The scariest thing about Halloween, for me, has always been having to come up with costumes. Not that I see competition or the potential for judgement lurking in all things, but in a costume situation, there’s always going to be someone craftier, more up-to-the-minute, hipper, more clever, more willing to go all-out, and certainly sexier than I. Where’s my sense of fun, anyhow?
Halloween costumes generally fall into categories, summarized nicely by Wikipedia:
Costumes are traditionally those of monsters such as vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, skeletons, witches, goblins, trolls, devils, etc. or in more recent years such science fiction-inspired characters as aliens and superheroes. There are also costumes of pop culture figures like presidents, athletes, celebrities, or characters in film, television, literature, etc. Another popular trend is for women (and in some cases, men) to use Halloween as an excuse to wear sexy or revealing costumes, showing off more skin than would be socially acceptable otherwise. Young girls also often dress as entirely non-scary characters at Halloween, including princesses, fairies, angels, farm animals and flowers.
No daughter of mine is going out dressed like a farm animal. And don’t get me started on the inexcusable sexism captured in that last sentence.
The point being made is that most costumes can be divided into the familiar categories of: supernatural–often dead–beings, fictionally-inspired characters, pop-cultural figures, and excuses to act out various fantasies, whether it be dressing provocatively, cross-dressing, or going a bit too far and flat out humiliating oneself (you know who you are).
Another interesting costume category is the concept costume. In this way, revelers can make social statements or otherwise comment on what’s trending culturally or politically. I saw a recent photo, online, of a guy poking his head through a ceiling tile, with the words “Debt Ceiling” formed in black electrical tape below his face. The downside with a concept costume is that you spend the night having to explain what you are, or having to walk around with a sign, if you can’t write it on the costume in electrical tape.
When I was at school at UW-Madison, where Halloween is the holiest day of the year, I remember one State Street Halloween Party where a popular concept costume was a tampon or a box of tampons. Shocking? Yes, and fittingly so. Here’s what my research, looking back, reveals:
In January 1980, epidemiologists in Wisconsin and Minnesota reported the appearance of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), mostly in those menstruating, to the CDC.
UW students that year were commenting on the September 1980 recall, just one month prior to that Halloween, of Procter and Gamble’s Rely tampon. I didn’t realize the connection between TSS and the use of tampons resulted from yet another form of reciprocity between Minnesota and Wisconsin, in this case, between our epidemiologists.
An additional and classic division among costumes is the store-bought versus home-made division. The home-made category can be further divided, into pre-planned-carefully-constructed and slap-something-together-quickly,-today’s-Halloween varieties.
When the boys were dependent on me to outfit them for Halloween, things could potentially have been stressful. I had my own graphic-design business during those years, which you would think would have made me very crafty, but it only made me insanely busy.
The boys relieved me of my costume stress in different ways.
Sam was happy, year after year, to go out in store-bought or otherwise pre-assembled costumes. He was a Ninja Turtle several years in a row, followed by a Ghostbuster.
Nate showed me mercy in even more tender, earth-bound ways. Through the winning combination of being a nature-loving, vegetarian with a good imagination, he chose to be things like creatures or vegetables on Halloween. Two years in a row, he opted to be a moth, which involved grabbing an old sheet and a stapler and metamorphosizing him into this bi-winged, nocturnal insect in the laundry room on the way out the door to school. When he got bigger, he wanted to be an eggplant. I made him a cozy costume of this nightshade vegetable using aubergine polar fleece, and adapting a sewing pattern from the more conventional, commercially-available pumpkin costume. This year, he’s going as corn.
As my luck would have it, I took a few years off work right when Sophie was in the prime ages of participating in the annual Public March for the Judgement of Mothers event otherwise known as the elementary school Halloween Costume Parade. Finally, I had the time to make a real costume, and for a daughter, no less! My feminist leanings flew from me like bats from a belfry as I became mesmerized by patterns for Cinderella and Snow White costumes at the fabric store. I bought yards of light blue satin and delicate silver mesh fabric covered with glittering silver stars. You won’t believe me when I tell you I even made a hoop-skirt petticoat using hoop boning, a sewing notion I’d never even heard of before, so when my miniature Cinderella walked, her skirt swished and sashayed like a real princess.
In what I still consider one of the most romantic gestures of our relationship, Howie surprised me with a new sewing machine during these couple years of my Halloween costume-making raptures. At that point, I was battling the Singer Sewing machine I had gotten for my Bat Mitzvah 30 years earlier, over the silver mesh. The new, high-tech machine was one of my biggest Halloween treats.
When it was all said and done, I could have won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for both the Cinderella and Snow White masterpieces. People still talk to me to this day about how Sophie, with her dark hair and fair skin, in that outfit looked like the real Snow White.
This year, aside from the Twerking Teddy Bear Miley Cyrus costume, the latest trend is for something called costume mashups. Sam is going as Pauly Dean, a mashup of Pauly D. from Jersey Shore (not to be confused with Pauly Shore), and the recently disgraced celebrity chef, Paula Dean. I know this because he came here to borrow an apron, an oven mitt and some earring backs (don’t ask). If I didn’t have kids, it would be trickier to keep up with such trends.
I’m not scared about Halloween costumes this year. Sophie is old enough to come up with her own costumes and dress herself. I won’t have to take her trick-or-treating, since she’s invited to a friend’s Halloween party for the evening. And I don’t have to put on a costume, myself.
One year, as I was pulling out the witch costume I bought to wear when I was room mother at the grade school all those years, Sophie affectionately said,
“You don’t even need a costume, Mom; you look like a witch already!”
In a reverse-witch move, I’ll be spending this Halloween afternoon (not with kids, other than the stylists at the salon) getting my hair cut and colored. And just in case, I noticed Party City has 60% off costumes today, and they’re open late!