Welcome to Haunted Home Pages, a semi-regular series of blog posts in which Jim McGrath spends October 2017 communicating with the internet’s afterlife via The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine . For all the posts in this series, click here.
Boston has changed a lot since I moved here in 2003, but one thing has stayed fairly consistent: The Garment District in Cambridge has been a go-to source for Halloween costumes, and the ads it blankets the T with each year promoting its wares (and wears) are always instant time capsules for the year’s pop cultural touchstones, memes, and monsters. I thought it would be fun to take a tour through the shop’s home page over the years to see what we might learn from the ghosts and garments of Halloween Past!
In keeping with the tradition of me posting embarrassing photos of myself in these posts, here’s a photo of me from Halloween 2011, when I was a DiGiorno Pepperoni Pizza:
Halloween costumes and photographs of Halloween revelers and partygoers are fascinating (and often troubling) records of particular people, time, and places. Given the ubiquity of social media, there are thousands if not millions of photographs of Halloween costumes from the last decade or so. But I wonder how many of these images will find their way into archives, special collections, and digital repositories? How many will be accessible to future historians and scholars? It’s interesting to see what costumes are already making their way into these spaces. For example, a search for “Halloween” over at the Digital Public Library of America results in a number of images from a 2014 Halloween party held at the Maryland Governor’s Mansion. A filtered search on the topic of “Halloween costumes” at the NYPL Digital Collections leads to this awesome collection of Larry Racioppo’s black-and-white photographs of 1970s NYC kids in costumes. In fact, you can see more of Racioppo’s Halloween photos on display in a “Brooklyn Photographs” exhibit currently up at BRIC!
The earliest Halloween home page I was able to find via The Wayback Machine was interesting because it deviates from what later become the aesthetics of Garment District Halloween advertising. There are no local models here, nor are there costumes featuring characters from popular culture.
The cat mascot of The Garment District is visible on this page as well, but various models (many of whom are employees!) are front-and-center advertising this year’s offerings. Viewing these images while considering their archival dimensions and what they might tell us about the people in them and their habits of cultural consumption can be interesting and fun. Specifically, Halloween can be a reminder that history doesn’t follow neat and tidy trajectories and that patterns of reading can quickly be frustrated and broken down. It’s tempting to read the proximity of Jem (from Jem and The Holograms) and Beetlejuice (from, uh, Beetlejuice) as a sign of millennial fascination with all things 1980s, or to cite this pair as evidence of a major trend, but it’s more interesting to see them as part of a larger mosaic with all the other time periods and performances on display here: the Storm Trooper from Star Wars, Waldo from Where’s Waldo?, the dinosaur, the reindeer, the rest of the gang.
The Garment District’s blog (parts of which have also been saved by The Wayback Machine) is a good resource for photos of customers and staff members prepping for the store’s annual ads (or photos of people restocking stuff in Klaus Nomi attire). It might be interesting to compare the costume selection, appearance, and uses of local models by The Garment District over the years to the kinds of modeling seen on sites like Amazon and other national / international costume outlets.
In what remains of the 2005 site we see models showing off costume materials but there are no explicit references or images from specific media or news stories.
Of course, Halloween activities are also cultural events where generalizations and stereotypes are literally walking among us, and it’s always fascinating (and occasionally infuriating) to see what identities and attires are acceptable to who and how those performances are encoded and encouraged. There’s an interesting disconnect from the imagery of these “pimp” accessories and the descriptive language used to advertise their features.
Boston Costume, the main supplier of Garment District Halloween costumes, occasionally updated their corner of the web with interesting content, like this mega-Photoshopped home page from 2006.
I love this image, but I also love what remains visible of the earlier Boston Costume site, like this list of “Modern Trends” from 2003 (featuring a “Mr. Albert” that is most likely this guy):
There’s also this helpful list of costume ideas for those of you who might want to “Strut Your Stuff.” I probably wouldn’t have opened with “Sexy Lobster” but I am not very brave. These lists get less funny when you get into the “Ethnic Groups.”
And there are delightful off-brand costumes inspired by intellectual property owned by other companies, like this outfit that is totally not meant to suggest the appearance of the Marvel Comics character The Punisher.
In any case, I think it’s nice to know that the images, descriptions, and design / organizational choices created by stores like The Garment District are out here for serious and recreational Halloween scholars alike!
Haunted Home Pages will run through October 2017! Questions, comments? Get in touch with Jim on Twitter @JimMc_Grath! You can also email me: james_mcgrath[at]brown[dot]edu!