Most of us who grew up during the ’70s and ’80s very likely have had the experience of wearing a Ben Cooper Halloween costume. You might not necessarily know them by the brand name, but you certainly should recognize the vinyl jumpsuit along with a coordinating plastic mask with tiny eye holes, a small mouth hole and a thin elastic string to hold it in place (stapled to each side). My face starts to sweat just thinking about it. In addition to no air flow, I am surprised more kids didn’t get hit by cars due to lack of peripheral vision.
Ben Cooper costumes usually meet one of my personal criteria for any costume which is that other people should be able to recognize who you are supposed to be without you having to tell them. Ben Cooper costumes often had the name of the character right across the chest. They definitely took some of the creativity out of the Halloween costume and they certainly were not comfortable to wear, but there was something special about those officially licensed ensembles. Some other brands existed which made similar styled costumes, but the majority were often Ben Cooper because they owned many of the licenses. Did I personally ever go trick or treating as a kid in a Ben Cooper costume? The answer to that question is yes and, to find out which one I wore, you will need to read to the end.
Ben Cooper, Inc. was officially formed in 1937. Originally a theatrical costume business, due to the Great Depression and the growing popularity of Halloween, Cooper merged with A.S. Fishbach which had a license to produce costumes based on characters owned by The Walt Disney Company. By the late 1940s, Ben Cooper, Inc. had added additional licenses becoming was one of the largest and most prominent Halloween costume manufacturers in the U.S. In the ’60s and ’70s, Ben Cooper, Inc., was one of the “big three” Halloween costume companies, along with Collegeville and the H. Halpern Company (Halco) and was reportedly the largest seller as of 1979. Halloween took a hit in the early ’80s due to the Tylenol Tampering deaths of 1982 and Ben Cooper, Inc. suffered financial losses as a result. They made it through and in 1984, Ben Cooper, Inc. was still the largest supplier of Halloween costumes in the U.S. with sales growing for the next several years though the company’s profits still seemed to struggle.
In 1988, Ben Cooper, Inc. had to sell off some of their licenses to a competitor and then filed for bankruptcy protection. In January 1989, the company’s facility in Georgia burned to the ground, reportedly destroying $2-$3 million in inventory at that time which resulted in some insurance disputes. Ben Cooper, Inc. emerged from bankruptcy in 1989, but ultimately filed again in 1991 before selling the business to Rubie’s II Costume Company in 1992. Rubies II is the largest designer, manufacturer and distributor of a wide variety Halloween costumes and accessories in the world today.
So Ben Cooper costumes are technically no longer made (though the brand name is still used), but they remain a collector’s item and were definitely a Halloween icon during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. There were other monsters, witches, goblins and demons, but we are going to focus more on the licensed costumes. For this list, we are going to remember our Favorite Ben Cooper Costumes of the ’80s (with maybe a few from the late ’70s included):
Honorable Mention: Ben Cooper of course had some imitators within this style of Halloween costume who secured some other licenses. Here are a couple of my favorites from Ben Cooper competitors…
Welcome Back, Kotter
Honorable Mention Part 2: Here are some of the Ben Cooper costumes that didn’t quite make our Top 10…
The Noid from Dominos Pizza
Hong Kong Fuey
The Love Boat
Sgt. Slaughter from GI Joe
The Village People
My Pet Monster
Now on to my Top 10…
10. Ookla the Mok from Thundarr the Barbarian
9. The Dukes of Hazzard including Bo Duke & Boss Hogg
8. Slimer from Ghostbusters
7. The Smurfs
5. Hulk Hogan
4. Marvel Heroes including Spider-Man & The Incredible Hulk
3. DC Heroes including Batman & Wonder Woman
2. He-Man & She-Ra
1. Star Wars
There were several characters from the Star Wars universe available in Ben Cooper costumes including Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker X-wing Pilot, Yoda, Boba Fett, Stormtroopers, Ewoks and more. As I mentioned earlier, I personally wore a Ben Cooper costume for Halloween just one year as a child. It’s not the only reason Star Wars ranks #1 on my list, but it certainly is an important factor. That year, I was C-3PO and my younger brother was Chewbacca and I am sharing a picture of that special Halloween right here…
There’s my list. As usual, these are based on my personal preferences and the order could very well change a little depending on my mood or nostalgia on a given day. Did you ever wear a Ben Cooper costume for Halloween? If so, please provide those memories down in the comments section below. Are there any Ben Cooper costumes from the ’80s (or late ’70s) that you feel I have overlooked? If so or if you’d rank any differently, please leave them in the comments as well. Look forward to hearing about your experience with these hard to breathe in, hard to see in, making your face sweat, hope the elastic band doesn’t break, hope that somebody else doesn’t have the exact same one but still awesome Halloween costumes.