was a “One and Done” Event

Halloween happened once a year, just like calendars said. Kids did not go trick-or-treating when it was convenient for parents; nothing could convince a child to wait another day. Furthermore, there were no set times for starting; kids were ready to go as soon as one parent was available. Furthermore, kids stayed out until every reserve had been tapped; only once the neighborhood had been completely visited would kids be expected to retreat and tally spoils. There was no neighborhood-wide two-hour window for getting candy.

Scary Movies Were Better

Ask any horror fan and they will tell you that the 1980s contributed to many horror libraries: “Friday the 13th,” “Nightmare on Elm Street,” the “Evil Dead” series, “The Shining,” “The Thing,” “Re-Animator,” etc. Many on this list have been continued or rebooted. Additionally, no Halloween season was complete without a seasonal viewing of the Garfield Halloween special.

It Was Practically a School Field Day

Halloween would flip the normal school routine on its head. Students and faculty got to attend in costume and relax with at least one movie to fill time. The small offerings of free candy were also a great pre-game activity for trick-or-treating.

Popular Halloween Costumes From the 1980s

halloween in the 1980s

Alf. Image: Ebay

Freddy Krueger costume

Freddy Krueger. Image: Ebay

Halloween in the 1980s

Star Wars characters. Image: Image: Ebay

Looney Tunes costume

Looney Tunes characters. Images: Ebay

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