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"Spanish Lady" Halloween Costume

"Spanish Lady" costume worn for Halloween by Virginia Shaver in 1922.
(Museum object #2003.29.1)

For Halloween in 1922 fourteen year-old Virginia L. Shaver of La Crosse, Wisconsin decided to dress up as a "Spanish Lady." To do this she took a printed tan silk dress her mother Gertrude Shaver had made in 1917 and modified it for her needs. First Virginia added black lace to the skirt, neckline, and sleeves, as well as a triangular black lace insert into the neckline; she then tied a green silk sash artistically around her waist. Finally Virginia put a large celluloid tortoiseshell comb in her hair and draped it with a black lace shawl reinvented as a mantilla. After getting all dressed up, she had her photograph taken in her family's backyard.

Virginia would not have gone trick-or-treating, since that tradition did not appear for another decade. Instead she probably went to a neighborhood party where highlights might have included apple bobbing, eating pumpkin pie, and hayrides. The tradition of Halloween parties originated in the late 19th century, as the holiday evolved from a night to scare away spooks and demons to one more about community and neighbor get-togethers. By the 1920s some communities even had parades and citywide parties.

After Virginia wore her motherís dress as her Halloween costume, she appears to have modified it yet again by adding a third tier to the bottom of the dress to make it floor length and by changing the neckline. The sewing at the alterations is rather sloppy indicating Virginia was probably still wearing it as a costume. Whether she intended it to remain a "Spanish Lady" costume or not is a mystery.

The practice of sending children door to door asking for candy did not begin until the 1930s. With increased urbanization and poverty during that decade, damage and vandalism by youngsters on Halloween night had become extensive. Cities and towns across the United States, looking for ways to have a "safe" Halloween, hoped that by encouraging children to ask their neighbors for candy they could distract them from vandalism. The term "trick or treat" did not appear in print until 1938.


Posted on October 27, 2005

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  • Clothing & Personal Items
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