Thursday, October 22, 2015

The lure of the Halloween costume...or maybe not ~ by Leah St. James

Halloween is just around the corner, and I’m mired in my usual dress-up-or-not-dress-up dilemma.

As a kid, it was a no-brainer. You dressed for Halloween, period. First was the march around the school grounds with your class, then the big event itself – Halloween night where we’d roam the neighborhood hoping to fill our pillow cases with Mom-approved goodies. And of course our UNICEF boxes with cash.

I was never an overly creative costumer. I might have gotten it from Mom who dressed me as a ghost for the first several years...before I spied the Cinderella costumes hanging in Woolworth’s window. After that, I was Cinderella for about a three- or four-year span. (Hey, why mess with success?!)

Eventually I outgrew Cinderella (probably more physically than mentally) and advanced to home-made costumes. My favorite was the Geisha-girl(ish) costume, designed with a set of silk pajamas my father had brought back from Korea. (I’m not sure how my sister and I talked Mom into letting us wear those, but she did, and probably regretted it.) I twirled my hair into a bun on the back of my head and stuck knitting needles through it. Yes, I really did.

After that, a long costume drought followed, until I had my own kids. Remembering how important costumes were to me, I was determined to give my kids the best. No store-bought costumes for them.
My best effort was Superman when Son No. 1 was five. I sewed it from a pattern, all by myself. And it was magnificent. I can still picture him standing in that Superman pose, hands on hips, legs braced for action. (Wish I could find a photo to share!) 

One year he went as “Construction Guy.” That was relatively easy. He’s a warrior in this shot, taken with my sister who was dressed as Mother Goose. She graciously took him trick-or-treating because Son No. 2 had been born just four days earlier...which might account for the fuzziness of the shot. Sorry about that.  (By the way, I made that dress too, although at the time it wasn’t SUPPOSED to be a costume! Whatever.)

Eventually the lure of HeMan won out, and I succumbed to the store-bought costume. (This is with my sister also.)

 When Son No. 2 came along, I started out fine. I remember culling together a pretty credible Dark Wing Duck for him, but eventually the store-bought HeMan was pulled from the depths of the closet. (And my sister again! I don't think I have one photo of me with my kids in costume...but these are better anyway.)

At some point along the way, it became popular for adults to start dressing up at the office. I joined in when I was feeling particularly creative—like the year I dressed in my husband’s black karate gei and posed as a ninja. (I had the weapons strapped to my waist lest anyone make too much fun of me.)
Another year I went as a ranch hand. That was easy—jeans, bandanna and a cowboy hat.

This  year we’re having a costume contest at work. I’m so NOT a competitive person (except with myself), so my inclination is to forget it. But that thrill of dressing up is still in the back of my mind and I can’t quite let it go.  Unfortunately I still have no idea what to wear...again.

I won’t buy anything other than maybe a few accent pieces, which leaves me at the mercy of my wardrobe.  Here are a few ideas I’ve been playing with:

Romance novelist on deadline
Granny glasses (because I’m blind from staring at the computer for a break-free, 96-hour stretch); hair that hasn’t been combed in that time (because I’m on deadline), ratty/saggy knit top dribbled with coffee/tea/spaghetti stains down its front (from eating at the computer); sweatpants and slipper socks. (The good news...I have all that in my closet already!)

Erotic novelist at reader event
I’d start with a big length of rope…uh, yeah, better avoid that one.

Working mother
Business suit with spit-up stains on jacket (yeah, I still have it); one brown shoe, one black shoe; mismatched earrings; mascara on one eye but not the other, maybe smeared on the side; hair falling from attempted up-do; crumpled and syrup-smeared permission slip for your child’s trip to the zoo stuck to the back of your skirt/pants.

In my latest story, Blood Moon (from “Mysteries of the Macabre | A Halloween Anthology”), my heroine and her husband dress up as a ‘60s couple. They’re inspired by the discovery of an old letterman’s sweater that belonged to his grandfather.  I had so much fun researching the styles of that day. 

Hey...there’s an idea! I can go as a heroine in one of my stories! Let’s see, there was the FBI agent who posed as a sex slave to solve a murder...well, whatever. I’ll come up with something.

Happy Halloween, everyone!


Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the power of love. To learn more, go to For more on "Mysteries of the Macabre" go here:


Diane Burton said...

What a fun trip down Memory Lane, Leah. I hate dressing up for Halloween. Thank goodness, I don't have to. Like you, I made my kids' costumes. I'll have to dig them out and take my own trip down Memory Lane.

Jannine Gallant said...

I was pretty good about making costumes for my kids when they were little. I remember planning ahead one Halloween when my mom was visiting earlier in the month and made her sew a lion costume out of fake fur for my oldest. It was AWESOME! Maybe I'll post a pic on FB for next throwback Thurs. closer to Halloween. My go to costume (on the rare occasions I dress up now) is a witch. I have a long black skirt (about 20 years old but it works for a costume!) a black shirt (plenty of those to choose from) black boots (everyone has a pair of those!) and the black witch hat from Walmart or wherever that's been in the closet for almost as long as the skirt! Easy-peasy. Have fun whatever you where.

Jannine Gallant said...

Uh, make that "wear"-- good grief, I need more coffee!

Alicia Dean said...

Oh wow, love this. You crack me up. What sweet memories. I also made my kids' costumes, although I am not and never have been a seamstress. I didn't sew them, but I put things together. One of the cutest was when my eldest daughter was almost two. I made angel wings and decorated them in gold glitter and made a little halo, put her in a white dress and glittered her face. She was a beauty! I miss those days...

Leah St. James said...

You should definitely dig out your kids' costumes, Diane. I got all teary-eyed just looking for photos. :-)

Leah St. James said...

What a great idea, Jannine - a witch! I have a skirt and the boots. Only a knit top in black, but that could work. I could pair it with a black blazer and be the office witch! Everyone at my job would tell me it's perfect type-casting! Thanks for the idea! :-)

Leah St. James said...

Alicia - Do you have photos of your little angel? That must have been so sweet!

Alison Henderson said...

I can't believe I don't have photos of my daughter in her costumes over the years! I've got to look harder. I was never big on Halloween when I was growing up, but I loved making costumes for her. For her first year trick-or-treating (age three), she was Scarlett O'Hara. A few years later, I sewed her a Jasmine costume from Aladdin. The piece de resistance was the Guinevere costume I made for the last year she celebrated before she became too "old". It was stunning - white brocade with gold braid trim and a purple cape. Ah, the memories.

Leah St. James said...

Alison, that Guinevere costume sounds fabulous! I would love to see a photo! And Scarlett O'Hara -- you didn't happen to use the drapery costume, did you? :-)

Rolynn Anderson said...

I feel so much like the Grinch, here. Since we don't have kids and we live in a neighborhood with few kids trick or treating age, except for some pumpkins I place artistically around the house, I don't think about dressing up or handing out candy. (I'll eat chocolate, don't get me wrong). We're in Seville right now, where the Spaniards celebrate Tosantos, which is short for Dias de Todos los Santos (all Saint's Day). Folks brighten up the cemeteries with flowers and give flowers to each other this day, Nov. 1. They also eat some incredibly rich and yummy pastries I can't wait to try. I'll let you know what kind of a day this ends up being here in Spain. We'll be in the White Hill Towns around Seville that day...should be fun!

Leah St. James said...

Don't feel like a Grinch, Rolynn! Kids in my neighborhood don't trick-or-treat either, and we have tons of kids. It's the oddest thing. They must go somewhere for a party, or something. We don't even see them dressed up to get in the car! The Dias de Todos los Santos sounds fascinating though! I hope you write about it some day.