Thanks to the rise in popularity of cosplay, Halloween is a big as ever. With conventions almost every weekend and people dressing up for them, Halloween is the time of year to REALLY step up the game. If you’re an experienced cosplayer, you work night and day for the perfect costume. If you are not, the Spirit Halloween store is a quick and relatively inexpensive way to let your “geek-flag” fly on October 31st.
I come from an era before all of this, before cosplay, and even before these pop-up Halloween stores. Here is what is considered a “cheap” Batman costume today.
If you told me when I was five years old that the above picture was what I had to look forward to, I would not believe you. The reason? THIS was my Batman costume from 1983:
So yes, my Batman costume was what seems to be a restructured poncho with the utility belt painted on (there was no painted Batarang included). It is also important to notice Batman’s name plastered across the Bat-symbol, just in case houses I went to for candy couldn’t figure out who I was. To make up for the symbol being covered up, one was tattooed onto the forehead of the cheap plastic mask I was forced to wear.
The cheap plastic and random symbol placement was one of the cornerstones of Ben Cooper Inc. Between the 1950s and 1980s, Ben Cooper was one of the top three Halloween costume manufacturers in the United States, and for some, a Ben Cooper costume was as much Halloween as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Just because they were a tradition doesn’t mean they were necessarily good. Sometimes it felt like the costumes were more of an advertisement for the character the wearer was supposed to be portraying. For example:
I have been a fan of comic books as long as I can remember, and even with the Multiverse back in the DCU, I don’t recall a version of Aquaman where he 1) wore a mask made out of his shirt, 2) Wore a costume where the main feature was a picture of himself, and 3) Would choose a picture of himself NOT wearing a mask, completely defeating the purpose of a mask in the first place.
Ben Cooper did not limit this format to superheroes. If you were on TV in the 1970s, you were fair game as well. Just ask the Fonz:
Why take the time to create a whole new mask when a painted over Batman mask will work JUST FINE? At least they took the time to paint over the Bat symbol on the forehead with a “DD” symbol. Oh, and I guess when the painter read some Daredevil comics for guidance, he or she decided that his mask was orange for some reason, instead of red or even yellow. It would have been funny to be a witness to the eventual stare-down between a kid wearing this and a kid wearing a Batman costume.
Over time, Ben Cooper DID actually make some costumes that made you look like the character.
I’ve gone through some of the bad costumes, and some of the good. Even if you had one of the “good”, ALL Ben Cooper costumes had the same problem. If you look at the masks, you’ll notice little mouth slits were inserted into the mask so kids could breathe. If anyone tells you they DIDN’T stick their tongue through that slit and cut themselves, THEY ARE A LIAR. It didn’t matter how many times it occurred before, you were always destined to do it every single time.
While some of these costumes were ridiculous, they were also the start of something special. When I was 7, 2 years after I wore the Ben Cooper Batman costume, I took some Underoos, a ski mask, and a pair of winter gloves and made my own Spider-Man costume.
I think that what Ben Cooper lacked in creativity, it made up for by INSPIRING it. Since the costumes were basic, we were inspired to make our own when the character we wanted either wasn’t available or was a glorified commercial rather than an actual costume. It wasn’t too daunting to consider making our own outfits, becoming the characters we loved, and that’s pretty darn cool.
One last image: I showed in the picture above my creative 7-year-old mind with a Spider-Man costume. I feel this is MUCH better than the Ben Cooper version.
Sure, I used mittens. At least I had sleeves.
So what do you think? Do you have a favorite Ben Cooper memory? What was YOUR favorite, good or bad? Let me know on Twitter, or sound off in the comments below. Also, be sure to follow ALL of our Nerdoween Posts here on Nerdist!