AVQ&A: Memorable Halloween costumes
Welcome back to AVQ&A;, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you'd like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at email@example.com.
This week's question: What was your most memorable Halloween costume?
Off the top of my head, the one I enjoyed most was in 2005, when my boyfriend and I both dressed up as V from the movie version of V For Vendetta. For those who haven't seen it, there's a point toward the end where a whole group of people dresses up in V costumes and form a vast monolithic V-crowd. It's sort of the equivalent of the end of Spartacus, but with masks and cloaks. So it's movie-appropriate that we were both wearing the same costume, though it would have been better if we'd enlisted 20 or so of our friends to wear the same thing as well. We got the high-quality masks and capes, and bulky clothes that made us both fairly androgynous, and we hit the annual massive Halloween parade/party down on Halsted Street, seeking out other people dressed as V (we saw at least three) and giving them the nod. We got stopped a lot for people who wanted to take pictures, and once by a flock of very happy men in gaudy lamé dresses and pastel wigs, whose leader looked at our all-black ensembles and trilled "These girls need some color!" I love elaborate masks as wall décor, but I think they're a pain in the ass to wear as part of a costume, since they usually limit visibility and dig into your skin uncomfortably, but in this case there was a comfortable feeling to the total anonymity of the V masks, and kind of a kick to the way so many drunken yahoos were so jazzed about spotting a couple of people dressed up as violent terrorists.
Because I am a curmudgeonly old fart (always have been, really), I haven't dressed up for Halloween since I was about 14—but I remember what I was that year because it was so lame. In search of free candy (as I still am), I decided at the last minute on trick-or-treat day that the little kids were having all the fun, so I hastily put together an outfit of black pants, a striped black-and-white shirt, a rubber Frankenstein mask (found in the closet), and some sunglasses. Fully 80 percent of the doors I went to refused to give me candy because I was too old, and probably because my costume was so lame. I remember one person asking me what I was, and I said "cool Frankenstein." I don't think they gave me any candy. Runner-up: I was really into Quiet Riot when I was about 10, and I got a rubber version of the "asylum" mask from the cover of Metal Health, my favorite album at the time. I wore it to a Halloween party, and some rotten kid stole it! (Or I might have lost it during a scavenger hunt.)
A few years back, my buddy Al and I decided to throw a science-fiction-slash-funk-themed Halloween party at a local club. Basically, it was a flimsy excuse for us to spin every '80s funk jam with a vocoder we had in our crates: the usual suspects like Zapp & Roger and Midnight Star; some of the harder electro stuff (Afrika Bambaataa, Newcleus, The Egyptian Lover, Cybotron, Jonzun Crew); and random vocoder-less robo-oddities like Sylvester's "Rock The Box" and Donna Summer's "I Feel Love." We decked the DJ booth out like the bridge of the Enterprise—okay, we half-assedly threw up a poster of a nebula or some shit to give the impression of a starship's viewscreen—and we each bought fancy replicas of official Star Trek uniforms to wear. Geeked out thusly in our sleek polyester jumpsuits, we queued up "No Parking On The Dancefloor" and opened the club's doors to Denver's Halloween revelers. Of course, the party was a flop. We had maybe a couple dozen dancers on the floor at the height of the night's festivities, but a lot of folks just wandered in, saw me and Al getting down to some cyber-disco while dressed as Kirk and Spock, grew confused, and immediately split. I think I still have the costume—which cost me $70—wadded up in the back of my dresser somewhere.
The year was 2000. As usual, I wanted to make a costume out of whatever I had at home to avoid spending money. Looking at my dad's hand-me-down army fatigues, I had an idea: a terrorist. With the USS Cole bombing still in the news, the embassy bombings of '98 still fresh, and a disturbing interview he gave with Time in 1999 on my mind, I decided to be Osama bin Laden. I bought a toy machine gun, made a head wrap, and modified the fatigues. I tore off the name patches on my coat and wrote "BIN LADEN" there instead, then wrote JIHAD in giant letters on the back. All night, people would give me blank stares when I said who I was, so I just started saying I was "a terrorist." It would've been a pretty uneventful Halloween—ah, those blissful days before 9/11—had I not run into a Five Percenter outside a bar. They're basically a militant offshoot of the Nation Of Islam, and the dude didn't take kindly to the "jihad" on my back. "This is your holiday," he told me, as if Halloween was invented in Ireland to oppress minorities. I reminded him that many cultures celebrate Halloween in some form, but he just said cryptically, "Remember that we're responsible for what we wear on our back." I took care to look over my shoulder the rest of the night.
Last year, I dressed up as minimal techno (a white T-shirt with the marker-scrawled words "hi-hat" on the front and "kick drum" on the back), but more memorable than that was a few years ago when I went out as "Emperor Tomato Ketchup." I wore all red, with a homemade Heinz logo on my chest, a ring of green felt leaves around my neck, and a crown on my head. I had a scepter, too. I was (and remain) a huge Stereolab fan, and that's one of the few albums by any band that justifies the major drag all but promised by costumes that require explanation.
