From the arrival of glinting, grinning pumpkins to a newfound, unearthly chill in the air, it’s fair to say that Halloween is finally upon us. All Hallows’ Eve is a time for trickery and treats — and the only true way to lure either is to make sure that you have the perfect costume ready.
If you’re a decidedly more intellectual type and have waited a little too long to put together the perfect costume, handpicked historically-inspired ideas await you here (along with their context, of course). Simply read on.
Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to tweet us your final look, or tag us on Instagram (use @forensicfix).
1. The ever-creepy Lizzie Borden (had an axe)
Nobody on the other side of the pond has escaped this grisly childhood recitation:
Lizzie Borden took an axe,
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.
If you’ve managed to get by without hearing this story, it’s based on a chilling real-life event: the murder of Andrew and Abby Borden, who were allegedly killed by their own daughter, Lizzie, in 1982. She was accused of striking her mother with a sharp object — possibly an axe — 19 times. Apparently unsatisfied with her handiwork, she moved onto deliver 11 blows to her father with the same object.
Despite a shaky alibi, a morbid calmness and the fact that she was found setting her clothes alight after the grisly events that transpired days before, Borden was somehow acquitted of these truly brutal crimes.
Get the look:
Emanate Victoriana in a blue dress with mutton sleeves — much like the one Lizzie wore on the morning of the murders (and was discovered burning a few days later). Of course, no Borden look would be complete without a smattering of theatrical blood, and a bloody novelty axe. An updo and a blank, eerie stare complete this costume.
2. Jack the Ripper: the menace of Whitechapel
The serial killer that requires no introduction also happens to provide ideal fodder and inspiration for a sensationally-scary Halloween get-up. Based on the infamous murderer who terrorised the streets of London for two months (and possibly even longer) in 1888, he is known to have killed and mutilated 5 female prostitutes. Other estimates put his body count as high as 11. Since then, Jack has slowly slipped into the realm of myth and local lore — with Ripperologists frequently speculating about his true identity and little-known details relating to his crimes.
Get the look:
Don your blackest cap — a black bed-sheet will do — and a deerstalker cap (the top hat is a common misconception). Even though Jack the Ripper was never caught, several witnesses described a gentleman in this attire at the crime scenes around the time of each homicide. Since you clearly don’t have the time to grow one, purchase or paint on a brown moustache (with eyeliner or a brow pencil) to fully get into character — and don’t forget the trademark black leather gloves.
3. The unfortunate Salem “witches”
From Hocus Pocus to The Crucible, the Salem Witch Trials — and the unfortunate penalties that sometimes followed thereafter — have been dramatised in various forms and planted firmly in the collective psyche. These legal proceedings, in which certain women and men were singled out as practitioners of witchcraft in early-American, fervently-religious societies, occurred in colonial Massachusetts between 1692 to 1693.
Over 200 people were accused of witchcraft, and an unlucky 20 were executed for their alleged crimes against members of the community who claimed to be possessed. The event is now regarded as one of the most famous cases of mass hysteria ever to be documented. The accusations of children (Elizabeth and Abigail) incited the trials after they started having seizures and displaying all manner of bizarre, inexplicable behaviour. Three women were accused: Tituba, an African and West Indian slave; Sarah Good, a homeless beggar; and Sarah Osborne, an elderly lady who rarely attended church.
Get the look:
Sourcing a historically-accurate costume can lighten your pocket, but it’s possible to recreate the appearance of one of these unfortunate souls by piecing together a few items that may already live in your wardrobe.
Begin with a simple black dress. If it’s a sleeveless number, wear a long-sleeved black tee underneath it (and if you’ve got a white Peter Pan-collared shirt, wear that underneath the tee, fluffing the collar out over the dress). Cut a simple white apron (or use an existing apron with any printed side reversed) and wrap this around your waist. Use a white tea towel, hankie or similar cloth to create a coif, or a little hat, around your head.
Finish the look by adding a (very loosened), novelty noose — as most of the executed were not burned at the stake, but hanged instead.
4. The terrifying Vlad the Impaler
Trust us, this is hardly your typical drug store/pharmacy-bought Dracula costume.
Born in 1431 in Transylvania, Vlad III Dracula — now known somewhat ominously as Vlad the Impaler — is the true historical inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula (as we know him now). The etymology of the word is intriguing: Dracula means “son of Dracul”, which is derived from “dragon”. Vlad’s father and brother were assassinated by Walachian boyars, or noblemen, in 1447. Clearly perturbed by this, Vlad embarked on a lifelong series of military campaigns to retrieve his family’s title.
Not one to take prisoners, he is mythologised for impaling his enemies on stakes that pierced the ground. In 1462, legend tells of Vlad retreating from battle after leaving behind a field rife with impaled Ottoman forces as a deadly message. Long story short, don’t mess with Vlad.
Get the look:
You will need: a pair of brown boots; a loose pair of blue (or jewel-toned) trousers tucked into the boots; a loose-fitting blue shirt; a red (or jewel-toned) bath robe worn over the shirt; and a leather belt, to fasten the bath robe closed so Vlad doesn’t have an untimely wardrobe malfunction.
For a headdress befitting Vlad, wear out a Santa hat or a deep red beanie, worn loosely. If you can find a lose string of pearls, wear it as a headband over the hat — and you’ll have the precise touches you need to look convincing and terrifying.
Your turn: Have any other ideas for brilliant, history-inspired Halloween costumes? Want to share your costume with us? Leave your comments below — we’d love to hear from you.