The 5 Coolest Vintage GI Joe Costumes

Every year around this time, stores of all types set up their Halloween displays, and one standby within them are costumes. It’s an amazing thing to think about, actually. As time has passed, and  the old five and dime stores gave way to retail chains, the seasonal Halloween section has somehow survived. I find this quite refreshing in a world that’s devoid of a lot of the once common shopping experiences that brought me joy as a kid. Things like toy departments located next to tire centers and catalog pickup areas with Christmas toy displays are all gone. If there’s one time of year you can still count on for running into something interesting and even a little crazy, it’s this fall season we’re in. My favorite part of the Halloween sections are the odd discoveries that pop up among the usual supply of spooky merchandise. When else can you walk into a store for sundries and find a severed limb prop just one shelf away from a cute plush costumed Snoopy?

The costume business must be a huge money maker in terms of licensing. While witches and other generic outfits seem to be perennially popular, character costumes have been huge sellers for decades. If something is big in the zeitgeist, you can count on seeing a costume or mask based on it come Halloween. In fact, if our civilization falls, future archaeologists can probably put together a good picture of our pop culture history just by locating a good number of Ben Cooper, Don Post or Collegeville catalogs.

Over the decades, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, GI Joe has been among the monsters, super heroes and TV stars in the Halloween costume aisle. I miss the old vacuform mask and plastic suit sets the most, so here’s a list of what I think are the five coolest from the era. You can almost smell the vinyl…

The ShieldThe Shield – How’s this for obscure? The short-lived Super Joe line spawned some ancillary product courtesy of Collegeville’s prolific costume offerings. I’ve always thought the Shield’s mask was just a little ways off design-wise from the creepy gun-puking head from the film Zardoz. Maybe that’s just me.
Atomic ManAtomic Man – Mike Power was quite the hit in his day, riding the coattails of the Six Million Dollar Man. As cool as Mike Powers is, he’s no Lee Majors. You just can’t beat a red track suit.
GI Joe (Karate)GI Joe (Karate) – We can’t leave out the Adventure Team from our costume-o-rama. The series was well represented through the 70s with several different iterations of Joe. The karate is my fave probably because it attempts to recreate an outfit, along with picturing the character on the front.









GI JoeGI Joe – Now this one is Grunt, obviously. Ben Cooper produced this set early on in the 80s relaunch era. I can’t blame them for putting him on a costume in the early 80s and just calling it GI Joe. After all, Grunt was the “face” of Real American Hero GI Joe for a little while in the early 80s days. I think this version also came with a poncho in place of the usual jumpsuit. Poncho is such a fun word to say. Try it–poncho. See what I mean?













Destro – This one isn’t quite the same format as the others, and lies more along the lines of role play, but look at this thing! There’s a mask, shoulder strap with walkie-talkie, gauntlets, and yes–the medallion. So what if they left off the rockets and grenades from the gauntlets, it’s got the freaking medallion! If that isn’t the absolute height of boss 80s pop culture costuming, I don’t know what is. Incredible.



  • Wow, I never knew that Destro set existed! Kudos to whomever fought to include the medallion. It’s totally boss and makes this a must have for any serious Joe collector.

    I remember the Grunt costume well from the first year or two of the line. I owned a Ben Cooper costume at one point but I’ll be darned if I can remember which character it was. I was never into trick or treating as a kid since i didn’t eat candy. But covering these costumes was a great idea.

  • I used to dress up a lot [when I was with the drama clubs] but I can no longer stand it. I noticed in a costume boutique at the flea market today, there was a selection dedicated to masks that were in real bad taste [Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Husain, Osama Binladen]
    On a lighter note, when I was with the players, I did have to wear a poncho once.

    As for the costumes shown here, I never really understood why kids costumes usually had a picture of the character on them.

  • Yeah, the phenomenon of putting a picture of a character on a costume approximating that character has always bugged the crap out of me, even as the littlest kid. The whole point was to *be* that character, and that character’s standard look didn’t include a picture of himself on his stomach!

    My guess is, it came about from manufactures thinking kids wouldn’t “get” who the costume was, so they had to beat us over the head by slapping a picture on the shirt.

  • Ah, these were the worst, but still SO much better than making your own (I guess). Part of me wants to think I had the Grunt one, but I’m pretty sure they were just Underoos. And I could swear I saw a kid at the Halloween festival last week with a vinyl costume (random character on the front) and an only slightly more robust mask. For a one-time costume, you can’t beat cheap!

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