I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Halloween.
Mostly, it’s been about love. I come from a long line of enthusiastic dresser-uppers. My grandmother, my mother and, now, my daughter and I were born with the fervent desire to be belles of the costume ball.
I’ll dress up at the drop of a witch’s hat, and not just on Halloween. Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s, Armistice Day — any reason, any season, I’m game to get my get-up on.
I’ve been a gypsy, a Jayhawk, Miss Piggy and Mrs. Loopner (“Saturday Night Live” 1978). I’ve gone as Martha Stewart and Paula Deen, Martha Washington and Pippi Longstocking. One of my more memorable roles was a roller derby queen in 1974 when I negotiated a flight of stairs to a rumpus room kegger — several times — without removing my skates. (That’s one of my rules: never break character.) As I recall, there were some nasty falls later that night. But, that’s what the helmet and kneepads were for.
Then, there was Halloween, 2008, when I layered on a puffy down vest and XXXL royal blue turtleneck, a partially bald wig, fake mustache, and pair of headphones. My husband, dressed in a KU windbreaker, followed me around all night, holding a battery pack tethered to my headset by a cord. “Mangino and The Wire” were a hit at the party. We left with the “Best Costume” prize — a lovely bottle of Fat Bastard Shiraz. (It’s the truth, I swear. That was actually the name of the wine.)
I can’t recall every one of my costumes through the years, but what I’ve never been is naughty. No naughty nurses, no naughty librarians or schoolgirls, and (God forbid!) no naughty nuns. No sexy devils, no pouty pirates, no animal prints or fishnet stockings, and, to my husband’s deep disappointment, no Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
Which leads me to another one of my rules: Ladies, if the birthdate on your driver’s license pre-dates 1965, your naughty days are over. Save it for the boudoir where it belongs, and where it’s dark. It’s a young girl’s world out there.
For all the fabulous costumes I’ve donned in the past, there were a few spectacular failures, which is where the hate comes into the picture.
October 2005, in the heat of the Kansas Creation-Evolution debates, my husband and I attended a party dressed as monkeys dressed as Adam and Eve. We thought we were hilarious, of course, but the joke just wasn’t obvious enough to the majority of partygoers. After two drinks and way too many explanations, we headed home, scratching our furry heads.
Then, there was the costume that probably never should have been.
My husband and I and a work friend were invited to a Halloween party in a barn south of town. This was a creative crowd fullo of artists, musicians and the like and we knew the outfits would be fabulous. The pressure was on.
After days of brainstorming, the idea was hatched: We would go as retro food icons, the faces that stared back at us from the pantries of our youth. It was genius! We’d win the prize, for sure!
Halloween night came. My husband — wearing emerald tights, tunic, booties and face paint — did a spot-on Jolly Green Giant. My office friend was a dead ringer for the Pillsbury Doughboy, complete with puffy white suit and comical big dot eyes.
And me? I was every baby boomer’s best friend at the breakfast table: Aunt Jemima, complete with kerchief, apron and — yes, I’m afraid so — black face.
“Could I have done without the make-up?” I asked myself in hindsight. Probably, but I’m a costume purist. Authenticity. It’s another one of my rules.
As we entered the party, I started getting a bad feeling and begged the giant and doughboy to stay by my side.
“The concept works much better as a threesome,” I pleaded. But, as people at parties tend to do, we eventually separated and I found myself, two hours later, standing at the bar alone, the target of disapproving stares from a pouty pirate and Mistress of the Dark in drag.
“Retro food icons. It … works … much better as a threesome,” I stammered, feeling politically incorrect, chagrined and, well, naughty.
I still love Halloween but, as seasons pass, I’ve learned it’s better to be safe than sorry.
This year, I think I’ll just go as a witch. Like Nancy Grace.