Last minute costume ideas from the vaults of history

Last minute, whatcha gonna wear for Halloween, tonight?  To those of you who already know, props!  To those of you who don’t it is time to step up!  Here is my top 5 list of last minute history-inspired costumes:

1. Julius Caesar

What you need: an old white top sheet, and a purple or red top sheet, belt, some red paint or fake blood and some real or fake vine/laurels–enough wrap once around the head, plastic knife (optional)

What to do:  (Note: if you are missing the red or purple sheet, grab a second white one.)  Take your white sheet and cut a hole in the middle large enough to fit over your head and belt this as your undergarments (which should also hide any warm under-layers).  Take your red or purple sheet and wrap it over your right shoulder and then around your waist.  Around your head, much like a crown, you should wear the laurels or vine or fake leaves–a sting and some construction paper would do the trick also.  Apply blood for multiple stabbing wounds and if you bring a plastic knife make sure it is liberally coated in blood.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  (Note be sure to hold the knife pointing at yourself as if you have just ripped it from your soon-to-be corpsefied body!) “Et tu Brutae?!?”  (This can be shouted in a tone of stunned surprise or delivered in a death-rattle gasp–your choice.)

Historical accuracies: 1) Caesar was careful for political reasons not to wear a crown or diadem, associated with eastern (principally Persian) tyrants, and only ever wore the laurels of victory.  2) As a Roman of note he would have worn a toga, but his would have been in the royal purple–which was originally a rich purple taken from a particular mollusk endemic to the Mediterranean Sea.  Over time this color was replaced with red because of the mollusks rarity after years of harvesting.  (See Cover the Earth–Early Modern Red.)  3) Using Latin–it’s what he spoke.

2. Monk

Benedictine Monks

What you need:  Select brown, black, gray or white for the following: A hoodie, slacks/skirt, sheet (can be white or black if not wearing brown) and a long string of beads or a long rosary.  OR, use two sheets, or a Snuggy (c) and one sheet.

What to do:  Put on your matching hoody and slacks/skirt–the skirt would really look better in this case–just saying, and cut your sheet to shoulder width and cut a hole in the middle and drape it over your head (it should hang at least ankle length on both sides of your body).  If you decide to go with two sheets, they should either be same color or gray (on the bottom) and black or brown on the top and a cut a hole in the middle and put it over your head with a belt–the shoulder-width sheet should still be on top.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Et benedictio Dei omnipotentis, Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti descendat super vos et maneat semper.”

Historical accuracies:  1) Monks wore modest clothing and “cheap” colors.  2) The narrow cut sheet is a scapular, which was special piece of the habit that was blessed.  3) The Latin blessing translates: “And may the blessing of Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, descend on you and remain with you always.”  Latin was used up until the last century in the Catholic Church.  (See Why Friar Tuck is not a Monk.)

3. Egyptian eunuch (Warm climates only!)

What you need:  White bath or swim towel–the one you stole from the hotel that one vacation should do, sandals, white dish towel, a long strip of cloth to wrap around your head, black eye make-up and a (preferably gold) platter with fruit on it–note a really long leaf for fanning the queen maybe substituted or a long narrow jug of wine.

What to do:  Wrap the towel around your waste–it is up to you to secure that bad boy, I take no responsibility for accidents!  Optional: Put the dish towel on your head with the long side in the front and than tie it down with the strip of cloth.  Finally, lay the black eye liner on thick and be sure to draw a line out from each eye ball a ways towards the side of your face.  Carry your prop.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  Nothing.  Eunuchs serve, they don’t speak–some didn’t even have tongues.

Historical accuracies:  1) The eye make-up was a big deal–and royalty wore even more of it–for mystical reasons.  As it turns out there was a fair bit of lead and other toxins, so it probably contributed to a host of health problems and early death for a class of people otherwise pampered incredibly well.  2) The climate was warm and Egyptian servants are portrayed in Egyptian art as wearing something around their bottom half, if anything.  They also always have the eye-makeup.  3) They are often bare-headed, so the head piece is only optional.

4. John Wilkes Booth (on the run)

What you need:  A suit (that you can roll around in the mud in–or cover with make-up that looks like mud), a mustache, a pistol and faked limp.

What to do:  Wear the (muddy) suit, put some leaves in your hair and limp around either carrying the pistol or having it visible on your person.  Apply mustache.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  “Sic semper tyrannis!

Historical accuracies:  1) On the lam, he ran through the Maryland wilderness heading south and got rather worn down–hence the muddiness.  2) After shooting Lincoln, he leapt to the stage and injured his ankle.  3) As he did so he shouted, in Latin, “Thus always to tyrants!”

5. Tom Brokaw (or Anderson Cooper) in the field

What you need: For either: A vest with many pockets–such as, a fishing or hunting vest–in tan or brown, a white short sleeve button-down shirt and slacks that match in fashionable way.  For Jennings: if it is a cold night, you could just wear a suit and tie with a old gray/tan trench coat.  For Cooper: You may substitute black muscle shirt or polo for white button-down and a sleek black vest (i.e. flak jacket) for the many-pocketed vest.  Optional: a microphone for Brokaw or a bluetooth or similar device in the ear for Cooper.

What to do:  Put your clothes on.

What to say when someone asks who you are:  If going as Brokaw, talk about Cold War politics.  If going as Anderson, talk about Operation Enduring Freedom.

Historical accuracies:  YouTube either of them in the field on location.



Filed under Historian's Journal

4 responses to “Last minute costume ideas from the vaults of history

  1. A Eunuch

    Too bad I didn’t see this blog until now. Going as a eunuch would have been very authentic; having actually had my testicles removed – but by a doctor after an accident rather than by Cleopatra. Who knew being ball-less would have had this benefit. 😉

  2. Finding a Halloween costume is a very personal decision. Your age, gender, lifestyle, and interests are the leading factors to what you think is a good Halloween costume. Some people think a batman costume is the best costume ever where as other people might not be caught dead in a batman costume.

  3. Pingback: Oh, History Channel… | Brush off the dust! History now!

  4. Pingback: Last minute costume ideas from the vaults of history, ’12 edition | Brush off the dust! History now!

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