Friday, October 25, 2013

Mumming and guising, a personal retrospective

A few years ago, within the pages of this very blog, I talked about some of my Costumes of Halloween Past. Of course that was not a complete inventory, but rather a few random samples from two different ends of the dress-up spectrum: the years when I was too young to really make decisions for myself, and the years when I was (admittedly) too old for trick-or-treating but still found a reason to half-ass something together on the morning of the 31st anyway.

So, in the interest of cataloging my own life as thoroughly and obsessively as possible (which, it must be noted, is still not 100% thorough because my childhood memories remain spotty as ever) I thought on this Friday before All Hallows' I'd run down a few more of my Halloween Costume memories.

My first ever Halloween costume was a clown outfit, homemade by my mom. I was two, which of course means I don't remember this at all, but I've seen some family photos, and it was pretty cute (if I do say so myself).

In the post I linked to above, I noted some of the weird (and borderline inappropriate) Ben Cooper costumes I trick-or-treated in as an elementary schooler, but the very first plastic mask and vinyl jumpsuit costume I ever donned was C-3PO, when I was three or four years old. Just so we're clear that I was 100% onboard with the whole Star Wars fandom thing pretty much from the very moment the original film was first released.

By the time I was in fourth grade or so, I was obsessed with special effects and monster makeup, and thus there was a good run of Halloweens where I dressed up as classic archetypes like werewolves, vampires and devils. There was no palette of greasepaint too messy, no prosthetic too cumbersome for me. (This will come up again.) I remember checking books out of the kids' section of the public library which explained how to achieve various ghastly effects; I would actually check the books out again and again year-round as I waited for Halloween to roll around again, or more specifically for the drug stores to start stocking costume components a few weeks out (since this was back in the 80's before Party City and/or pop-up Halloween stores). My mom would take me shopping and buy the make-up kits and the plastic accessories, but I was always intent on putting the look together myself, applying the horns or pointed ears or snout or fangs or whatnot and blending the facepaint. Looking back the most charitable way to describe my efforts would probably be "enthusiastically amateurish" but it never occurred to me to ask for any grown-up help. Halloween was just my thing.

Around that same time I started keeping the costume pieces and leftover makeup in a big monster dress-up stockpile, just in case anyone ever agreed to put on a haunted house in the summer or use a video camcorder to make a horror movie in the winter. I desperately wanted this to happen, and it almost never did. The exception was one summer at the beach when me and and a couple of other friends-of-the-family kids did put together a haunted house (read: bedroom) and persuaded our relatives to submit themselves to the terrifying guided tour. But of course that was spontaneous and on vacation, so I had none of my monster makeup with me, and ended up as a no-budget zombie with a baby powdered white face and construction paper scars.

The last time I went all-out as a kid for Halloween, as I recall, was late in middle school when I got it into my head that I could make my own Green Lantern costume. Just to refresh everyone's memory, this is what the Green Lantern uniform looked like circa late 1980-something:

So, how hard could that be? A pair of black sweatpants and a black sweatshirt, plus an oversized green t-shirt which could have its sides cut out and hem safety-pinned together at the crotch. A white felt circle glued on the chest with a green felt lantern symbol glued on top of that, a green domino mask, white gloves, and a big green ring, probably also made of felt. Simple!

(A couple of years later they relaunched the Green Lantern comic book series and suddenly authentic plastic replica power rings were everywhere, and I was bitter about the timing. Ah, well.)

Once again, I wasn't asking my parents to do anything more than purchase the raw materials and let me at the project myself, which they did. And once again, I was proud of the results at the time, which I suppose is all that really mattered. Incidentally, that same Halloween my Little Bro decided he also wanted to dress up as a superhero, in his case as Captain America, which he managed by gluing felt stars and stripes to a man blue hoodie sweatshirt, and then gluing wings to and cutting eyeholes in the hood, which he pulled down to his nose to approximate Cap's cowl. We made quite the slapdash pair that year.

And then I was a teenager and my priorities changed and Halloween became more and more of an afterthought. I remember a couple of low-effort costumes from high school and none at all from college, but then oddly enough I started getting back into Halloween in a big way after college, the stand-out example of which was when I was 23, living in a rental townhouse with some buddies, and a quartet of us decided to do Halloween as Smurfs.

In a lot of ways this was the culmination of all the Halloweens of my childhood (barring the Ben Cooper years). A Smurf's default uniform can be easily recreated with white sweatpants, white socks and a white stocking cap. The blue skin, on the other hand, would have to be a major makeup job. My friends and I even got sewing help in modifying the hats into recognizably Smurfy shape (not from anyone's mom, from my buddy's girlfriend, but still).

The group costume effort was not for trick or treating purposes, but rather because we were hosting a Halloween costume party at our townhouse. So there was no need to dress warmly or incorporate sensible footwear. In fact, my buddies and I waited for most of the guests to arrive, busying ourselves with last minute party prep, and then we all ran upstairs, threw on the white pants and socks and hats, slathered our upper bodies and faces in bright blue body paint (assisting each other with the unreachable spots on our backs) and then made a grand entrance to the party as a unified foursome of Smurfs. Or, technically, as Degenerate Smurfs. Rather than fight over who got to be Hefty or who had to be Brainy, we came up with our own lesser-known members of the clan: Smokey Smurf (one cigarette behind his ear, the pack in the waistband of his pants), Horny Smurf (permanently priapic thanks to a sex toy shoved down the front of his pants), Drunky Smurf (with gin-blossoming red nose and a paperbag-wrapped bottle in hand, that was me, thank you very much) and Gothy Smurf (who actually wore black rather than white, including black eyeliner and lipstick and some bondage gear accessories). In addition to evening out the blue tones between each other's shoulders, we had also drawn eyeliner tattoos on each other's arms. We were a big hit, and I think I knew at that point I would probably never top it in terms of overall concept and nailing the visual.

Which doesn't mean I didn't continue going to costume parties as an adult. Nowadays Halloween is all about taking my own kids trick-or-treating (they are all going as Toy Story characters this year, which you probably would have guessed if I'd given you the opportunity) but for a few years there I ran through everything from storebought costumes (samurai warrior!) to topical references (before we were married, and before they were divorced, my wife and I kitted ourselves out as Britney Spears and Kevin Federline) to childhood callbacks that were really only amusing to me (I once again spirit-gummed horns to my forehead to dress up as a devil, but skipped the facepaint, the cape and the pitchfork and went for more of a lounge-lizard Lucifer in a red thriftstore sportjacket). Someday, our kids will want to go trick-or-treating in their own neighborhood with their own friends, and instead of driving several towns away we'll run Halloween out of our home, and I can easily see myself being one of those suburban dads who dresses up like the Grim Reaper to answer the door and hand out candy. Or, let's be honest, the one who dresses up like a scarecrow and sits on the porch, pretending to be a prop, until the kids are right on the doormat and I can jump up and scare the bejeezus out of them. Can't wait!

No comments:

Post a Comment