Rick & I in 1983 - I turned my prom dress into a flapper costume.
There seems to be a universal appeal to wearing a costume or donning a mask. No matter what the age or ethnicity, most people love to pretend that they're something they're not.
In feudal times, masquerade balls and fetes were all the rage for their sense of intrigue and mystery. There have been countless stories written about masked strangers swooping into a plot-line to defend the honor of a maiden in distress, or to make amends for some past wrong-doing. Think Zorro, the Lone Ranger and Batman!
Even the youngest of children love to slip on a pair of their parents' old shoes, put on a hat that belongs to somebody else, or crawl on all fours and bark like a dog. Its no wonder, that Halloween has maintained its appeal throughout the decades.
When I was a child, I lived for the holiday, and the chance to go to the store to select a costume from the mountain of boxes with cellophane windows, that allowed you a peek at the magic inside. In those days, the costumes were cheaply made of cotton, and imprinted with the likeness of a uniformed policeman, fireman, doctor or nurse, a comic-book-hero, cowboy or Indian, a fairy-tale princess or witch. You could also choose from a scary selection of skeletons, vampires and monsters, circus or farm animals.
Me in the black and white cotton tie-one costume of the sixties. Trick or treating in Canada.
Designed like hospital gowns, that slipped on in front and tied at the nape of the neck, our costumes could be worn over just about anything, including a warm winter coat. And, what was a costume without a mask made of molded plastic, with a little slit between the lips, nostrils and eye-holes. I can still feel my breath collecting on the inside of my mask, which clung to my face, like a piece of Saran Wrap in a steam room. The thinnest strand of rubber held it in place, the ends of which were stapled to the sides of my make-believe face.
I never knew what I was going to be, until I walked out of the store with my box tucked under my arm. There were limited choices for girls in those days, and I wouldn't think of wearing a boy's costume, though I did always want to be a cowboy and carry a cap gun. My Mom didn't sew, so I never had the coveted Raggedy Ann costume, so popular with the girls' whose moms did.
Thankfully, these were the years before snack-sized candy bars, slasher-movies and big rubber gore masks that were popular in the '80s. The world seemed on whole, a more civilized place.
The bunny and the clown belonged to me. Wonder Woman was the little boy next door. His father was mortified by his son's costume selection.
When my children were little, the cotton costumes that we wore were no longer available. The plastic replacements reminded me of garbage bags, and I refused to buy them. So instead, I spent the final two weeks of every October, bent over an old Singer sewing machine I'd bought at a flea market. I cut lots of corners, but my kids walked out the door with a handmade costume each year, while I stood in the doorway beaming with pride at my accomplishment.
After twenty-plus years out of the loop, I went costume shopping with my daughter the first year her little one was old enough to participate, and nearly dropped my teeth at the selection before us. Gone were the boxes with cellophane windows, and hospital gowns that tied in the rear. Gone were the masks of plastic and rubber. The racks and rounders before us looked like they rolled in from the costuming department at the Disney studio. There was everything and anything a child could dream of being. I couldn't make a costume for what they were charging at Wal-Mart and Costco.
I admit the children that come to my door look adorable in their buttons and bows, tulle and sequins, faux fur coveralls and synthetic muscle suits. But, I doubt they're having more fun than we did, dressed in our photo-costumes of cotton and plastic.