With the arrival of October each year, it was time for millions of Long Island 70s kids to start pondering their Halloween costumes. The ambitious ones created their own, relying on grease paint, old clothing, maybe even some plastic vampire teeth and fake blood. Those looking for a more convenient approach turned to Ben Cooper.
Many of you will remember heading to the local Woolworth’s, TSS, or Woolco, where you would sift through stacks of cardboard boxes, each containing a plastic mask and a vinyl costume. A plethora of choices were available, from cartoon characters and TV stars to the more traditional witches, pirates and assorted ghouls.
The face masks contained three holes, two for the eyes and one to breath, as well as a rather fragile elastic strap to hold the mask in place. Often, these straps didn’t survive the evening’s festivities and many a trick-or-treaters were left with the somewhat humiliating task of holding the mask in place with one hand, while begging for candy with the other. And, no matter how cold it was outside, the masks would inevitably make your face sweat underneath as you tried not to hyperventilate while exhaling through the small opening. The Vinyl costumes weren’t quite as claustrophobia-inducing, but they also weren’t seen very much. Thanks to the cold temperatures that the end of October tends to bring to Long Island, most kids suffered the indignity of having to portray the Man of steel or Sabrina, the Teenage Witch wearing an overcoat and gloves.
The man to whom we owe our thanks for these memorable costumes was Ben Cooper, who got his start providing theatrical costumes to performers at the Cotton Club and Zigfield Follies in the late 1920s. A decade later, he decided to get into the Halloween costume business, and by the time the 1950s arrived, Ben Cooper was the biggest name in children’s costumes. In the early years, the company mostly provided generic characters – ghosts, princesses, skeletons, that sort of thing – but two costumes in particular, Superman and Davy Crockett proved so successful that company soon turned most of its attention to familiar characters from TV, Movies and Cartoons. In the 70s, Ben Cooper started providing a line of “Glitter-Glo” costumes, which made the plastic smocks far more visible to drivers (assuming you weren’t wearing a coat over them, of course).
Sadly, Ben Cooper Inc. went out of business at the end of the 90s, perhaps in part due to the Halloween stores that have now become commonplace. Gone are the ceiling-high stacks of cardboard boxes, each with a little label on the side to tell you which was which without having to see the front. Sure, today’s costumes are more elaborate, more sophisticated (read: more expensive), but there was certainly something to be said for the simplicity of a Ben Cooper costume, and millions of former kids still hold fond memories of picking out a Ben Cooper each year and proudly showing them off to their classmates, siblings and neighbors.
Were you a wearer of Ben Cooper Costumes back in the day? Do you remember a particular favorite? We’d love to hear all of your memories in our comments section below, as we pay tribute to the man who brought many smiles (and to be fair, a little discomfort) to many a 70s kid.