Costume Matters
As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa  (Aug 2011)


            For most of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, my go-to Halloween costume was “The ‘80s.” It was simple, really, because I was there; all I had to do was pretend to be getting ready for school, and voilà. It couldn’t have been more authentic.

            One year, say 2003, I went with a hot pink turtleneck with matching socks, topped with an absurdly enormous (a.k.a. “oversized”) teal button-down shirt, collar up, belted at the hip and appropriately “bloused,” over black leggings and a black stretch miniskirt. The hair: ponytail, high and on the side, with even higher side-swept bangs, shellacked in place with Aqua Net. The makeup: teal eye shadow, heavy black eyeliner, and pink, frosty lipstick. Good God. Upon reflection, my friends and I could have gotten together in 1986 to film “I Was a Teenage Pollock Painting.”

            The teal shirt also had matching socks so, obviously, I wore both the hot pink socks and the teal socks. You couldn’t have on too many socks in the ‘80s. I wonder if historians will one day wonder whether some drop in ground temperature in that decade forced adolescent humans to add layers to protect their young, undeveloped feet because, seriously, why so many socks in these ancient photos, Professor?

            It couldn’t be because they just wanted to pull in two – nay, sometimes three – of the colors in that day’s clothing color scheme. Couldn’t be. Yet people actually walked around in pain because their tight shoes couldn’t accommodate all the friggin socks. Others just started buying their shoes a half size larger. And no one who was there can deny that the way to take it to the next level was to switch the order of the socks on the other foot.

            So I stopped at a Wawa in this hot pink and teal getup, and the cashier stared at me for a second. Then her eyes went big and she said, “Vanessa Huxtable! That’s who you remind me of.”

            “Hmm,” I said, nodding. “I was going more for Lisa Turtle, but I’ll accept that.” I had captured the era. Success!

            By the mid-‘00s, though, my Halloweens would drastically change because (dramatic music buildup) the ‘80s crept back into style. Noooooooooooooooo! I could see it happening, bit by bit, as colors and collars started popping again. Some people were horrified that they’d have to see this in real life, rather than merely in reruns of The Cosby Show and Saved by the Bell. Me, I lamented that I would soon have to come up with a new Halloween costume. It was just a matter of time.

            Technically I could still work the ‘80s costume if I wanted to, but it couldn’t have the same effect if others who were not in costume were dressed the same way. Furthermore, since the rule is, “If you wore it the first time, you’re too old to wear it when it comes back,” I might be accused of trying to dress like the young. Then I’d have to raise my voice and say, “Watch yourself, kid. I wore it first. Whatchoo know about curling irons and hairspray? I was French-cuffing my jeans before you were even BORN!”

            I wasn’t sure how much time I had left, but then I saw it. And I knew. There, in public, right across the street, walking into an eyeglasses store, was a woman wearing legwarmers and a jean skirt. The time had come. My costume had become obsolete, and I had no choice but to develop a new one.

            Ever since the day my mother dressed me and my older brother up as pumpkins, and we placed in some competition at the Halloween fair we were attending, I gathered that costuming was a very serious matter. Still fun, don’t get me wrong, but the result should always show some effort, or you just shouldn’t bother. Mom made those costumes by hand, then stuffed us with gobs of newspaper. I honestly have no idea how we fit into the car.

            You know those people who go to comic and sci-fi conventions in really impressive costumes, and end up in everyone’s photos? My older brother has grown up to be one of those people. He usually dresses as a comic book hero. Yes, spandex, mask, everything. Thankfully he’s in very good shape, or else it would be really traumatic for everyone involved. My Mom went to Star Wars in Concert a few years ago dressed as Queen Amidala from the fourth-slash-“first of the new ones” Star Wars installment. This was the elaborate robe and headpiece, the white face paint, and the funky, inverse red lip situation. So, you see, I can’t just wear anything on Halloween. I have my family’s reputation to uphold.

            So, how did I do? The first of my non-‘80s costumes in the modern era was relatively obscure. No one at the salsa party knew who I was supposed to be, but that didn’t bother me because I knew I’d nailed it. I went as Zoe from the cult TV series Firefly and its feature film Serenity. If you’ve seen either, you’ll know why people guessed “cowgirl.” The outfit was easy, but I don’t happen to have a gun and holster. To remedy this, I cut the top of a leather eyeglasses case at a slant, attached it to a belt, and that became a temporary home for the CVS watergun I painted black with nail polish. Had my Mom been at all familiar with the show, she would have been proud.

            I put a photo of me as Zoe on my computer desktop at work the following week. The tech support guy came in to fix something, saw my screen, and said, “Hey, Zoe from Firefly.”

            In subsequent years I’ve been “Miserable Goth Girl” (with magnetic earrings as fake nose and upper ear piercings), Storm from the X-Men (do you know how hard it is to find a good white wig with long flowing hair?), Lieutenant Uhura from the original Star Trek (Trekkies came out of the woodwork that year to high five me), and Black Mamba from Kill Bill (know what’s harder to find than a good white wig? A bright yellow tracksuit).

            Evidently, I am an enormous geek.

            It’s OK. I embrace it, and I am ready to begin my sinister plans for the October 2011 costume. I accept that it will be a few more years before I should send out a search party for those colorful socks at Halloween since, alas, it will be a while before all traces of ‘80s fashion are finally in the past.

            Um, again.