Here’s a Pair of Bizarre, Racist Catalog Pages from Old Sears Catalogs

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 costumesas 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:

Racist "Negro Makeup Outfit" - Fall 1912 Sears 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).

Racist "Negro Makeup Outfit" - Fall 1920 Sears Catalog

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.

  • judy gold-petranek

    The Yellow Kid was actually a cartoon character (presumably white) created by R.F. Outcault that appeared in the Pulitzer and Hearst newspapers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It wasn’t a racist figure. Yellow was an easy color to reproduce in the newspapers of the time, hence his name. More on the Yellow Kid here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Yellow_Kid
    But I agree with you that the other costumes were absurdly racist.

    • Thanks for the info, I did not know that about the Yellow Kid!

      • judy gold-petranek

        You’re very welcome. The only reason I know about the Yellow Kid is because I had a professor in college who was a huge fan of his. I mean, almost weirdly obsessive :)

  • lmk

    “. . . this stuff is a century old and the people behind it are dead.”

    “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.”

    are you kidding? check this shit out:

    http://tinyurl.com/9w69mta

    ’cause the Negro look is racist and passé, but white people dressing up as an “Asian Geisha Girl,” “Middle Eastern Arab Girl,” “Eskimo Girl,” “Heidi Girl Beer Maid” “Canadian Country Lumberjack Girl,” et. al. is SEXY. i was kind of surprised there was no “Sexy Indian girl” outfit (no, i’m not talking about saris, bindis and henna . . . i mean like, “How? Me Pocahontas Sexy Squaw girl”) . . . aaaaand then i clicked to the next page. sure enough . . .

  • Gonzo

    “Ridiculous Yellow Kid” may in fact refer to the Yellow Kid character for whom Yellow Journalism got its name: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:YellowKid.jpeg

    If that’s the case, it doesn’t make the rest of these pages any less disturbing.