Is there a better way to understand history than by playing a historical character at Halloween? Here are some cool ways men, women, children, and even pets get have some fun and learn at the same time.
The current year figures to be heavy on presidents as Halloween characters, as masks for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are already best sellers.
But there is so much you can do with a little imagination to be someone different and have some fun as you learn about your character! After all, what if you go to a party and there are five Obamas or Romneys?
Here are our top 10 ideas for cool history costumes, from the Colonial period to modern times.
1. Be a Founder.
There are many Colonial era costumes for men, women, and children. The most popular portray George Washington and Martha Washington. But if you ditch the man’s powdered wig and substitute a long-haired wig, you could be any of the Founders. You could also modify the Martha outfit to go as Betsy Ross, Abigail Adams, or Molly Pitcher.
Hint: Bring a prop like a Constitution (if you are Alexander Hamilton) or a flag (Betsy Ross).
2. Be a Founder–with attitude.
There were three delegates to the Constitutional Convention who were dissenters, meaning they chose not to sign the Constitution: George Mason, Edmund Randolph, and Elbridge Gerry. You can adapt that Founding Father costume to be one for a dissenter, with just a little online research. Just make sure you look a bit peeved, and can talk about the issues your dissenter had with the Constitution.
Another person from that era is Aaron Burr, who had attitude but wasn’t a Founding Father. If you choose to be Burr, make sure there isn’t a Hamilton at your party.
Hint: Gerry invented “gerrymandering,” which is redrawing maps to get an election advantage. So a map with some squiggly lines would be a good prop.
3. Supreme Court justice–one size fits all!
A cheap, easy costume is a generic judge’s outfit. You can simply modify some graduation or choral robes. Wigs are optional, but you wouldn’t need one to be a Supreme Court justice.
Hint: You can buy a prop gavel online, which you may need when someone asks you to explain how the individual mandate is a tax, and not a penalty or a fee. Grab a Constitution, too. It may come in handy.
4. Get some sideburns!
With some mutton chop sideburns, a beard, and a mustache, you can portray almost any U.S. president from 1836 until 1912.
Sideburns in different sizes are readily available online. Just remember, you want mutton chop or pork chop sideburns (not Elvis sideburns). You can mix and match them with a beard or mustache to be James K. Polk, Martin Van Buren, Chester Arthur, or even James Garfield.
Add a suit and a period hat, and you have a presidential costume.
Hint: Refer to Wikipedia’s list of presidents of the United States with facial hair to match your sideburns with a president.
5. Zombie presidents.
Combine a little zombie makeup with your presidential costume and you can capitalize on the current Walking Dead craze and have some historical fun.
Some companies are already selling zombie masks for Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. But if you really want to stand out, you could be a zombie Millard Fillmore or Rutherford B. Hayes.
Hint: Don’t use permanent zombie makeup. You may want to reuse that presidential costume next year. And we haven’t seen a zombie Teddy Roosevelt yet.
6. Showcase a presidential pet!
One of our favorite presidential stories is how Herbert Hoover used his Belgian Shepherd, King Tut, as a de facto running mate to win the 1928 election from Al Smith. To become Hoover, you just need a top coat and a suit–and a canine.
Every president except a few had a pet at the White House. Grab a presidential costume and match it with the appropriate animal, and you can add your pet to the holiday fun.
Hint: Avoid Calvin Coolidge, since he had a veritable zoo at the White House.
7. Find some retro presidential masks.
Anyone can buy an Obama or Romney mask. But how cool would it be to show up at a party wearing a Jimmy Carter mask in a leisure suit?
It may be too late to get a custom Carter or LBJ mask, which can cost more than $100 online. But you can check sites like eBay and Amazon for other presidential masks, and to see if someone has a spare Carter mask.
Masks are readily available for Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, at affordable prices. With a little work, you can find discounted masks for Dick Cheney and Al Gore.
You can also get disguise kits for Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Ben Franklin that have wigs and other accessories.
Hint: Some websites have sets of masks for Reagan, Carter, Nixon, and Johnson that recreate robbery scenes from the movie Point Break with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze.
8. Lots of options for female political figures.
Need a Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin mask? Not an issue. Or a Michelle Obama outfit? There are wigs and other accessories online.
Do you want to go retro? You can get a Jackie Kennedy outfit with a hat and purse–perhaps a nearby consignment shop will have just the outfit. Daring? There are Marilyn Monroe “Happy Birthday Mr. President” outfits on eBay for under $30. (The original Monroe dress sold for $1.3 million in 1999.)
If you want to go Victorian as Susan B. Anthony or Carry Nation, there are lots of Victorian dress costumes that can be modified.
Eleanor Roosevelt is another option. Yahoo! offers instructions about how to portray the First Lady using a trip to a local thrift shop.
Hint: If you go as Carry Nation, you need a hatchet (not an axe) to be historically correct. You may also get a rude welcome if alcohol is being served.
9. And tons of options for children.
There are plenty of Lincoln, Washington, and Franklin costumes in children’s sizes. We even found a child version of Thomas Jefferson.
Colonial outfits for children are fairly abundant, with lots of options.
Since history is part of the curriculum for most schools, these seem to be natural fits that could also be reused or sold in future years. After all, it’s hard for a Ben Franklin costume to be dated.
Hint: We didn’t see any Romney or Obama masks in children’s sizes.
10. Beware of racy Big Bird outfits.
The beloved Sesame Street character became part of the first presidential debate when Mitt Romney talked about cutting subsidies for PBS.
That led to a huge surge in Big Bird costume sales in the past week or so. But some of the Big Bird costumes are modified to be “sassy” or “sexy.” And they may be the ones left in stock, as traditional Big Bird suits were selling well, even before the debates began.
And while it may seem tempting to get a “sexy” Big Bird costume to pair with Romney or Obama, you may want the classic Big Bird outfit, since like Ben Franklin, it won’t go out of style.
Hint: Resist the urge to go with Big Bird and stick with some more long-term historical characters.
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