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Halloween Costume Guide: Archives Style (Last-Minute Edition)

By Bettina Smith

October 26, 2015

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blog-a-thon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

With Halloween fast approaching, digital projects librarian Bettina Smith offers up some suggestions for easy DIY costumes inspired by the Archives’ collections. 

Art class posing with a skeleton
Women's life class at the Chase School of Art, circa 1896 / unidentified photographer. F. Luis Mora papers, 1891-1986, bulk 1891-1922. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

We have touched upon the subject of archivally-inspired Halloween costumes before, but with Halloween only a few days away, it seemed a good time to reach out to the slackers among us with some last–minute costume suggestions. You can put any of these together with items you probably already have around the house. And you’ll have a great background story when you tell your friends that your costume has the Archives of American Art stamp of approval!

 

The Pirate

Georgianna Webster in Bermuda, 1922 Mar. 10 / unidentified photographer. Edwin Ambrose Webster papers, 1804-1970. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Georgianna Webster in Bermuda, 1922 Mar. 10 / unidentified photographer. Edwin Ambrose Webster papers, 1804-1970. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

A classic costume, but Georgianna Webster shows that you don’t need to go overboard on this one (pun so very much intended). Rather than trying to craft a peg leg and a parrot for your shoulder, all you really need is one scarf for your head, one for your waist, and the puffiest shirt you own. Add some hoop earrings and a toy sword and a killer name like “Terrible Ted,” and you will exude pirattitude.

 

The Wraith and Woodland Nymph

The Wraith
Violet Oakley, ca. 1900 / Eva Watson-Schütze, photographer. Violet Oakley papers, 1841-1981. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Woodland Nymph
Violet Oakley, ca. 1900 / Eva Watson-Schütze, photographer. Violet Oakley papers, 1841-1981. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Another classic. To update the traditional ghost costume and kick it up a notch, follow Violet Oakley’s example and fashion a sheet into a robe and wear a pair of black pantyhose over your head so that your face is obscured. If you don’t want to terrify all the kids on the block but you love your sheet robe, just leave your face plain, grab a branch from the backyard and bam—you’re a woodland nymph.

 

The Artists’ Model

Model posing on chair
Unidentified artists' model posing, 193-? / unidentified photographer. Allyn Cox papers, 1856-1982. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Must be body-confident for this one, but what’s an easier costume than NO COSTUME AT ALL? If you’re not ready to fully commit to a public display of nudity, find some scraps of fabric to create a loin cloth or drape yourself artfully in that multipurpose sheet. Strike a daring pose and you’re done.  

 

My fellow procrastinators, I hope this inspires you to go create something, but not work too hard at it. Happy Halloween!

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Bettina Smith is the Archives’ Digital Projects Librarian and does not know what she is going to be for Halloween. Maybe a pirate. 

 

✱This post was updated on October 30, 2018.