Ben Cooper

Ben Cooper

Halloween costumes are a cherished part of childhood, transforming ordinary kids into superheroes, monsters, and celebrities for that one special night at the end of October. While many constructed their own costumes out of old clothes and face makeup, the rest of us relied on a man named Ben Cooper, who offered an entire plethora of choices, each residing in a small cardboard box which contained a plastic mask and accompanying vinyl garment to be worn over street clothes (and winter coats, depending on where you lived). For a child growing up in decades past, picking out a Ben Cooper costume at the local store was one of the most anticipated shopping trips of the year.

Ben Cooper founded his theatrical costume business all the way back in 1927, designing apparel for the performers at the famous Cotton Club and the Zigfield Follies. After 10 years in the business, Cooper turned his attention to children’s costumes and, by the early 40s, had cornered the market. At first, the biggest sellers were the predictable skeletons, ghosts and witches, but by the 1950s, character costumes became all the rage, with Davy Crockett and Superman topping the popularity list. As concerns over children’s safety grew, the company responded with “Glitter Glo” costumes that provided enough blue glitter on the plastic smocks to warn drivers to the presence of trick or treaters.

Of course, one of the most memorable aspects of the costume was the mask. Molded from plastic and adorned with a thin elastic strap, these face coverings often had a few sharp edges which had a wonderful way of cutting into the skin, especially when worn for hours on end. Furthermore, with little ventilation other than two eye holes, and a small hole to breath through, they did a fine job of keeping your face plenty warm as your exhaled air had little hope of escaping.

Business boomed through the 60s and 70s for the Ben Cooper Company, although they saw diminishing sales through part of the 80s, as parents began to question the overall safety of the holiday. In turn, Ben Cooper Inc. helped to form the “Halloween Celebration Committee”, a group with the goal of reassuring parents and thereby helping to save the beloved tradition from fading. Their efforts were successful and, as a result, Halloween as we know it, continues to endure.

Ben Cooper Inc. survived into the 90s, before the company went into bankruptcy and was eventually sold to the Rubie Costume Company in 1992. Today, some of those early costumes can fetch a respectable price on the collectors market. In recent years, for example, a Lily Munster Glitter Glo costume sold for over $200. And, regardless of how much money they are worth, they are firmly entrenched into our pop culture memories, with seemingly every former kid able to recall a favorite Ben Cooper costume from their childhood.

Did you have a particular favorite? Do you have fond memories of going to the local store with your parents to pick out a costume from the stacks of cardboard boxes? Share your memories of Ben Cooper costumes with all of us in our comments section, as we tip our plastic masks to this beloved Halloween tradition

11 Responses to “Ben Cooper”

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  1. Matt Stilwell says:

    I loved these costumes. I only had two that I can remember. One year, I was Spiderman. But in Kindergarten, I was He-Man. I can still remember the edges of the mouth hole getting all hot and sticky from the sweat.

  2. Anthony Scott says:

    I have a photograph of myself in a Frankenstein costume – plastic mask, vinyl costume with my sister in a similar devil-themed outfit. This would be in the late 70′s so I presume they would be of this “Ben Cooper” you speak of.

  3. maxx48 says:

    I have a very vivid memory of wearing a Superman costume in the mid-1950′s. My aunt worked as a bookkeeper at the S.S. Kresge in Perth Amboy, New Jersey and I expect we got a good discount off that already low price. The mask was lethal with bits of flashing and other sharp edges. I remember sitting in my Aunt Marie’s kitchen and trying on the mask. As she pulled the rubber band over my head to secure it, I started crying from the pain. She tried to smooth out the sharpest spots, but I remember removing it as I left each porch, putting it back on as I climbed the stairs of the next home. I think by the end of the night, I was holding my candy bag with one hand and pressed the mask to my face with my other hand until each transaction was over. Funny what a little guy will suffer through for unlimited candy! My favorite part? The cape! I drove my sister crazy twirling the cape like a matador gone wild. Thanks for the memories!

  4. jennifer harris says:

    I remember these costumes.

  5. Karen says:

    I remember insisting on wearing a Tin Man costume (from the Wizard of Oz). We used to go to Kresge and I found that costume, in a box with the cellophane window and I had to have it. I was a chunker of a child so we got a “large”. I put that costume on on Halloween morning and on the bus on the way to school, the sewn vinyl inseam split revealing my oh so chic houndstooth patterned rayon pants! I was mortified! I remember my teacher trying in vein to tape the inseam with duct tape so I could be in the school wide costume parade. Sadly, it was the last year I wore a store bought costume!

  6. steve paradis says:

    My first was a Planet of the Apes and my brother a spiderman, I think the following year was Godzilla for me. but after we got into the habit of putting together our own costumes! Those were golden for sure. But yeah, I do remember the edges being a little sharp, my mom had to cut them to smooth them out and I do remember they were hot too. But living Mass., the autumm nights can get pretty cold so that actually a good thing!

  7. Chuck Morton says:

    I remember the costumes. They were great back in the 1960s. One year I was Batman and another I was Daredevil. I would play in them after Halloween until they fell apart. I clearly remember the smell of the inside of the mask and boy was it hard to breathe in them. You sounded like Michael Myers from the movie “Halloween” when you breathed as you went from house to house!

  8. Latanya Ivey says:

    I totally had the Wonder Woman one. Oh my goodness~

  9. Maggie Woods says:

    I have a most vivid memory of being Wonder Woman in this style costume. The trouble was that I grew up in Ohio and Halloween trick or treating could be in the bitter cold. As my luck would have it the Halloween I was to go as my heroine was a cold one and my my mother made me wear my coat beneath my costume. Imagine my horror as I had to go as FAT Wonder Woman! I think Im still upset about it! :)

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