Cheap Masks and Plastic Smocks Night Thread (10/18)

Once upon a time, Halloween costumes were handmade creations crafted by loving parents hoping to prepare their kids for the yearly gathering of soulcakes.  Then Ben Cooper, Inc., began churning out cheap costumes to the masses. Their secret: popular licenses.

The company started out as a masquerade shop and theatrical costumery operating out of New York’s Lower East Side.  Once upon a time, they designed costumes for the Cotton Club and the Ziegfeld Follies. Then the Great Depression happened, which meant no theatrical companies wanted costumes no more.

Ben Cooper’s fortune changed after some mergers with fellow costume makers, who importantly held the rights to popular licenses. Soon the company was working out deals with JC Penny’s and five-and-dimes.  Budget-conscious parents could step in a local Woolworth’s and pick up a box with a plastic mask that had tiny sharp slits for the mouth and a smock of that very same character.

Ever wanted to be a Darth Vader wearing a shirt featuring his enthusiastic likeness?  (If we were to hear his words, I have no doubt that he is squealing, “Wizard!”)


Or Doctor Strange styling a retro tee.. or more accurately a themed Hefty bag?

Or the inexplicable masked Aquaman?

Whoa… is that a Ben Cooper mask for the Batman of Zurr-En-Arr?  I was totally wrong about this company!  That’s a great obscure referen-… oh wait.

That’s supposed to be Daredevil.




Some even came with realistic hair!  Though my suspicion is that this She-Hulk is a repurposed Tammy Fay Bakker costume.

The author of this thread remembers fondly of a skeleton costume provided by Ben Cooper, Inc. Or, maybe not so fondly, since I wore it to school and no one else was wearing a costume. Apparently there was a designated time in the afternoon when you could put your costumes on. I was the only one in class embarrassingly stewing in that plastic smock depicting a spooky ribcage.

Despite its Halloween dominance, Ben Cooper went bankrupt in 1991.  They hit the skids some time in the mid-1980’s after fear of tainted Halloween treats (you know, the whole thing about apples being stuffed with razor blaze) caught fire thanks to the tampered Tylenol scandal. Parents were keeping their kids home on Halloween night, which meant a drastic reduction in sales.

Ben Cooper, Inc., was bought by Rubie’s which is basically the modern version of Ben Cooper… only without the hipster cache. The costumes themselves have become collector’s items.