By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Ask any elementary school student and they will tell you the most important decision — other than what goes on their birthday and Christmas wish lists — is what costume they will be wearing on Halloween.
Halloween costumes are serious business. They will be in your parents and grandparents photo albums for the rest of your life. Little girls want to be the prettiest and little boys want to be the scariest. The urge to outdo the Halloween costumes of classmates and neighbors begins sometime around the start of September, though some serious trick-or-treaters start planning their costumes even earlier.
Like the fashion runways in New York, London or Paris, one does not want to be seen in the same Halloween costume twice. When we were scrambling for a costume idea, my mother would usually suggest something easy like a witch or a ghost, only to be shot down that we had already done that costume before. Cutting a couple of eye holes out of an old sheet no longer sufficed as Halloween couture when I was a kid.
A lot of times, it seemed the kid with the best costume was always the one who’s mom or dad was willing to plop down a hefty chunk of change to get one at the store. Even now, I see children’s costumes advertised online for $50 or more. Within a few days of playing around the house and one night of going door-to-door for candy, it seems these costumes inevitably rip and are useless afterward.
Naturally, we would beg and plead to go to the local party supply store or those fly-by-night costume shops that open just for the month of October. We wanted something sparkly, scary and over the top, and the ads on TV promised we could find that perfect costume and all the accessories at these stories. However, one look at the price tag and Mom usually uttered the phrase that made us nervous: “I could make this cheaper at home.”
Looking back on bygone Halloweens, it seems silly that we were always so afraid that those hand-made costumes would turn out to be disasters, especially since they were usually better than what was advertised in those Halloween mailers we got each year. However, we were always led to believe that those pricey, mass-manufactured costumes at the store were the best.
When I was little, I had no control over my costumes. My first Halloween was probably the easiest as I was 3 months old and slept through the affair. I believe the next year I was a ballerina complete with sweatshirt and my dance class tutu. In the year following, Mom just slapped on the homemade Little Red Riding cape and hood from my dress-up box and I went as that.
When I got older, however, I was exposed to other kids from school and found out there was a much wider variety of Halloween costumes than whatever Mom picked out. I went through all of the classic little girl costumes. One year I was a cheerleader. Mom did my hair and put me in one of those 1950s-style long skirts and varsity jackets with a letter sewn on the side. She and my grandmother also collaborated on a homemade poodle skirt after I begged and begged for one. Between that Halloween and the numerous sock hops they held for good behavior at school, I got plenty of use out of the one poodle skirt they made. When — inspired by Disney’s new “Hunchback of Notre Dame” movie — I wanted to go as Esmerelda, Mom borrowed every scarf and bandana she could find to give me the appearance of the film character.
Of course, the most famous costume would probably be the princess outfit. It was one of those few years when my little brother and I could be convinced to go in matching costumes. While my grandmother finished up the design on my pink princess dress, my mother topped a green hooded sweatshirt with a couple of Ping-Pong balls with black dots for eyes.
My brother soon found himself the frog to accompany my princess ensemble and did — for a brief period — insist on ribbiting and jumping around the living room. Now a college student, I am sure that my brother will deny any frog-like behavior on his part, but there is a photo somewhere in the recesses of my mother’s closet to prove it.
The birth of my little sister sort of put a damper on the homemade costume thing. There was a brief period where all three of us were trick or treating together and making three costumes for three different children of different sizes and different tastes was a little more frazzling than my mother could handle. For a few years, we went the store-bought route. However, even then we were on a strict budget.
The thing is, I don’t really remember those store-bought costumes as well as I remember the ones that were made especially for us.
Kate Coil is a reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.