The licensed TV costume phenomena really took off in the mid-sixties with two companies monopolizing the licensed costume market. Collegeville and Ben Cooper were both manufacturers of those polyester jumpsuits with the plastic face masks. You remember them, don’t you? The suits were made out of a stiff, scratchy material that had a slit up the back and a tie at the neck to hold it on.
If you were lucky enough to live in a warm climate you got to wear yours as it was intended with nothing but underwear underneath. But if you grew up in a cold place like I did, you wore yours with pants and a turtleneck underneath and probably a sweater over top totally ruining the cool ‘I’m Samantha from Bewitched’ feel of the ensemble. The face masks were designed for kids with really big faces. Eye holes were often cut in odd spots to make the face look bigger than the wearer and they were held in place, sort of, by those elastic strings that were never tight enough. To complete the picture, think about all the time you trekked all over your neighborhood, determined to wear the mask all the way even though you couldn’t see. The curved plastic would fill with your warm breath and only the strongest of spirit could make it more than ten minutes before coming up for air.
One of the best designs I’ve ever seen was the Ben Cooper Bewitched costume. The black outfit was decorated with gold stars and a golden cartoon image of Samantha. The mask was made with the blond flip hair-do with a witches hat perched on top. The bizzarest award goes to the Mr. Ed costume from Ben Cooper. The horse-face mask is highly detailed with a hinged mouth for that talking animal effect. The suit was also unusual in that it had long sleeves. The outfit was done in brown with a cute graphic of Mr. Ed and the words Yak Yak Yak on the front.
Other nice suits from the era include the Banana Splits with their cute and highly detailed masks, The Rat Patrol with Troy’s Aussie hat sculpted in plastic and the Man From UNCLE costumes if you and your brother wanted to match. Two very collectible suits are the strange pair from The Land of the Giants. The Giant Witch and Giant Scientist both bear the logo from the series, along with a graphic of tiny humans climbing up your body. It would have seemed wiser to reproduce the flight suit used in the series but that’s why I’m not a toy designer.
In the seventies, little girls could be the Bionic Woman in a red suit with a cartoon of Jamie Summers bending metal with her bare hands. You could be Farrah in a pink, dress style suit and a plastic mask made to resemble Farrah’s famous hair cut. The Charlie’s Angels costume had the Angels logo on the top and a silhouette of a city at the bottom. Though sold under the logo name, the haircut on the mask was distinctly Kate Jackson.
For boys there was the CHIPS costume that showed the motorcycle cops coming straight at you from behind their CHIPS shield. The face mask resembled a helmet and goggles but the expression cut into the mask is enough to scare any speeder into giving up on the spot. Want to be a teen idol? Go for the Donny Osmond costume by Collegeville, or worse yet, the Jimmy Osmond costume.
If you weren’t sure if you were a boy or a girl, try the suit that bears the words, One Of The Brady Bunch. This red suit was covered with bubbles and a funky psychedelic photo of the Brady kids. The mask was just a plain red eye mask, ala the Lone Ranger. If you wanted to be Marsha or Greg this suit worked for you.
If you decide to collect TV Halloween Costumes, keep a few things in mind. Tears in the seams can be repaired but they do reduce the value of the costume. Tears in the material are hard to repair and you should pass them up unless it’s a true bargain. The same goes for cracked masks. While the boxes are no real gems of packaging, expect them to be in good condition. Usually you will find the front viewing plastic torn or missing. This is because you could never put the costume back as neatly as you got it. Costumes show very nicely when hung on the wall. We put ours inside a large Dax frame, then hang the mask above it on a peg. Try not to use straight pins when securing your costume, as pins rust and leave holes.
The real incongruity of all these great costumes is that they weren’t really made to make you look like the character as much as they were great advertising. Almost all the suits bear the name of the TV show somewhere on the outfit and many used pictures of the character in the design. Now, have you ever seen Charlie’s Angels wearing shirts with their own likeness on them? As far as the networks were concerned, these costumes made great once a year commercials.