W e’re big on Halloween around here. Thinking back, my family was pretty big on Halloween — or rather, costumes — as well. I can’t remember which were for Halloween and which were for the local summer Kiddies Parade, but one often retold family story involves the costumes my mom made for my sister and I when we were kids: my most memorable was a charming Little Bo Peep costume; my sister’s was a full-on, to-scale snail costume, complete with a hand paper-mache’d and perfectly painted snail shell work on her back and dyed to match grey tights and leotard to finish it off.
After my childhood years, I don’t remember many festive Halloweens. And after years and years of not doing Halloween at all because I lived way out on a rural road that never saw trick or treaters, or joining friends and their families at Halloween parties observed for the kids, the adults rarely costumed, my first Halloween as a newly single gal a few years ago was an eye opener.
I didn’t even know where to begin with a costume, but what I’d gathered was that my costume, as a single woman, was supposed to be sexy. The day of the party I’d been invited to, I saw a long black wig with heavy bangs in a costume shop, and decided on the spot I’d be “Sexy Cleopatra,” picking up the wig and some half-hearted Cleopatra-inspired plastic gold accessories, then heading to the mall for a pair of fishnets, short shorts, a sparkly tank top and a thick black eyeliner. When I donned my disguise, I felt transformed — like some kind of fiercely feminine, powerful creature. My friends didn’t recognize me right away, and when they did they kept looking at me funny — such a strange shift, it was for them, from the familiar Sara of briefcases and suits and pantyhose by day and dusty capri pants and taped fingers and climbing chalk each evening.
And I loved it. Not for the reaction of others, but for the feeling inside me even before anyone else had seen my get-up — peering at my own reflection in the mirror under those heavy blunt bangs, my eyes dark with liner, my jet black fake hair cascading down halfway to my waist, I felt like I might have it in me to be just about anything or anyone. After years of feeling (and being) frumpy and older than my years, I felt a kind of liberation… a youthful lightness gradually soaked into my relatively new single-ness, and I started to see each day a little bit like that Halloween night: as an opportunity to decide what and who I wanted to be, and then be it.
So every year since I’ve made it a point to have plans for Halloween… somewhere to go, in varying degrees of disguise, playing with wigs and false eyelashes and costumes and different characters, just for fun.
I started thinking about my Halloween costume for this year somewhere around last Christmas, and that’s how it goes. I think about it off and on, swap ideas with the friends in my life who also indulge in such things, and then in the month or two before the big day, I pull it together.
I’ve been toying with the idea of being Yoshimi, from the Flaming Lips album cover and song, for years — but have let friends talk me out of it as being too “high concept,” or that nobody would know what I am, so what’s the fun in that? So when it came to this year’s mail order deadline, I spent a fairly obsessive amount of my free time for a couple evenings looking at costume ideas online and brainstorming with Ryan. He had some great ideas, but I resisted them — I think, in part, because Halloween is something I still associate with being wholly my own creation… it’s a connection to the independent single gal that both he and I fell in love with. I felt completely uninspired by the full range of “Sexy [fill in the blank]” options and my only other idea was a Breakfast at Tiffany’s Audrey Hepburn, but that wouldn’t be any good for the dance party we’re headed to this year.
After a fruitless late night of looking online for costume ideas, complete with a mini temper tantrum because of my frustration with the whole thing, and with trying to come up with something danceable, cute, fun AND something I’d like to pretend at for a night, I fell asleep kinda pissed off.
After a restorative sleep, I woke up the next morning, thought to myself, “this is supposed to be fun,” and decided I don’t care what anyone else things, I’m going to make myself a Yoshimi costume, and it’s going to be fun. Instead of ordering a “Sexy Whatever” costume, my googling turned to tights, leotards, circle skirts and Rit dye. I found a wig that will do just fine. I’ve got sparkly Tom’s that will work for footwear.
And I let myself be creative and silly. A thirty-six year old woman who has not kept to her fitness routine and who’s been indulging a little too often in her antidepressant of choice — dark chocolate — dressing up for Halloween requires a certain lack of care about what’s sexy and cute and a certain level of acceptance of what actually is, in reality, right now — not what was in years past. Now, yes, I have a belly, and no, I’m not in sexy-back rock hard abs climbing shape anymore, and no, I’m not going to let any of that keep me from shaking my groove thing in a leotard and tights and circle skirt on Halloween night. Because I gotta tell you — dying a pile of costume pieces tangerine on my stovetop yesterday was a hell of a lot more fun than standing in a check-out line somewhere holding a Sexy Whatever costume even though each piece came out of the dye bath a dramatically different color, nowhere near what I was going for. Big deal. So I won’t be the perfect color of tangerine from head to toe — I’ll be salmon and pumpkin and mandarin instead, which is kind of cool with me, in its own random way.
The one complication was a total lack of options for deeley boppers. That’s a word – by the way — that I only know because I observed to Ryan that it’s hard to google for [holding both hands over my head and gesturing to pantomime little bobbly-pompoms] when you don’t know what they’re actually CALLED, and without even a pause he said, “you mean, deeley boppers?” and I was speechless, again, at the fortune I enjoy having this particular man in my life.
The turquoise tiara of deeley boppers Yoshimi wears on the album cover is a must, and googling for deeley boppers yielded no fruit. That creative morning of costume problem solving, it occurred to me that perhaps since shopping for a pair of deeley boppers wasn’t working, I could make a pair … so I changed my tactic and googled “how to make deeley boppers” and found a how-to. A couple packages of sparkly pom poms and pipe cleaners later — I’d forgotten all about the existence of pipe cleaners — the most exciting part of this all will be sitting down with hot glue and pencils and pom poms and pipe cleaners to be silly, and make something fun, and then wear it on my head to finish off my costume.
A frequent response during the last few unusually anxious, stressful months, when I’m spinning like a top, and I ask Ryan in a high-pitched, unfamiliar-sounding stressed-out voice what he thinks I should do about whatever has me all riled up, is a calm, sincere, thoughtful:
“Chill the f@#k out.”
It’s become a bit of a mantra around here — because he’s right. And I’m glad that it’s starting to sink in, sometimes — like that morning when I decided to chill the f@#k out and listen to myself and to the costume choice I’d wanted to make for years but let other people talk me out of — to play, and be silly, and have fun with what I was doing and order ingredients that I’d have fun putting together into a silly costume instead of ordering a finished product.
When I told my mom excitedly about my costume on the phone today, she reminded me, with more motherly wisdom than I think she realized, it doesn’t matter if anyone else knows what I am; “It only matters, that YOU know who you are,” she said, rightly.
And now, I just can’t wait to actually sit down and make my deeley boppers.
The costume and the party are frosting … the cake is indulging myself, my creativity, and my sense of play, and having FUN with all of it instead of being so paralyzed by trying to figure out what would be perfect or pretty or sexy or cute that the fun gets sucked out of the whole thing.
What do YOU want to be this Halloween?