November 2, 2010

Your Costume Is My Drug

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Come Halloween weekend, I was barraged by friends asking to explore my closet.

“I’m going as a genie, do you have some harem pants?”

Yep, several.

“I’m being Selena, would you have a sequined bustier by any chance?”

Of course, what color?

“What should I wear to be a cowgirl?”

Well, if your feet are small you can borrow any style of cowboy boots you might need. And I probably have a hat. And something that resembles a holster. Come to think of it, these pants I have could pass as chaps.

Need a jumpsuit? Leather tights? Airplane necklace? Check, check, check!

I started to wonder, “If I am the first person who comes to mind when you think of gold pants, should that be a warning sign for my life plunging into the depths of tackiness?” I decided this was no cause for concern. I mean Tina Turner and Dolly Parton are still kickin’ it beyond retirement in wild clothes. Maybe all is fine and well. So what if my closet overflows with bizarre things and my friends excavate it for fun. I might take fashion seriously, but never my own. To paraphrase the crazy Oscar Wilde, “Fashion is what I am wearing, unfashionable is what other people wear.” So yeah, I’m fine (tucks hair behind large feather earring, guiltily). I’ve dressed up properly for an interview, not with a vampire, and I actually wear somber black a lot. Yet the accusations kept coming — and the worst affront to my wardrobe came when my housemate decided to be a hound dog.

Her hair was in floppy-ear-like pigtails. She had painted big eyelids and a wet nose on her face. In white paw mittens her hands rested on her hips. She looked sad and cute already with no outfit on. And she stood in my room in a towel, shamelessly eyeing my new brown dress with fringe. We knew what was coming. I said it first to get it over with — yeah, my dress would actually be perfect to dress up as a furry dog. Hell, go for it.

The holiday of Halloween combines two unassailable joys: dressing up and deceit. There is an opportunity for total deception if you have a convincing wig or cover your entire person. But in practice costumes are usually only an extension of what any person normally looks like or dresses like. With the exception of Heidi Klum, who actually made herself into an eight-foot-tall red lacquer robot for her famous annual Halloween party, costumes are just your clothes on drugs. Or my clothes apparently. Which might already be on drugs. Hm. I’ll say I’ve accepted this affinity of mine for excess and juxtaposition.

Perhaps it runs in my family. I got a very stressed phone call from my cousin before Halloween. She needed a costume and was dead-set on being a vampire. She is eight. So she was also dead-set on being a penguin. Thus the birth of a new costume genre, the Vampire-Penguin. She told me it waddles slowly and then bites you, which is actually very frightening in its own way. Layers of white fur and black chiffon spattered with blood made up her unique costume for the school parade. Back at Cornell, there is a lack of such absurdist creativity.

Costumes can basically be divided into sexy [blank] for girls and superheroes for guys. How sad that our fantasies are limited to subverted masculine professions (see sexy cops, sailors), cute animals (sexy cat and mouse) and people who are, in fact, already widely viewed as sexy (see Lady Gaga). A basic decision has to be made for girls’ costumes — look good, or be something non-anthropomorphic. The latter category can be a lot more fun if done well. Among the best I saw were a golden snitch (wear a large beach ball), a figment of the imagination (use holographic fabric) and a sea anemone (be see-thru as best you can).

Halloween is of course followed by All Soul’s Day, a Christian holiday for remembering the dead. Certain traditions, including Dia de los Muertos in Mexico, involve dressing up as dead ancestors and celebrating life with them. Strangely enough, I feel an affinity to this tradition because of my crazier clothing. A few years ago my aunt passed away after a life as a jeweler and aesthete with a great wardrobe. She gave me a lot of her clothes from snakeskin boots to gold harem pants and these were some of the crazier clothes lent out for Halloween. She would enjoy being celebrated like this, to keep prying at the edges of complacent normalcy with the blade of a sequin, be it every day or Halloween.

Original Author: Amelia Brown