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Official Article

80's Toy Dress-Up Kits

As Halloween approaches many people's minds will turn back to the trick or treating costumes of their youth. Many were Ben Cooper style scratchy masks and smocks, while others were carefully sewn homemade frocks. But today I want to talk about the toy based dress up kits that allowed us to have imaginary adventures as our favorite cartoon characters all year long.

Just to make the distinction clear, these are not store bought costumes that appeared on shelves in October. No, these were kid-sized versions of accessories and weapons used by our action figure heroes, usually found in boxes on the shelf just below the pegs. Get ready, this is going to be fun.

A-Team Adventure Equipment, Galoob

Since kids couldn't buy tickets for R-rated action flicks like Rambo and Commando, they had to settle for the explosions and cartoon violence of The A-Team in prime time. Helping would-be soldiers of fortune to act out the adventures in their backyards, Galoob created this licensed dress-up kit. Assigning Mr. T's tough guy, B.A. Baracus a belt, pouch and canteen without at least one gold chain was a major misfire and poor Amy being given the pity prize of a "Real Working Flashlight" is just sad. Luckily the rest of the crew gets a little more respect.

Equipping Howling Mad Murdock with a compass and walkie-talkie is perfectly in line with his motormouth madness (I guess a kid sized leather jacket would have been cost prohibitive). While the binoculars are kind of bland for Face, a wrist radio puts him right up there with Dick Tracy and Michael Knight! By far the most appropriate (and cheapest) accessories are Hannibal's Disguise Kit which includes a generic pair of "Groucho glasses" and his signature cigar. Only in the 80's would a toy company dare to encourage play smoking in their products.

Masters of the Universe He-Man and Skeletor Weapons, HG

If you were a kid watching He-Man cartoons in the 80s, you probably had a few action figures, but most of all you wanted to BE the most powerful man in the universe. This He-Man weapons kit made that possible with a belt, wrist cuffs, shield and a 2-piece glow-in-the-dark power sword! Sadly there were no furry underpants included to complete the look.

Some kids always leaned towards the dark side and frankly, I think this Skeletor Weapons and Helmet set trumps the goldilocks one in a big way. In addition to the expected shield and sword combo, you get the skull-faced baddie's iconic Ram Staff (albeit, slightly truncated). To evoke the latest fashion of Snake Mountain you they included a purple belt with roman centurion skirt combo, but the absolute gem of this set is a glow-in-the-dark Skeletor face mask! The He-Man set didn't include a pageboy haircut wig, so this is a major bonus item.

The New Adventures of He-Man Deluxe Dress-Up Playset, Mattel

So in 1989, Mattel tried to reboot the He-Man concept by making him a heroic space adventurer and just like the concept for the cartoon and toy line, this armor set is ill-advised.  Mattel did have some pretty awesome live action costumed characters in their commercials for this failed re-launch, but kids just never got on board with it. I only had one friend who bought the figures and no one I knew wore this gaudy gold nonsense. The most outrageous element is the plastering of He-Man's name on everything from the breast plate, to the shield and even the wrist cuffs. It's like Mattel was desperate to convince kids that this was a He-Man toy, "No, seriously, his name is right there!" 

Centurions, HG

The same company that brought us the He-Man sets also got the license for Centurions. If there was ever a toy line that lent itself to dress-up activities, this was it. I mean the whole premise was that the heroes could attach different weapons systems to their suits for each mission, so the synergy was out of this world! This kit was great because in addition to the iconic helmet, you also had a harness with little connector pieces where the electronic light and sound weapons could be attached. While you were at it, you could also buy a Twin Laser Cannon gun to give you an edge in those imaginary battles against Doc Terror!

Transformers Decepto-Pack and Autobot Dress Up Set, HG

A mainstay of Hasbro's commercials in the 80s were kids literally being transformed into robots with blocky video effects, so the seeds were already being planted for these dress-up kits and this one had a cool concept. You could wear the whole costume as a backpack, then take it apart and wear the pieces to become a robot in disguise. The only confusing thing on the box art is that red and blue color scheme obviously belongs to the heroic Autobot, Optimus Prime, but it looks like the actual pieces inside had the more appropriate purple colorations of the Decepticons, so I guess it's a wash.

