Vintage Halloween Decor Is Trending for 2021, and It’s So Much Creepier Than We Expected
If you’ve been following this year’s fall design trends, you’ve probably noticed that retro. Is. In. So, it should come as no surprise that vintage Halloween decor is trending hard this year. Luckily, we’ve got a lot to work with, and apparently, Americans were just as obsessed with Halloween decor in the early 1900s as we are today. However, consider yourself warned: The seasonal decor of the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40 is not for the faint of heart. Some of these pieces are creepy, like swiped-from-a-haunted-house creepy, and far more sinister than we’d expect them to be. See below for a brief overview of where the haunting aesthetic comes from, what to look for and of course, 15 of the spookiest retro and vintage-inspired Halloween decor we could find.
A Brief History of Halloween Decor
“Halloween, as a commonly celebrated US event, truly came into its own in the very early 1920s,” writes Mark B. Ledenbach, an expert collector of vintage Halloween decor. However, unlike today, the Halloween parties of the Roaring Twenties were adults-only: “almost all the [decor] from 1910 to 1935 was made primarily for adults,” Ledenbach explains. “It wasn’t bloody—it was scary. It was meant to catch your eye and unsettle you, even at a party.” Don’t believe us? Here’s what a run-of-the-mill Halloween tablescape looked like:
You mean to tell us that *isn’t* a scene from Children of the Corn? Yeah…if you prefer today’s family-friendly Halloween decorations, we don’t blame you. But, if we’re talking ‘authentic Halloween,’ then the ultra-creepy decor of this era accurately represents its Samhain origins, which was a three-day ancient Celtic pagan festival. Cady Lang of TIME explains: “During this festival, the world of the gods [were] believed to be made visible to humankind, leading to supernatural tricks and trouble…ghosts of the dead and spirits from the Otherworld were also thought to return to the earth during Samhain.” Indeed, from October 31st to November 1st, the Celts believed that spirits of the deceased could return to haunt the living. As a result, they became mavens for scaring the sh*t out of people. If you’re a true Halloween fanatic, you probably already knew this. And, while everyone can appreciate a creepy jack-o-lantern or scary skeleton, the mischief of ‘20s Halloween didn’t stop with the decor.
“By 1923, Halloween had become one of the most dangerous—and feared—nights of the year,” according to Emily Chertoff of The Atlantic. “In some towns, Halloween extended into a week's worth or more of misrung doorbells, spooky, far-off lights and vanished kitchen implements…mischief was the soul of Halloween, but when it became violent, it had to be stopped,” Chertoff writes. So how do you stop a bunch of kids from causing harm? Simple: You give ‘em candy. As televisions and print advertisements boomed during the 1950s, communities were able to encourage trick-or-treating and offer sweets to incentivize good behavior. As a result, Halloween became the festive, kid-friendly holiday we know today, and as younger kids got into it, the decor naturally took on a much lighter look.
Vintage Halloween Decor: What To Look For
“Since Halloween items are notoriously hard to accurately date, one rule of thumb I use is this: the scarier the imagery, the older the item,” says Ledenbach. While finding authentic vintage Halloween decor is a niche (and strangely difficult) hobby, Ledenbach brings up an important point: If you want to pull off the vintage Halloween aesthetic, you need to keep things creepy.
Another nice touch? Include gothic and Victorian-style accents throughout. Think holographic paintings, medieval lanterns, witch hands, skulls, gargoyles and black candelabras.
And last but not least: animated objects— because nothing gets our blood flowing quicker than an unexpected “pop-out” scare. Add in some creepy, animated telephones, old radios or flickering lights to bring your vintage decor into the 21st century.