It’s All About the Perfect Costume

Halloween is all about the perfect costume. When I was a kid, my brothers and I spent at least two months thinking about what we wanted to be. Most of the time we decided against the selection of cheesy costumes at the store, which were basically a nylon suit worn over our clothes and a thin plastic mask held in place with an elastic band. Making our own costumes from scratch commanded respect, but only if the costume was well done, which meant strategic planning—especially in Colorado where we had to plan around a coat. No matter what the costume, I had some real adventures on Halloween when I was young.

One year I wanted to be Dracula, and not the Bride of Dracula, either. I was encouraged to find a more gender-appropriate costume, but when I looked around at the fairy princesses, Snow Whites and other girly costumes, nothing appealed to me. So I broke the gender barrier and went to school in a cape, white face makeup, and fangs. I said, “I want to drink your blood” so many times that I became annoying, but I wanted to get the accent just right. It went over better than I thought it would, but that was mostly because the boy down the street had dressed as a cheerleader for the fourth time in a row, so he took the focus off me.

In third grade I opted for a store-bought costume—Jaws. The movie had recently been released, and I was the only kid who had a shark costume that looked just like the movie poster. The eye holes were in the shark’s open mouth, and Mom promised that although I couldn’t wear black makeup around my eyes to school, she’d put some on for the full effect that night for trick-or-treating.



School that afternoon was filled with parties in the classrooms, which were decorated with paper chains, spiders made from pipe cleaners, and projects we’d made in art class during the week. My classroom party was well underway when the principal announced an early release from school due to a snowstorm. The buses couldn’t get through, so my dad had to pick me up. It was snowing so badly when we picked up my brothers from their schools that it was dark by the time we made it home. At least three feet of snow had fallen and the wind chill was in the negatives, so there was no way I could even go outside, much less go trick or treating. I was devastated!

Creative as ever, my mom had the solution: she sent my brothers to their rooms with bowls of candy, and then my parents each took another bedroom. I knocked on all their doors, shouting “Trick or treat!” and jumping with my shark jaws as each door opened. Somehow it just wasn’t the same, though. I ended up with more of the same boring candy I’d been sneaking all week.

Because it took so much preparation, the decision for a homemade costume had to be made fairly early in the fall so we could gather the necessary supplies. My parents were more than willing to help with things from around the house, but it was understood that if we opted out of the store-bought kind, the construction of the costume would be up to us.

(Credit: DeLyn Martineau)

(Credit: DeLyn Martineau)

In fifth grade I decided to be a giant present. My brother had tried this costume a few years back with some success, so we based my costume on his experience. He had used a box from a stove, which was way too big, so this time we took an old dishwasher box, cut arm holes in it, painted it, and wrapped it in Christmas paper. Even with arm holes I couldn’t reach around the front to hold a candy bag, so my brother cut a drop-slot in the front. Placing a pillow on my head, he lifted the box and placed it on my head. It was relatively comfortable, but hard to balance. Still, nobody would see my coat, which was a bonus. It was time for a test run.

Emerging from the garage, I approached my own front door. I stood there waiting, and my brother immediately saw a problem. I couldn’t see or reach the doorbell! He made a deal with me: he would ring all the doorbells for a cut of my candy take. After a few mistakes, we worked out a system in which he would ring the bell and hide, then the door would open and a muffled “Trick or treat!” would come from inside the box on the doorstep. A few exclamations from the home’s residents were followed by my arms thrusting my candy bag through the drop slot in the front while trying to keep the box balanced on my head.

That was by far my favorite costume; I don’t think I trick-or-treated again after that. Years later I equated my experience with Scout dressed as a ham in To Kill a Mockingbird. She couldn’t see anything either, and we both had our older brother holding onto us as we made our way through the dark.

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