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Halloween Then & Now: Disney Princesses and Hobos

October 21, 2009

With Halloween fast approaching, it was time to decide on a costume for the little one. When I was her age, my mother hand-sewed my costumes each year, and I don’t believe that I had much say in whether I wanted to go as a leopard or not. (For the record: I was adorable!) I think I was 7 or 8 before I declared a desire to go as a princess, and even then, it was a generic princess: a long, pretty dress, a tiara (probably formed from tin foil) and a wand (ditto.)  I was good to go. My mother slaved over those costumes she made for my brother and me, and how did we repay her? By breaking her heart the year we both demanded store-bought Planet of the Apes costumes. (Sorry, Mom! 😦 If it helps, I truly appreciate your efforts now, 30 years later!)

Yes, that's a scratchy plastic mask & a thin nylon jumpsuit

Yes, that's a scratchy plastic mask & a thin nylon jumpsuit

Vintage Dr. Zaius costume in a box

Vintage Dr. Zaius costume in a box

For those of you unfamiliar with the store-bought costumes of the 70’s, or for those of you who’ve simply forgotten: check out these pictures. For the record, I’m pretty sure that I went as Zira, and my brother was Cornelius, but this Dr. Zaius costume was all I could find on ebay. (Turns out, we should have saved them, this thing is going for $75.)

Store-bought costumes have come a long way since then. Although I do own a sewing machine, I never took home-economics, so my skills are pretty much limited to hemming pants. The chance of me being able to create something to match the quality of today’s costumes is not too high. I accept this: store-bought it is. The only problem is the shallow commercial offerings available.  But see, it doesn’t matter anyway, because my daughter already knows exactly what she wants: Disney Princess.

Arrrrrghhhh! I am so conflicted on the Disney Princess empire that sometimes I think my head will just explode.  On the one hand, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are masterpieces in animation history. This is particularly relevant in our home because my husband is an animator. We own just about every animated movie there is: first bought years ago on VHS, then replaced by DVD, and now the slow progression to Blu-ray.  So, of course, this includes all the princess movies, too.

Now, not to knock the films themselves: Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are all great movies, as well as reflections of the times in which they were made. Still, they aren’t the stories I want my daughter to emulate: the sweet, innocent (don’t forget beautiful) but weak female; victimized by another, bitchy female; rescued by the dashing prince so that she can live happily-ever-after-in-a-great-big-castle-with-servants. Not that the modern princesses are much better. The Little Mermaid may have spunkiness going for her, but she’s still a silly little girl pining away over a boy, whom she marries at the ripe old age of 16.

Last year my daughter also wanted to be a Disney princess. She had a teacher whom she adored named Miss Jasmin, so she chose to be Jasmine from Aladdin. Thank goodness! Although the movie is still about love and happily-ever-after, Jasmine is the strongest of all the Disney princesses. (Though I think Mulan rocks, too, she is not usually included in the club.) So great, sure it meant that my then 3 year-old daughter ran around town with a partially exposed mid-section, but at least it wasn’t a Bratz costume.

This year she has chosen Belle from Beauty and the Beast. At least she’s polite, brave, a book-worm and capable of looking past appearance to find her true love: all qualities of which I approve.  I can totally live with Belle. So the time came to find the actual costume. I just have to say that, even allowing for inflation, no costume from my youth cost the equivalent of $100+.  It’s crazy. Sure, the quality greatly exceeds the costume in a box, but it’s still for one night. Sheesh!

Awww, what a cute 'lil tramp

Awww, what a cute 'lil tramp

And this is when I said, “Hey, why don’t we just get you a plaid shirt, a bandanna and a stick? You could be a hobo!”  Back in my day, everyone was a hobo at least one Halloween. (It was easy.) Besides suddenly realizing how old I’m getting, I thought “that can’t be a very timely, or politically correct thing to say, can it?” So I googled and found quite a few postings at places like yahoo answers where people are wondering much the same thing.  A lot are also wondering about the difference between being homeless and being a hobo.  There are a lot of sick people with quite troubling answers out there, too. I don’t choose to discuss that here and now. Let’s just suffice it to say that “hobo” is a term in use since at least the Great Depression, and possibly earlier, to describe a person who chooses to travel about (typically by hopping railroad cars) finding work doing odd-jobs to support themselves. At least that is what it used to mean.

I believe that definitions of language change with the times, as people collectively choose to use words in different ways. It seems that there is some movement in the language to equate the lovable hobo of old with today’s despised and greatly misunderstood homeless. Since I don’t think there are many out there identifying themselves as hobos, I guess it doesn’t really matter much. It is intriguing, though. I also came across this at the Word Detective:

Dear Word Detective: I was asking a co-worker what costume her kids were choosing for Halloween and she mentioned how costumes are more complex today compared with the past when a kid could just put on old clothes and tie a bundle on a stick and go as a “hobo.” I commented that she was dating herself with that term and we discussed the more politically correct terms, from “homeless” to “outdoorsman” (that euphemism sounds like someone who reads “Field and Stream”).

Did you catch that? “Outdoorsman”? WTF? The Urban Dictionary defines an “urban outsdoorsman” as a “politically correct term for a homeless person. ie: Bum.” Oh my…I had never heard this term before, and hope I never will again. While I agree that “bum”, “tramp”, and now “hobo” are pejorative terms for the homeless, just who decided that “homeless” wasn’t politically correct enough? It makes it sound like a lifestyle choice. You know: fresh city air, living by your wits off the land street. Sounds great!

In retrospect, I now view all those hobo costumes in the 70’s and 80’s as something akin to the old black-face routines. Maybe when Robert Downey Jr. plays a hobo, I’ll be okay with it. Until then, we’ll have to settle on Belle.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2009 8:20 pm

    One of my earliest memories of Halloween is my Frito Bandito costume. Alas, as far as I know, no pictures of that glorious year are known to exist.

    And yes, it is *those* Fritos. The same delicious snack we all still enjoy even today. My love affair with commercialism started very early. Thanks, mom!

    • October 21, 2009 9:08 pm

      Sounds yummy! Sad to hear no visual archive was made. Truly we have lost a great treasure!

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