I have to say that the official Autobot Dress Up Kit is a little more lackluster in execution. Truth be told I would still wear that Autobot insignia belt buckle to this day and that's a fairly decent rendition of Optimus Prime's face for the mask, but the wrist cuffs don't quite play for me. It was pretty clever that they got the kid on the box to wear a read shirt to complete the look, though that is unfortunately not included. Speaking of robo heroes...

RoboCop and the Ultra Police Robo-Helmet and Ultra-Blaster, Kenner

The future of law enforcement, Officer Alex Murphy aka Robocop was another one of those characters it was a blast to play as. Doing a stiff walk while making monotone threats to invisible bad guys in Old Detroit was hours of fun. So getting an official Robocop helmet and Ultra-Blaster was a total win. Click here to watch the original toy commercial.

This gun had a unique feature that set it apart from most. Despite your likely assumption that this play weapon shot foam Nerf darts, it was actually a semi-automatic cap gun! Yes, you inserted the official Robo-Caps (such an awesome name) into the gun so that it made a realistic firing sound with puffs of smoke while spinning around to the next chamber. What an amazing feature! You could always count on Kenner to do it right. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Turtle Battle Fun Set, Playmates

By the end of the decade no cartoon or toy line was bigger than the TMNT and every elementary school playground was filled with shouts of "Cowabunga". I knew quite a few kids who had the dress-up kit of their favorite turtle and I especially remember seeing young attendees of the Coming Out of Their Shells stage show wearing them in the audience during the VHS video for that live concert experience.

In addition to standard issue knee and elbow pads with sash belt in the appropriate color, you also got the corresponding weapon of Leo, Don, Raph or Mikey. Nunchakus were rad, but I always thought the coolest feature was the turtle nose attached to the bandana mask. Playmates really added an extra element of imagination with that bit of molded rubber. What I don't recall are the flying pizza dish and National Turtle Quiz Jokebook that were also packed in, but I assume most of my friends lost those immediately after opening the box.Thanks to Vintage Ninja Turtle Museum for the pics.

This is a trend that continued well into the 90s, so join me next time around as we continue to explore the wacky world of dress-up kits for the likes of Batman, Hook, X-Men and more Marvel Heroes!

But tell me, did you use any of these pieces in your 80s childhood role play adventures?
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fuschnikt Posted on Oct 11, 2018 at 06:12 AM

I had a Lion-O dress up kit. It came with the weirdest mask with hair molded into the plastic. I dug it.

Superman Posted on Oct 06, 2018 at 05:37 PM

I don't remember owning any dress-up kits, but I probably would have loved that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Turtle Battle Fun Set.

NLogan Posted on Oct 02, 2018 at 03:34 PM

If I remember right the belts continually fell off during dynamic moves such as walking, jumping, standing, or sitting, hence the reason why that villain has stolen mine and is wearing it. We made our own helmets by the way.

NLogan Posted on Oct 02, 2018 at 03:07 PM

We never got the Skeletor set because the sword was reverse moulded and looked like a cookie cutter to me. Later on my friend got a light up yellow power sword set that came with a blue shield.

NLogan Posted on Oct 02, 2018 at 02:54 PM

My brother and I each had a HE-MAN Weapons set. We taped our swords together as they would come apart at the first parry. Mine was the all silver sword his was the all yellow sword. The wrist gauntlets were worn way up on our forearms even in the smallest setting. Here is a picture of our valiant heroes going up against the dastardly Skeletor henchman called Bearman or Bearor who is Grizzlor's little brother. He wasn't big enough yet for the Horde. He has a garden trowel of terror as a weapon and a haversack filled with evil magic. Not sure where my brother's sword is as it is not visible in the picture.

jkatz Posted on Oct 01, 2018 at 06:41 AM

I think my favorite part of this article is the picture of the kid on the back of the A-Team box.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Sep 29, 2018 at 05:01 AM

@Vaporman87 Thanks for clarifying the correct name of the Havoc Staff and it's awesome that you actually had the glow-in-the-dark helmet. So cool.

Vaporman87 Posted on Sep 29, 2018 at 01:25 AM

My clear favorite was the Skeletor kit. I loved wearing that skull mask, and the swords were really good representations of the figure sized ones. The super short Havoc Staff was dorky though.

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