When I was in first grade, my elementary school held a fall festival that included a costume competition. My mom and grandmother spent what I imagine were countless hours behind the sewing machine, painstakingly recreating Disney’s vision of Aladdin of Agrabah. Complete with a plastic lamp and cardboard fez, the costume was nearly flawless.
But when it was time to go to the festival, I became self-conscious and decided to wear a gray turtleneck beneath Aladdin’s vest. It looked ridiculous. I wore sneakers instead of going barefoot and further destroyed the illusion. Walking in a circle with the other contestants to show off my costume for the judges’ panel, I knew my squeamishness was going to cost me an award. I was right: a fifth grader dressed as the Cat in the Hat won. That I might not have won even if I had gone bare-chested never crossed my mind.
My apathy for Halloween in particular and costumes in general can likely be traced back to that afternoon. Probably my deep-seated neuroses and self-loathing, too. And isn’t that what Halloween is really about ― scarring children? — Contributing Writer Tim Lehman
On Halloween my goal was always to be as scary and disgusting as possible. Without chest hair or the slightest inkling of peach-fuzz, this was a way for us to claim our masculinity. We rubbed dirt in our faces and blacked out teeth to be pirates. We bought puss-covered masks with an eyeball hanging out. These were all good, masculine costumes. They were sure to scare the pants off the girl we liked, which was tantamount to bedding her (before we knew what bedding was).
Patron saints did not fit this paradigm. That did not stop my mother from forcing my sisters and I all dress as our patron saints (I was Saint William of Vercelli) for Halloween when I was eight-years-old. She swooned and chuckled at the unabashed cuteness of our Halloween costumes. My friends, in turn, laughed out loud and chased me around with their swords.
My mother still maintains that I was adorable. So are princesses. — Writer Locke McKenzie
My mother has always been a hippie at heart. Not a “Smelly Pothead” hippie, but more of the “Do-It-Yourself and Frugality is My Religion” variety. As a result, I never had a store-bought costume for Halloween. Instead we always crafted a costume out of a large box full of dress-up clothes and my sister’s old dance recital outfits. Many years I was a witch or vampire because we had a bitchin’ cape, but I also went through a phase where I dressed up like something fairly commonplace and added a mask or googly eyes to become a monster. In this photo, I’m simply wearing the tutu and ballerina shoes I wore to dance class, but donned my brother’s scary mask (almost certainly a result of his influence) to become a three-year-old “Ballerina Monster.” — Writer Caitlin Boersma
Recalling any single noteworthy Halloween costume is impossible for me, because apparently my childhood was a schizophrenic whirlwind in which I freely swapped outfits and identities like so many Weird Al cassettes in an Aiwa boombox. Need proof? Take this email from my mother, summarizing my dress-up antics:
[You dressed up as a] tiger; some outfit where you had on a white skirt of B’s draped like a cape and a black scarf around your head (?!); just diapers and a shirt on your head; B’s dance tutu and headband; cowboy with gun and sword (fully armed!); giraffe spotted face; robin hood; plastic knight guy; plastic knight guy horned hat with summer solstice shirt and two rubber gloves – one orange and one yellow: menacing look; bird with big yellow plastic beak and huge silver and yellow wings with thigh-high socks; pink dance outfit of Becca’s with long pink fringe and arm warmers; head shot with mean plastic fangs; karate guy; vampire (not a great photo); Robinhood 2 with plastic sword; magician (?) or circus ringmaster with mustache; totally outfitted (kneepads, wristguards, helmet, rollerblader; Dodgers outfit with mitt; Lakers outfit with basketball; red powerranger guy with pumpkins; vampire 2 with fangs, bloody mouth and black cape – hair slicked back (about age 8?); ½ green face and ½ wounded face with wild hair (with pumpkin)……..remember how I had such a hard time buying that gross stuff for you?; peacenik (with pumpkin). That gets us up to about age 9.
It’s a wonder I paused for the camera at all. Yet many photos like the one below still exist. I present to you: “bird with big yellow plastic beak and huge silver and yellow wings with thigh-high socks.” — Contributing Writer Daniel Adler
To be honest, I was never all too creative when dressing up for Halloween. I was always in dance classes, and my parents had to buy lame costumes for my spring recitals. Frequently, I would just reuse those the next fall. Campy and flashy — they worked well. This lovely little number I wore in fourth grade during a tap routine to the Casper the Friendly Ghost theme song. It worked perfectly in my mind. But, then kids would ask what I was, and I wouldn’t have a clue. “I’m a Casper girl!” Then, I would add DUH to really seal the deal that my costume was legit. — Contributing Writer Alice Stanley
I always wanted a Nerf gun, but my mom never allowed them in the house. She believed they were dangerous, too dangerous for a nine-year-old such as myself.
“But Mom, they just shoot foam darts with rubber tips. Come ooonnnnnn.”
But she didn’t yield to my nagging.
So I came up with a plan: dress as Boba Fett from Star Wars and demand that a Nerf gun was an essential piece to the costume. Naturally, my father bought me the Nerf gun that resembled the weapon Fett had on his forearm in Return of the Jedi. I then coaxed my parents into buying what I’m sure was a very expensive replica helmet to complete my outfit. Success!
A week after Halloween, my mom confiscated the gun after I shot my brother in the eye. — Editor Kevin Nguyen