I’ve been thinking about Halloween a lot lately, and this year I have been a bit stumped about what to wear.
When I was little, my idea of the perfect costume was simple. I usually went as some variation on a witch. One year I even went as a baby witch: I wore a witch’s dress and hat and carried around an absurdly large plastic baby bottle that I must have found at Party City or the like.
Growing up, I also had grandiose visions of dressing like the Little Mermaid. I idolized Ariel, believing her to be the prettiest girl in the world—before I realized cartoons weren’t real. My mother shot down the costume idea a few years in a row because it was too cold outside for me to walk around in an elementary school Halloween parade in seashells and fake fins—even if I was wearing a big coat over the ensemble.
My mother somehow convinced me to dress as a pumpkin one year instead. The big orange felt costume over a turtleneck and leggings were warm, but not quite the same—not to mention, I had a felt stem on my head. And yes, this was back in the 1990s when leggings were an acceptable staple in a young girl’s closet. They are coming back though…
I also tried to think back to my days of innocence—around preschool—when my concept of dress-up wouldn’t have been influenced by television’s marketing of Halloween or by Walt Disney. But, I realized, perhaps, I was always influenced by pop culture in some way. When I was little, I had teenage sisters who took pleasure in dressing me like Madonna with red lipstick, a lace glove and strands and strands of beads.
However, around preschool age, I also recalled the thrill of dressing up for Purim—the only “Halloween” truly sanctioned for Jews.
Every Purim my family would attend services to hear the Megillah reading and the younger children and the adults in the congregation would get decked out in elaborate costumes. I made an annual appearance in my mother’s version of an Esther costume, which altogether made me look like a gypsy. I wore a long skirt and a scarf around my hair that was adorned with sequins and beads. I loved that costume because it was so colorful and because I got to wear my mother’s clothes and lipstick.
I found myself in a moral conundrum when I stopped and thought about the Purim story. Here, I had been looking back upon my Esther days fondly. But in reality, Esther was very much a slave to her own good looks. Ultimately, however, she used it to her advantage to help save the Jewish people from annihilation.
The common thread of these costumes was that I loved any opportunity to dress up and look older, more mature.
My desire to look older got warped when I went to college, however, and I think it’s happening for young women earlier these days. Any Lifetime made-for-TV-movie will tell you that.
I got sucked into a Halloween culture at UW-Madison that deemed any sexy version of an everyday person, such as a cop or teacher, as top notch. It’s hard not to get sucked into this cultural norm while attending college—particularly at Madison, where the celebration is likened to Mardis Gras.
But, while living my post-collegiate life in Chicago, that pressure lives on.
I’m a few years out of college now and I’m not only starting to feel older, but also a bit wiser. I was joking with a friend recently that even my everyday wardrobe is a bit tamer than it was in college. I think that my desire to “grow up” has finally taken hold in a real way.
Perhaps, I’ve even come full circle from my youth. Now in my mid-20s, I’m already worrying about getting old.
As Halloween approaches, I am no longer contemplating what over-priced sexy garb I could find at one of those temporary Halloween warehouses. Instead, I’ve been thinking about what might actually feel comfortable and attractive.
This year, I’ve decided to dress up as an old-time journalist. The decade may be off, but I’ve decided, essentially, to be myself.