Since I'm a natural introvert (or buzzkill, whatever you want to call it), I tend to prefer "conceptual" costumes over something more obvious (or "fun"). The last time I actually got decked out in anything that photographed well was 2004, when I went as Shaun Of The Dead (for obvious reasons). Two years before that, I teamed up with two friends and went as Weekend At Bernie's (I was Andrew McCarthy, my friend Chuck was Jonathan Silverman, and we dragged my incredibly committed performance-artist friend Chris around all fucking night). That was probably the closest I ever came to being "the life of the party," but my personal favorite is still the year I went as The Wonder Years' Kevin Arnold: I bought a gaudy, wide-collared '70s shirt and track jacket from a thrift store, then I recorded an hour's worth of faux-insightful interior monologues (i.e. "That was the year I learned that Halloween isn't about dressing upit's about opening up") on my microcassette recorder, each one followed by the chorus to The Byrds' "Turn! Turn! Turn!" Whenever someone would ask who I was supposed to be, I would pensively stare into space and let those play; I don't think I met anyone who didn't get it. Unfortunately I've never come up with anything as inspired since, as evidenced by my costume this year: "The Man From Two Minutes In The Future."
In 1992, my elementary school thought it prudent to ban all Simpsons-related clothing, which meant my much-loved T-shirt depicting Bart Simpson writing "I will not waste chalk" on the blackboard was officially too crude for school. I remember being excessively upset by this turn of events, to the point where I, in some vaguely formed spirit of protest, demanded a Simpsons Halloween getup for that year's student costume parade. For reasons I can't quite remember, I decided to go with Maggie Simpson. Since there was no way my mom was going to shell out the money for a proper latex mask, we jerry-rigged a spiky yellow wig, oversized cardboard pacifier, and bulging Styrofoam-ball eyes. I remember my mom and I spending an unusual amount of time and energy on this outfit—particularly the wig—and me being inordinately proud of it, despite the fact that photographic evidence of that Halloween confirms that it was perhaps the most unintentionally frightening costume I've ever worn. It did, however, foreshadow my proclivity for oversized, obnoxious Halloween wigs in later years, evidenced by last year's (spectacular) Amy Winehouse effort and this year's foot-and-a-half-tall Troll Doll 'do.
I have a curious love-hate relationship with Halloween. I love the holy living fuck out of it, but I seldom do anything to commemorate it. As an adult, my incredibly lazy default costume is as one of the Ramones—white T-shirt, high-tops, black leather jacket, jeans. A few years ago, I went to a party without dressing up. It was one hell of a costume party—one guy really went all-out with a Teen Wolf ensemble—and deep into the night, a very inebriated gentleman walked up to me and guilelessly enthused, "Awesome David Cross costume, dude! You look just like him!" I guess being a bald Jewish man with facial stubble (I believe I was growing one of my patented depression beards at the time), an aggressively casual wardrobe, and grad-school glasses made me a dead ringer for a very tall David Cross. So yeah, that was probably my most memorable costume, and it was wholly unintentional.
Halloween 2005: I went as Jack Burton from John Carpenter's 1986 cinematic masterpiece, Big Trouble In Little China. I had let my hair grow out for months so that on the night of the party, I could cut and sculpt it into Kurt Russell's magnificent mullet using half a canister of styling mousse and my roommate's hair dryer. The centerpiece of the costume was the replica "Chinaman" tank-top I purchased for $20 online at the fan site wingkong.net. To combat the late-October chill, I went with jeans and matching jean-jacket option (which Burton wears when he and Wang first infiltrate the Wing Kong Exchange) rather than the tan trenchcoat-plus-trucker-hat combo (Burton's outfit of choice in the beginning and end of the film), as the hat would have messed up my finely-coiffed hair. (Sadly, I owned no beige baja jackets, blue silk kimonos, or brown used-car-salesman suits.) Then I set out for the night determined to speak to people using only lines from the movie—Burton quotes were obviously preferred, but I allowed myself the use of all quotes (including Little Old Basket Case On Wheels David Lo Pan's "Indeed!") for the sake of having options during conversations. The problem is, there are only so many times one can make a toast to "the Army and Navy and the battles they have won" and "America's colors, the colors that never run" before the pillars of heaven start shaking—especially when you're drinking shots that hit harder than the misty potion poured forth from the gourd in Egg Shen's Six-Demon Bag. A few lines were flubbed, several choice opportunities for appropriate quote responses were missed, and people unfamiliar with the film quickly left the conversation in confusion. For the most part, however, the whole thing went over pretty well—so much so that I used the costume for a different party the following Halloween.
One Halloween, I dressed up as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. This is memorable because a) Julia Roberts plays a hooker in Pretty Woman, and b) I was 11 years old at the time. So, why did my parents let me dress up like a hooker for Halloween? They didn't. In fact, they didn't even let me watch Pretty Woman. But movies about hooker Cinderellas have a way of finding their way to the most inappropriate audience possible: girls at slumber parties. My friend Nicole had Pretty Woman on video, a big house, and little-to-no parental supervision, so we always had slumber parties at her house. One Halloween, we dressed up to go trick-or-treating there too. There was a group of five of us, and we had all agreed to dress up as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. In the end, however, only my friend Elena and I went through with it. We both made our own costumes out of old white T-shirts, though by very different processes: Elena had a sewing machine and she knew how to sew, so her costume was an almost perfect (to an 11-year-old) replica of the midriff-baring outfit Julia Roberts wears in the beginning of the movie. I, on the other hand, cut the sleeves and neck off one of my dad's old white T-shirts, knotted it in the back in several places to make it tighter, and wore it as a dress. Still, we both looked shockingly, stupidly hooker-esque—to the point that after a few houses we were shivering with embarrassment, not to mention the cold. Elena and I were about to turn around and go back to Nicole's, but we rang one more bell. Mrs. Brant, our religion teacher at the time, answered the door. She was, frankly, horrified. She asked us what we were supposed to be. Elena said "En Vogue," while I mumbled something about "rock stars." Then Mrs. Brant asked us if our parents knew we were out here "like that," and we all fell all over each other to say, "Yeah. Of course."