Time Capsule

Most Popular Halloween Costumes Through the Years: 1985-2013

Topical Halloween costumes really just reveal the absurd things Americans are obsessed with. Check out three decades of the most popular ripped-from-headlines outfits.


People rib on Halloween for being, apparently, an excuse for girls to dress slutty and guys to gawk at them. But let’s mock the holiday for what it really is: an annual revelation of the stupid things we’re obsessed with as a society.

Ah, the “topical costume.”

This year, you’ve likely already seen—and continue to see as Halloween parties stretch into the weekend—countless Miley Cyruses twerking on countless Robin Thickes (#neverforget) and, according to Halloween Express, hordes of men with long beards, as the cast of Duck Dynasty is the year’s most popular costume. A twerking pop star and hunters without razors: this is our America.

How silly do this year’s choices seem compared to popular topical costumes from years past? Let’s take a look.


We’re a nation obsessed with redneck reality TV and controversy courting pop stars, as we’ve already established. What else is on trend this year? According to Google’s list of trending Halloween searches, there will be a lot of people dressed as Minions from the film Despicable Me. Also popular, apparently, is a fox, in homage to Ylvis’ viral video “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?).” Halloween Express is also reporting a spike in Beetlejuice costumes—not because the character is surging in popularity, but because the striped suit is being used to dress as Robin Thicke from the VMAs. Naturally.


Last year was all about a hero and a villain. Bane, the Gotham-terrorizing bad guy from the final installment of The Dark Knight trilogy was among the most popular male costumes, while women were busy braiding their hair for their Katniss Everdeen costumes, pegged to The Hunger Games. The women also got into the Batman spirit, with Anne Hathaway’s version of Catwoman a popular choice, while both genders zombified themselves to cast members, both living and undead, from The Walking Dead.


2011 was a simpler time, when everyone was “winning” instead of “twerking,” and rather than shoot ducks we were drinking tiger blood. Accordingly, drunk Charlie Sheen was one of the year’s most popular costumes. In 2011, it also happens, Glee was still a beloved and buzzy show, so Sue Sylvester’s signature tracksuit was a big hit, according to Spirit Halloween store. Other big hits: Angry Birds (remember them?), Katy Perry, and Nicki Minaj.


2010 was the year of Gaga. Mother Monster topped the list of popular costumes, just besting Jersey Shore’s Snooki. Her spray tanned brethren The Situation and Pauly D were among the most popular for boys—those who weren’t going as either Justin Bieber or one of the Twilight boys. Yes, remember the time when a person’s defining characteristic was whether they were on Team Edward or Team Jacob?

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From opposite ends of the cultural spectrum, the two most popular costumes of 2009, according to BuyCostumes.com, were Michael Jackson, in homage to the recently deceased King of Pop, and Kate Gosselin, in homage to the fame mongering mother of eight neglected children. Vampires also enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, thanks to True Blood and Twilight, while people really seized on the “dead” theme of Halloween, with Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, and infomercial pitchman Billy Mays also quite popular.


What a difference five years makes. This year, Miley Cyrus in a display of overt sexuality is the most popular costume. In 2008, it was Cyrus’s squeaky-clean Disney alter ego, Hannah Montana, that was the top choice. For guys, Indiana Jones enjoyed a resurgence, thanks to the abysmal sequel that had just been released. Pair costumes were also quite popular: High School Musical’s Troy and Gabriela and—it was an election year, remember—Barack Obama and John McCain.


According to iParty, the most popular costumes in 2003 were mostly youth oriented, with The Wiggles, Brat Dolls, the Cat in the Hat (the horrific Mike Myers movie came out later that year), and Spongebob Squarepants among the most popular. Also a hit: flappers, thanks to the success of Chicago at the Oscars that year.


In 1998, we were obsessed with the question, “Who killed…?” There was Kenny from South Park, the muffled character who met his fate at the end of every episode, and the masked slasher from Scream, two of the year’s biggest costumes.


In 1993, adults and kids alike were dressing as Barney the Dinosaur. Those with abs flaunted them as Aladdin and Jasmine from the Disney film released that year.


1989 was all about the painted face. For guys, The Joker, as immortalized by Jack Nicholson in the Batman flick, was a top choice. Girls, hysterically, went as the weepy evangelist’s wife Tammy Faye Baker. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, revelers were shelling out top dollar for their costumes that year, too. Batman and Joker costumes were selling out—at $275 and $320 a piece.


Hulk Hogan and Elvira were the big He and She sellers of 1985, but it was also a big year for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan costumes, too. Patrick Swayze’s gang from Point Break was a popular group costume choice—as it should’ve been.