When I was a kid, Halloween costumes were something we pulled out of my sister’s closet at the last possible minute. There was a big box that my mom had wedged into the back. It was crammed with all sorts of masks and outfits to turn us into a witch, a ballerina, a rabbit or even a gorilla. With six kids (7 when I became a teenager), Mom never went to the store to buy us costumes in those little boxes with the cellophane front. That would have been way too expensive. We had to be whatever costume fit us from the box or come up with something on our own.
The clown costume we owned had been worn by every single one of us at some point. It was an orange full body suit (white polka dots on one half) made of cotton that tied at the neck. There was white ruffles on the elastic wrist and ankle openings. It was topped off with a dented plastic mask that always seemed to cut into the skin around your eyes. Our witch costume had a similar mask and came with an ancient orange long sleeve dress with a black collar.
Because I hated wearing those masks, I ventured out on my own early. I remember raiding my dad’s closet for some old clothes and tying a bandana pouch to the end of a stick. This costume we called a hobo. I think the politically correct term now would be homeless person, though that wording doesn’t have the romantic connotation to it that the wandering hobo does.
At the time, I think I resented not being able to go spend money on a new costume. When I look back on it now though I appreciate the creativity it made me have. One year I teased out my hair and painted my face brown to be a werewolf (won first prize in the school contest) and another year I made a Frankenstein flat-top out of paper mache’ that fit on the top of my head like a helmet (also won first prize).
Today I have a daughter. Over the years I’ve sewn all of her costumes…each more extravagant than the year before. There was a pony, a monkey, a purple princess, Angelina Ballerina and the tooth fairy. When we started homeschooling her, the costumes began to take on a historical vein so that researching them could be part of a lesson. She did more than just tell me what she wanted. She became part of the process. We did Sacagawea, Cleopatra, Medusa and then the Statue of Liberty.
The past two Halloween’s she’s been more interested in the “fear factor” for her costumes. Last year she humored me a bit though by being a vampire who was turned during the Victorian era. She wore a long black dress with a bustle. This year is going to be another vampire, but completely modern. No more history lessons to sneak in.
Because she’s just one kid, I can spend the time with her to make a perfect costume. We don’t have to depend on a box wedged in a closet. But I’m proud to say that the costumes are still not store-bought things made in China. We work on them together. I think that I’m letting her develop her creativity just fine without the alternative being a mask that digs into your face.