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October 31, 2004

  • Dressing Up
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    Tonight I'm going to a Halloween party. It's been a while since I've done something like this. A long while actually (I think the last time was 1994, when I dressed up as Lawrence of Arabia at a ‘famous dead people' party. I wish I had the idea that another couple at that party had and dressed as a security ‘red shirt' from Star Trek). I'm going to go with my tried-and-true modus operandi of dressing up as a superhero of sorts. So this year I'm dressing up as Doctor Who, more specifically, the model portrayed by Tom Baker on TV. I got a trenchcoat from Goodwill and I borrowed a scarf from a friend who actually owns such a thing.

    I suspect my costume is going to be very tame by the standards of this party. The person who puts on the party is rumoured to have some fine fetishwear. Another friend is planning on going with a twonie stuck to her forehead with a sign that says "all you can eat for $2". But I'm kind of used to being out of step the rest of my peers on Halloween.

    Halloween was without a doubt my favourite holiday as a kid. The first few years I did it, I went along with whatever my parents wanted to dress me up as. Often that would mean my Dad bought us some ‘flame retardant' costumes at the local Towers department store. These would be a flimsy paper-ish costume that evidently had some chemical impregnated in it to prevent children from spontaneously combusting and will likely one day give a whole generation of Halloweeners cancer of the lymph nodes. The funny thing about these ‘costumes' was that they relied on the plastic facemask to convey any sense of what you were dressing as. At almost-seven years-old, I dressed as Spider-Man, I suppose. The mask looked like Spider-Man's, mostly, but the white paper monstrosity I was wearing was decorated in green bad 1970s pop art that had a passing familiarity with Halloween.

    By the following year, I had enough of Towers and their so-called costumes. I wanted to dress like the real superheroes I saw in the comic books and on TV. My Dad by that point was a leader in my Wolf Cub pack and we were going to have a Halloween Party at Cubs. We hit on the idea that he would dress as Batman and Robin. My Dad dyed his longjohns grey for playing the caped crusader when he received an edict from the head leader—the person in Wolf Cubs we called Akela—that leaders had to dress as their characters from the Jungle Book (each leader adopted a name from one of Kipling's cast of characters). My Dad ended up having to use his grey longjohns as the basis of his costume as Hathi the elephant.

    Undeterred, I made ready my Robin costume. My Dad painted the ‘R' in a black circle of Bristol Board (I still have it even today). And the rest of the costume was, well, underwear. A red undershirt, a new pair of green underpants bought at Young Canada worn over a pair of tights (I had been observant of Burt Ward in the TV series). A yellow shirt was my cape and I think the belt from my Wolf Cub uniform served as my utility belt.

    My Dad, meanwhile, persevered and put together his Hathi the elephant costume. He created a head out of a bucket with a panty hose trunk attached with a series of wires. We went to our Cub pack's Halloween party and discovered…none of the other leaders had bothered to dress up as their Jungle Book characters. Baloo and Raksha weren't dressed as a bear and a panther respectively but were rather kitted out as pirates. Akela—who was, though I would never use this language as an eight year-old, a major league asshole—didn't even bother to dress up and just wore his leader uniform after telling my Dad he couldn't do the Batman costume.

    It was disappointing, but truthfully I don't think it fazed me quite as much because I thought, at the time, I had the coolest Halloween costume, ever. I made it myself. I thought it looked pretty damn close to the real thing. In reality, it probably wasn't, but nonetheless on October 31, 1977 I felt like I was Robin the Boy Wonder. I even won a coveted "Colossal Costume" award at the Halloween party at school (to go along with the one I got at Cubs). It would be the only time I ever succeeded in winning that prize—although now I wonder if it was for the originality of the costume or the chutzpah of wearing green underwear over a pair of tights. I'll probably never know.

    I never quite demonstrated those lengths of originality ever again, but I can tell you this much: from that point on, I was planning my Halloween costumes in July. I had a strategy worked out in my head: figure out what you want to be in the summer, then start lobbying for it with my parents just after school started in September.

    A couple of years later, I read a paperback reprint of the 1960s Captain America comics and decided then and there I would dress as Captain America. Like my Robin costume, I assessed my own wardrobe (I had a white turtleneck, I had a blue t-shirt, I had blue pants). I got grown-ups to make the parts I couldn't do (I got my grandmother to make me a cowl—my mom would use make up for the actual mask. I wore it to the Halloween Party at school—my best friend Rob had made a Daredevil costume that was way, way, cooler—in Grade 6 and sadly did not win any awards. I was crushed

    I obsessed about that costume over the next year. I wanted to do it again, only right this time. Whereas the original costume I wore a printer paper from my Dad's work that had red stripes on it around my tummy and the star was simply safety-pinned to me, Captain America costume version 2.0 would have my mom sewing my T-shirt to the turtleneck and then sewing stripes on. Version 2.0 would also have a real mask—I no longer cared about restricting my peripheral vision. I even spray painted my old winter boots red for the occasion.

    By this time, I was going to a Junior High school. Because I had accelerated a grade, I was ten going on eleven in a school of twelve year olds. I didn't grasp what this meant until that fateful afternoon when I went to the change room, put on my perfect, brilliant and amazingly faithful Captain America costume and then walked into the after school Halloween dance…

    ...to discover I was the only student in a costume.

    That moment marked the beginning of the end of my childhood.

    I turned around and left the gym and went home. The school principal, the school secretary and my mother all tried to convince me to go back, but I wouldn't. That night I went Trick or Treating for the last time. I did it confident in the knowledge that I left the world of Halloween costumes on a high.

    Like so many things in the world today, Halloween is now marketed by people of my generation and want to make the quality of life better for their kids. You can now buy superhero costumes cheaply and easily. You can buy Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings outfits as well. Part of me thinks that's a wonderful advance from the days of the paper-ish outfits from Towers—like the advances in action figures, it's yet another sign of the benevolent, golden age we all live in. But part of me thinks that the putting together of the costume was as important to my life as the actual wearing it on the day.

    Tonight I'm going to dress as Doctor Who. It's going to be a kick-ass costume. Maybe July I'll start thinking of how to dress as Strong Bad or Green Lantern for next year. You can never start too early on these things.


    Posted by graeme | (1) Comments | Permalink

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    Rob Jones  on  10/31  at  04:58 PM

    I remember that Robin costume quite well. I remember being really worried about how much heat you would take for it, frankly.

    As for that Daredevil outfit, I remember you being very supportive on how to get it together, offering a “burgundy shirt” to supplement what I already had, even if I didn’t end up using it.

    These days, it is pretty easy to get Halloween costumes sorted out for kids. I suppose there is a certain loss of that DIY thrill. But, for the most part, I think that whole idea of transformation for an evening is still well in place.

    Thanks for the post!

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