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