In celebration of Halloween, we’re pulling this one out of our archives. It’s all in good fun – your childhood costumes meant NOTHING – but it sure is fun to look back at the best afternoon party of the whole school year.
Your childhood never really leaves you. As we discussed in What Your School Portrait Backdrop Said About You, the choices that you – and your parents – made in your early years say a lot about who you were then, and who you were likely to become. This is never so true as with Halloween costumes. What you wore on October 31 really laid it all out there – your finances, interests, skills and beliefs.
The Super Deluxe Tier at Party City
Remember when those Halloween costume mailers would start coming with the Sunday paper? The company used vague category names so nobody’s feelings got hurt – but kids aren’t dumb. The “quality” costumes were for normals, and “super deluxe” costumes were for rich kids. Scarlett O’Hara, Southern Belle, Pretty Witch – these costumes were the best.
If you wore one of these, you probably came from a family with disposable income or were an only child. But there’s also a chance that your non-crafty parents felt bad they couldn’t make your costume, so they only bought you the best. Or maybe you were just really into Vivien Leigh. Either way, you probably knew that some of your friends were shopping in the Quality tier, but you didn’t let that stop you from going for what you really wanted. You had money, and you had ambition, and you were raised to believe that you deserve the good costume. None of those are bad things.
These costumes really meant you had it all — a high costume budget, a parent with advanced sewing skills, creativity somewhere in your family line, and a parent with enough time to devote to making it. In my day, big plush M & M costumes were in vogue. In fourth grade, one girl was a Queen of Hearts – she was not only dressed as a queen but her face was somehow embedded in a big playing card. One kid was Mini Me from Austin Powers, with a metallic jumpsuit and bald cap. If my awed tone 20 years later didn’t tip you off, these kids were pretty damn enviable. Money, imagination, and a quality family situation – these kids were on the road to success.
Low-Budget Costume You Made Yourself (usually with thrift store involvement)
As a person whose childhood costumes all came from Goodwill, household items and borrowed clothing, this is me. One thing that cobbled costume kids have in common is a sense of silliness and imagination. How about the year my whole family dressed as a six-pack of Diet Coke? Or in sixth grade, when I created an over-the-top Marge Simpson costume complete with a two-foot-tall hairpiece? My mom even got in on the action in a sort of Andy Kaufman-esque way. She was a teacher and would dress up as Mrs. O’Brien, an elderly ‘substitute’, every year. She had a voice, mannerisms, everything. A good subset of the kids could never figure out if it was really her. The kids who did know were sworn to secrecy for the next year.
It hasn’t stopped. A few years ago I dismembered a cheap baby doll to become Junice from SNL. The year before, I mined a Goodwill to become Clarissa Darling. A while ago, I took my nephew to Salvation Army, where we pieced together a curly-mustached villain from a 1920s silent film. We didn’t break character for hours. Cobbled costume kids: we may not have had the most money or skill in our corner, but we worked hard and weren’t afraid to look goofy.
Dollar Store Costumes
Oh, you poor dears. You didn’t have a costume budget, you didn’t have time or inclination to make something, and nobody in your family could sew. These were the costumes that had a cheap, hot mask was secured with one of those white elastic strings that you find on birthday hats, and it always broke. The worst part was the plastic smock that came with these. It was a tunic that was about the same consistency as a plastic grocery bag and – most offensive of all – it usually had the name of the character on it. Come ON. Spider-man doesn’t walk around wearing a shirt that says spider-man. Holly Hobby doesn’t wear a shirt that says Holly Hobby. Dollar Store Costume Kids had some good qualities, though. They had to be content with what they had, and appreciate the joy that even a low-budget costume could bring. I bet most of these kids are non-materialistic, well-adjusted adults now.
You all were playing lip service to the spooky part of Halloween. You know who you are – the boy with the cheap nylon vampire cape and a single streak of red lipstick as “blood.” The girl with the regular black dress and the witch’s hat. The zombie who was just wearing normal clothes with a latex mask. You don’t shun the crowd – you dressed up, after all – but you don’t get all swept up in it either. These days, you use your trusty Nokia and shake your head at the folks waiting for the new iPhone. When your friends reminisce about stupid trends they followed, you laugh with them – but you are secure in your knowledge that nothing about you has been so over-the-top that you’re embarrassed later.
Sometimes a kid would come in looking so creepy that even though you knew who it was, you were still skeeved out by them. These guys had the same creativity as the Goodwill costume kids, but with the budget of the Party City Deluxe Crowd or the skill of the Elaborate Hand-Sewn kids. But they had something else that set them apart — a sadistic joy in creeping out other people. These kids had to be innovative, but they also had to know how to read people in order to know what would sketch people out the most. They took an idea and really ran with it.
You were maybe guilty of a little hero-worship, but you were drawn to charismatic characters and you emulated them. That’s not all bad, and can serve you well in your adult life.
Of course, it’s not that simple. Did you get your Batman costume from the Dollar Store? Did your parents buy the Super Deluxe Jasmine? Your childhood interest in popular characters is only part of the story – you have to look at what KIND of superhero or princess costume you had. It’s like when you’re born at the cusp of two Zodiac signs – you will have traits from both categories.
These can be a tough sell with kids: it’s Halloween, not a Social Studies unit on community helpers, right? But kids who went in for these are probably the ones who had researched colleges by Sophomore year of high school, never changed their major, and update their five-year plan every six months. The closest I came to this was one (non-Halloween) day in fifth grade, when my friend and I decided to dress like teachers, with turtlenecks, thick tights, and embroidered vests. I get the appeal — when you’re not a grown-up yet, it’s fun to play at it. Plus, if you actually dressed up as something you became as an adult, that’s adorable.
A Fall-Themed Outfit Instead Of A Costume
Your parents were the reason the school had to change it from a Halloween Party to a “Harvest Celebration.” Your very presence – and the letter your parents sent the school board – reminded us that not everyone celebrates Halloween. If you were a kid whose parents didn’t believe in Halloween, but you wanted to dress up and trick-or-treat really badly, you probably learned how to do without and then asserted the heck out of your independence once you were 18. If you agreed with your parents, I have to commend a kid who sits out of something that all of your friends are excited about because you think it’s wrong. So, I kind of hate to be the one to tell you this, but Halloween is the coolest. I think you always suspected that, though.