Friday, May 06, 2005

Costumes are for suckers

If I had a nickel for every time someone said to me, “Mo, why don’t you like dressing up in costumes?” I’d have… well, no money at all, actually. But I’m going to tell you why anyway. I think it dates back to the Halloweens of my youth. It all started innocently enough; I was a Hershey Kiss, a pumpkin, Big Bird. And even though Big Bird was a cheapo plastic costume from the drugstore that split when I squatted to count my candy, it held up through the begging. Mission accomplished.

But in the second grade, one of the girls in my class had a Halloween party at her house, and I really wanted to be something cool, since my classmates would see my costumes and not just my neighbors. My mother suggested I be a carrot. She had acquired an orange jumpsuit from somewhere, possibly a prison, and had scrounged up an orange ski cap. “It will be great!” she told me. “I’ll sew some green yarn to the top of the cap, and you’ll look just like a carrot!” I was skeptical about the coolness factor of such a costume, but I agreed.

I love my mother, but I learned not to trust her judgment about cool Halloween costumes. I wore the carrot costume to the party, and spent the whole time explaining my costume in response to the weird, confused looks I got from every single person there. I think the flaw was in the overall shape of the carrot costume. Instead of being shaped like a carrot, I was shaped like me, wearing an orange jumpsuit. I was not cool.

Things went downhill from there. In the third grade, Sister #4 agreed to be Punk Twins with me. I was so psyched. I would definitely be cool if I were one half of a set of Punk Twins with my big sister. We were going to wear side ponytails on opposite sides of our heads, and we were going to put on sparkly hair spray and blue eyeshadow. I could not wait.

But then. The betrayal.

At the last minute, Sister #4 decided to be Punk Twins with her friend from school, leaving me in the cold. As a grownup, I can look back and understand that Sister #4’s was about eleven years old, and being the punk twin of her friend instead of her little sister had a certain appeal. But the eight-year-old girl deep inside me never totally forgave Sister #4 for leaving me scrambling for a new costume like that. But can you blame the hidden eight-year-old, really? We were going to wear sparkly hair spray.

So I was stuck trying to think of cool costume ideas. This time, I knew enough not to ask my mom for cool costume ideas. Unfortunately, I did not know enough to ask a cool person for help and instead came up with the costume of “Harried Mother.” I put curlers in my hair, cold cream on my face, wore a bathrobe, and carried Benjamin, my Cabbage Patch Doll around as though I were taking him trick-or-treating.

No one got it. The subtlety of the Cabbage Patch Doll was lost on the candy-hander-outers, and, if they hazarded a guess at all, they thought I was “Ready for Bed.” When I got to my cousins’ Halloween party, I did not help matters because I took off the bathrobe and washed my face, thereby reducing my costume to just curlers in my hair. The looks I got when I was an abstract carrot were nothing compared to the looks I got as Crazy Curlers-In-My-Hair Girl.

My heart wasn’t really in it for the next couple of Halloweens. But I did notice how comfortable my Harried Mother costume was once I shed the cold cream and bathrobe – unsurprising since other than that, it was just my regular clothes – and decided to design costumes around the wearing of regular clothes. The costumes I recall from this period are carpenter (overalls and painter’s cap) and a Neon Leon (black sweatsuit with Neon Leons wrapped around my wrists and ankles). The carpenter was a blatant lazy cop-out, but I really thought the Neon Leon costume would be cool because the Neon Leons were supposed to glow like crazy. Sadly, I had neglected to consider their cheapness, and they did not hold their flourescence. It was a good idea in theory but failed in execution.

So, when I got invited to another Halloween party in the eighth grade, I decided to go all out and be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. I made the shell out of cardboard and cut up an old t-shirt for a mask. But there I ran into a problem. How would I wear the mask and my glasses? I can’t see without my glasses. Being the eminently practical person that I am, I just tied the mask on over my glasses. But the old t-shirt was threadbare and virtually transparent, and shape of my glasses was clearly visible underneath the “mask.” Consider for a moment how ridiculous I looked.

As the years passed, I returned to my technique of putting together “costumes” that allowed for normal clothes, and if only if I was forced to wear a costume in the first place. I was Carmen Sandiego (raincoat and hat) once and Napoleon another time. Napoleon actually turned out to be tricky. To be a good Napoleon, you can’t really wear just regular clothes, but I had a go at it anyway. I slapped some curtain tassels on a blazer for that “military” look and fashioned a hat out of paper. I did not make a good Napoleon. (Interesting side story: The Napoleon costume was for a high school language club Mardi Gras party. Sister #4, the same sister of the Punk Twins debacle, went as a French-English dictionary. She won a prize for “Most Work Put Into a Costume.” I personally witnessed Sister #4 draw on a t-shirt for about 15 minutes the afternoon of the party, throw it on with a pair of jeans, and call it done.) In grad school I was Harry Potter in Muggle clothes (“No look, see? I drew a scar on my forehead with eyeliner!”), and two years ago, I went to a party as a tea bag. Black pants, black shirt, and a cardboard tea bag label tied to my bra and hanging out of my shirt.

But thanks to last year, I have forgiven Halloween for inflicting costumes on me. Last year, The Husband and I agreed to attend Leah Lar’s sister’s Halloween party, and costumes were required. Because of our utter lack of ingenuity in making respectable costume from household materials, we tried to buy them. We were stunned to discover that the cheapest ones available were $30 each! But they looked much, much cheaper than that. Unwilling to shell out $60 for crappy costumes we would wear once, we fell back on my technique of cobbling together a lame costume from the clothes in our closets. We decided to be Buffy and Angel.

But here’s the thing. I didn’t have any shoes that Buffy would wear, so I got to buy cool, tall black boots. I had been in the market for tall black boots for about three years, and I found a pair at DSW for, wait for it, $60. The very same price two cheap costumes would have cost us at the Halloween Outlet. Halloween had given me a legitimate reason to splurge on the tall black boots I had been coveting for years. I look so cool in those boots.

So, Halloween, I forgive you.

But Sister #4, you still owe me for the Punk Twins Betrayal.


Leah Lar said...

Being a wearer of glasses destroys Halloween. There aren't many costumes that involve glasses, so mostly I end up either being something like The Joker or Jem and being completely and utterly blind and having a miserable time on Halloween despite loving the holiday.

But sometimes there's an inspired costume that actually INVOLVES glasses. My favorite costume thus far: Estelle, The Crazy Bowling Old Lady.

EditorKat said...

Wait until you have to think of costumes for kids and all the other moms seem to know not only how to sew, but how to design elaborate, glorious creations and spend three months working on them. Then you will know true Halloween Horror.

Doktah said...

I have spent the last 10 years of my life with costumes that come out of my closet. So have many of my friends. When people say, that's a great costume, I'm forced to disclose that these are my clothes. MY CLOTHES!