Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

October 20, 2013

Lack of sewing skills forces creativity, innovation at Halloween

— — My mom couldn’t sew. In today’s modern era, that would not be a big deal. But in her world, in her era — with standards set by iconic TV mother June Cleaver — it was huge.

Let’s backtrack a moment to note Mom could sew, but not perfectly. Her stitches were not always refined, her seams pristine. By her standards, that equaled failure. As an elementary-age Girl Scout, I recall the drama of newly earned badges. Mom wanted them placed on my sash in perfect precision. I didn’t care that much about how evenly the badges were placed, but it was a big deal to Mom.

In one last-minute panic moment, she pulled out the glue and tacked the badges on. I was sworn to secrecy.

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During the 1970s, the store-bought costumes most kids sported for Halloween were atrocious. No matter what one was dressing as — ghoul, superhero, Barbie or other character — all the costumes were constructed the same: a soft plastic drape, similar to a hospital gown without the back split.

Complementing the attire was a hard plastic mask that fit over the face only, which was held in place with a cheap piece of thin, white elastic.

In no way did a child wearing such a costume resemble the character they were portraying. The hospital-style cut did not really lend itself to the action-hero genre — or any other, for that matter.

And the costumes were always decorated ridiculously. For example, a Spider Man costume may actually have featured a red or blue drape, but it would be decorated with pictures of the action hero. To top it off, the words “Spider Man” would be emblazoned across the chest.

Topping off this silly ensemble was the cheesy mask. While the manufacturers did attempt to make this part of the costume resemble the character, it was still plastic — a top-of-the-line material for discomfort. It was difficult to see out of the tiny holes in the “eyes,” and virtually impossible to speak clearly — or breathe for that matter — through the tiny slit in the “mouth.”

Did any adult answering doors really understand those muffled greetings of “trmmmp orf treeeemph?”

Of course, after an hour or so of trick-or-treating it usually wasn’t an issue. By that time, the thin elastic would be broken, a victim of wear and tear from the mask being pushed up and down on the head throughout the night in an attempt to avoid walking into trees, light posts and doors.

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Back in the ’70s, parental seamstressing skills were showcased at Halloween. Since no one wanted the retail option, the cool kids were the ones whose moms knew their way around a sewing machine.

I still recall the costume contest winners from my fourth through sixth-grade years. They were awesome effigies of the autumn scare season. Frightening ghouls and bigger-than-life scarecrows. They were walking, talking proof of a mom who had spent weeks behind a Singer and days hand-stitching details.

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During my childhood, there were very few items made at my house that were not constructed with a bottle of Elmer’s, a box of safety pins and a stapler. But while this experience may have given us a slight edge with Science Fair backboards, it was a disadvantage when making fabric costumes.

We were forced to be creative. Old bridesmaid’s dresses were remade into fairy princess gowns; face paint and a cape were added to a simple black outfit for spectacular Dracula attire.

One year, a pair of denim overalls paired with my grandfather’s flannel shirt and a stick-on mustache transformed me into a farmer. I looked extremely goofy, but I did win the 50-cent piece at our Girl Scout troop’s party.

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Perusing the Halloween costumes now available from retailers, I’m a little envious. From Cat in the Hat and Cinderella to a giant bottle of mustard and bubble gum machine, costume creativity is limited only to the size of a parent’s wallet.

Pirates, animals, historical figures — the options for children and adults are limitless. There’s even a giant Pez Dispenser costume that looks real ... or as real as a giant Pez dispenser made out of fabric can look.

Some of the hot costumes for 2013 include flapper girls (inspired by “The Great Gatsby”), Duck Dynasty ensembles and Miley Cyrus looks (sad, but true). Zombies are also trendy again, thanks in part to the popularity of “The Walking Dead” television show.

While it’s great that children and time-starved parents now have more options than a plastic drape and uncomfortable mask, there is a downside.

A lack of options in the ’70s forced us to get innovative with attic-boxed goodies and craft supplies.

Looking back on those years I can only recall a handful of the costumes I wore on Halloween, but I remember all the fun and laughter — and, at times, stress — my mom and I shared while creating the ensembles.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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