Is Purim just the Jewish version of Halloween? It has costumes and treats after all. We know that there is a mitzvah to give mishloach manot - at least 2 types of food to one friend. Which for many means giving lots of candy to everyone you know. But where did the idea to wear costumes come from and is it a Sephardic custom?
Until 150 years ago Sephardim never even thought of wearing costumes on Purim. The custom of dressing up is brought by Rav Moshe Isserles in his glosses to the Shulkhan Arukh he bases his position on a responsum by Mahari Minz a 15th Century German rabbi who lived his last years in Padua, Italy.
The Rema writes (O.H. 696:8) "and regarding the customs of people wearing masks on Purim as well as a man wearing a woman’s garments, and a woman a man’s garment – there is no prohibition in the matter since their intentions are for mere rejoicing. This is also true regarding the wearing of garments containing Rabbinically prohibited mixtures of wool and linen.There are some authorities who forbid this, but the practice is according to the ﬁrst theory. Similarly, people who snatch items from one another while rejoicing do not transgress the prohibition of “Thou shall not steal.” This is what has become the custom – providing that one does nothing which has been deemed improper according to the community’s leader".
Since the Rema's lenient ruling many Ashkenazic rabbis (The Bach, The Taz, and The Be'er Hei'tev) came out against wearing sha'atnez - forbidden mixtures of linen and wool as well as men wearing women's clothing and vice versa. However the prominent custom of Ashkenazim is still to wear masks and costumes. For those interested to learn more see this article by Rabbi Moshe Sharbat.
So can Sephardim wear costumes on Purim? Rav Yosef Messas has a responsum to this question (Mayim Hayim Helek O.H. 298). He writes that the custom of wearing masks and costumes comes from a Christian custom and therefore Sephardim should abstain from the custom. He was referring to Mardi Gras.
Wikipedia has the following to say about Mardi Gras: "Popular practices include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc. Similar expressions to Mardi Gras appear in other European languages sharing the Christian tradition, as it is associated with the religious requirement for confession before Lent begins. In many areas, the term "Mardi Gras" has come to mean the whole period of activity related to the celebratory events, beyond just the single day. In some American cities, it is now called "Mardi Gras Day"
The Ben Ish Hai notes (Parashat Tezaveh Ot 22) that the Sephardic custom has always been to wear Shabbat clothes on Purim. Haham Ovadiah writes that Shabbat clothes should be worn for the readings of the megillah and that Purim costumes are permitted and he sees no reason to forbid them. The only costumes he forbids are wearing wool and linen together or clothes of the opposite gender.
My personal practice is to wear Shabbat clothes for the megillah reading and to change into costume for the Purim Party.
Wishing everyone a Buen Purim and Purim Sameah!