I wasn’t planning on rolling out any of my Halloween-related posts until October, but this was so bizarre I just had to share it now. In searching old Sears catalogs for Halloween costumes — as is my wont — I came across these insane items. Let me just present them, and then we can chat. The first is a “Negro Makeup Outfit” from the Fall 1912 catalog:
And up next is a group of costumes from the Fall 1920 catalog. It has classic Negro masks like Sporty Mose (sorry, collar and tie not included), Old Uncle Joe, and Aunt Dinah (a Negress outfit not complete without this mask!). Oh, and if you really want to go hog wild you can get one of the full body suits — there’s the Ridiculous Yellow Kid, the Japanese Lady, and the Negro Minstrel Suit (suitable for hometown shows, no less).
There you go then. I’ll say one thing for old fashioned racism — there was no hiding or covering up. Dressing up as a “Ridiculous Yellow Kid” or a “Negress” was perfectly acceptable in the 1910s and 1920s, and that’s that. I’m not going to get all preachy here, because this stuff is a century old and the people behind it are dead.
I simply find it fascinating that this stuff was not only sold in a major retailer outfit’s national catalog, it probably sold well. I can only imagine the awkward meetings at Sears when they decided to drop these costumes (which were gone by the mid ’20s). I would wager that at least one person in that room saw absolutely nothing wrong with these costumes and argued that it was silly to stop selling them.
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