We here at Tor.com are longtime advocates for All Hallow’s Eve and all the festivities contained therein. But whether your favorite part is the candy, the haunted houses and scary books, the horror movie marathons, or another year spent dancing to “Thriller,” it’s hard to deny that the costumes are what make Halloween special. Especially when you’re a kid.
We were reminiscing this week on our favorite childhood (and a few adult) getups, and thought you might like to do the same!
The costumes got more interesting as I got older (Annie Oakley, Cleopatra, a Vulcan), but one of my favorites was the year I dressed up as Agent Dana Scully from The X-Files. My school would line all the kids up on the sports field and let everyone walk by each other to get a glimpse of all the great costumes. As I filed along the grass, I discovered my partner, Agent Mulder—he was probably only a year younger than me, but we’d never met. We pointed at each other frantically, he was dancing, I was jumping up and down. I don’t think any two kids were ever more excited to see each other in office blazers.
Then in high school, long after my trick-or-treating days were over, I somehow convinced three friends to dress up as the hobbits from Lord of the Rings with me. (We technically weren’t allowed to dress up in high school, but I was stealthy.) We raided Goodwill for short pants and embroidered vests. One friend’s mother was kind enough to make us cloaks. We used those costumes more than once, in fact, because FRIENDSHIP=FELLOWSHIP. Or something.
As a little kid, I wore the usual adorable animal-themed costumes (dinosaur, unicorn, sparkly bumblebee). But by the time I turned six, I’d developed a taste for the uncanny, which is, of course, what Halloween is all about. Instead of going straight to vampire or witch, though, I chose a far creepier option: cheerleader troll.
I grew up in Knoxville, land of the University of Tennessee Volunteers, where everyone tried to convince me to love sports (especially football) while I tried to convince them it would be an awesome idea to let me paint my room black and let me get my own motorcycle instead. But I decided that I could totally dress up as a troll doll version of a Vols cheerleader, and this was the result:
My costumes all continued the weird trend from there: I went on to be a Velvet from Neverwhere, blood-covered Lady Macbeth, and Dr. Strangelove in later years. The days of the sparkly bumblebee never came around again—although I did use a lot of glitter when I dressed up as Ursula the Sea Witch.
My mother was very good about sewing my first few Halloween costumes. I was always a cat, which meant a black bodysuit with a tail, and then she’d draw a nose and whiskers on. As I discovered, however, she was hiding her true talents under a plastic pumpkin bucket. Because one year she said that I was not going to go as a cat, I was going to go as what she called a “ghoul.” This meant that I was wearing the black bodysuit, sans tail, and that she was going to paint a terrifyingly elaborate skull mask over my face in white and phosphorescent green. We lived way out in the country then, so we went to a mall, where the other children ran screaming from my ghoulishness. (At least, this is how I remember it.)
The ghoul was followed by a cavewoman (because I found a leopard-print fur dress in my mom’s closet), Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, a pregnant prostitute (a childish attempt at épater-ing la bourgeoisie, true, but I’m still proud of the walk I did for the costume, which was an unholy combination of slinking and waddling), and Delirium from Sandman. It took New York to really bring out my costume mojo, though – Rohrshach (pictured above), Death, and Hunter S. Thompson. Perhaps best of all was when I dressed as Andy Warhol, which led to one of the most magical New York moments I’ve ever had. I found an Edie Sedgwick in Washington Square Park. We locked eyes, ran to each other through pouring rain, and embraced beneath the Arch—our joy only slightly marred by the silver hairspray running into my eyes.
My mom was a master of the homemade Halloween costume. Not only because she sewed and stitched together everything my sister and I asked for, but because she rolled with whatever geeky, obscure request I made. My first few Halloweens, I happily went along with store-bought costumes. In kindergarten, I was the Pink Power Ranger, because it was 1994. First grade was Princess Gwenevere of the Jewel Riders, which is basically the medieval version of the Pink Ranger.
Princess Gwenevere was a little-known cartoon, so I’m surprised Party City actually had it. But starting around the second grade, I began asking for costumes so obscure that my mom had no choice but to make them from scratch. For one, I wanted to be Stellaluna the Fruit Bat, from the children’s book of the same name. Even then I knew this was a weird request compared to kids my age (but I looked damn adorable).
However, the pièce de résistance was fourth grade, when I decided that I wanted to be the Dathomir-warrior-slash-Hapan-princess Tenel Ka. (Why do you think I had so much fun with the Young Jedi Knights reread?) This being pre-Wikipedia, the only reference material my mom had came from my Star Wars Essential Guide to Characters. She cut rows and rows of scales out of fabric, used boots and gloves we already had around the house, and even painstakingly braided my hair to match Tenel Ka’s fabulous braids. I looked AWESOME. And yes, that’s my best friend dressed up as Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series. We were pretty cool.
I wish I had an actual picture on hand to illustrate this, but when I was about 8, my parents convinced me to dress up as a nun, claiming that it was surefire way to get all the candy. Halloween was a relatively big deal in my family, but as non-sewing types, my parents loved a low-maintenance costume more than anything else, and when I begged to not be a witch again for the third year running, I guess “nun” seemed like the next easiest option, since the same black gown doubled as a habit, but with a simple black veil in place of the pointy hat. My dad also insisted that I sternly brandish a ruler threateningly at everyone who opened the door, which I’m sure seemed hilarious at the time?
For background, I should mention that we lived immediately around the corner from my Catholic grade school, where every year in the younger grades we were also required to dress up as our patron saints for the All Saints Parade (usually just a hot mess of little kids stumbling around in oversized bath robes and wire-hanger halos wrapped in aluminum foil). So, not only did I dress as a tiny nun and go shake my ruler aggressively in the faces of our neighbors, but I also ran the gauntlet of Sisters of Mercy handing out candy at the convent and rectory, because (looking back) my childhood was kind of a strange place.
In spite of their repeated assurances that the nun act was a guaranteed bonanza, my parents never did let us measure whether my (n)undercover routine statistically scored me any more candy than my younger siblings’ less severe/ more secular costumes that year. (“The fools,” thought devious, wee Sister Bridget, convinced that I had magically gamed the system into some sort of lifetime-supply-of-Snickers situation). The next year, I dressed up as a glammed-out, besequined fortune-teller and never looked back, but I still think of my odd foray into fake-nunship as my oddest Halloween costume, all things considered. (Not counting the adventures of ZomBea Arthur: Undead Golden Girl…but that’s a more recent development.)