A Costume Designer’s Perspective on Halloween

In case you could not guess, I am a big fan of Halloween. Not because I can dress up, since I do that anyway (and at work it doesn’t matter, I still can’t.) It is because other people dress up, it’s like the one day that the population at large joins me in my world. It is special. This means that unfortunately I expect a lot of people. Looking online I see pictures of inspired, intricate costumes that took planning and dedication.

Last night and tonight I have been watching costumed guests pass through the lobby at the hotel. People put in time to get ready to go to their parties, they get all dressed up, they do their makeup, they do their hair. Some of them look pretty good. Sometimes they do themes for groups of friends. You know it’s a good day when a total stranger asks the only woman in the building who is not wearing any makeup how to apply pencil eyeliner.

That is what I want to see everywhere, and for some reason I am surprised every year when that is not what I see.  I know that for most people it’s just one night. They will throw something together at the last minute or buy something cheap off the shelves just to ‘get in the spirit’. This bothers me a little bit. It’s like they think that these cheap costumes that can only be worn once before they fall apart puts them in the same category, ‘people who dress up’. I find these cheap costumes insulting. When I make something I make it to last. Yes, to most people it’s just a costume,  but I value the time and effort. I value the care and dedication. People who wear these cheap costumes cheapen what I do. By using disposable costumes people tell me that what I do is worth no more than that.

More than that though, the problem that I have with these costumes is how sexist they have made this beautiful holiday. Women, and even girls, find that most of the costumes available are ‘sexy’ versions of something. Even the ‘original’ version is often unavailable. This makes it so that women have no other option than to try to be sexy. It is so pervasive today that even the homemade costumes usually lean this way. This year I have noticed several of these costumes with no more than underwear to cover the lower half!

Let me pause here to say that I have no problem with sexy costumes. I have no problem with women, or men, exposing their bodies. I do not believe that doing so inherently objectifies them. I do have a problem when a person’s sense of self-worth comes down to how others perceive them. I do have a problem with women being reduced to no more than their bodies. I do have a problem with having no choice but to dress provocatively. I do believe that this lack of choice objectifies people. They do not have a way to fully express themselves.

There is another problem that this revealing fad causes. Halloween falls during a time when it is getting colder outside. Girls are forced to choose between having the full effect of their costume or of staying warm. That is not healthy. Most girls grin and bear it. Most guys seem oblivious to it. Those that do take notice end up working for the girl, if they care. This means that women are put into a position of helplessness. They will wait inside while the boy goes to bring the car around, or she counts on his coat, or cape, or whatever.

Men, at least, have some choice in their costume type. But even that falls into certain categories, all of which are carefully chosen not to lose any semblance of masculinity. They can be funny, they can be scary, they can be sexy, or they can copy the original (as long as it is a manly thing). The other way that they can preserve their macho-ness is to not really dress up. I have seen many groups where the girls are done up all-out, while the guys just wear a t-shirt with a Velcro cape attached. Okay, I love those shirts, but I was honestly hoping that they would be an introduction to the everyday costume, not herald the end of dressing up.

On another, but related, note. I saw a costume of one of the monkeys, or whatever from The Bloodhound Gang video for The Bad Touch. I stopped myself from complimenting the reference because I realized what stereotype a woman who likes The Bloodhound Gang would fall into. I would instantly go from ‘responsible employee’ to ‘sex fiend’. I am a happily married woman, I like the music, and I find it funny.  If you listen to the music, it is all about sex, but it has never seemed to me to be necessarily about anything more than a guy who likes his girlfriend, which is fine. It is acceptable for a guy to make the reference, although the stereotype would probably lean towards ‘woman user’, since that is what most people think of the band. Unfortunately that stereotype is something that is acceptable, and even funny to most people.

Halloween symbolizes the best and worst of society. It brings out people’s creativity and individuality. But it also cements many popular trends. I am hopeful that I am wrong, and people do know the difference between a disposable costume and something that will last. I am hopeful that people will learn to escape the boxes that marketing and stereotypes have forced us into.

Happy Halloween everybody!

Chapter 13 (WIP) – Something’s Missing

That night Jessica was discharged from the hospital and was able to enjoy sleeping in her own bed. She was still avoiding being responsible, so she had not called her boss or the bank yet. She had not spoken to the police since they came to interview her in the hospital. She was of course curious about all of those things, but she was enjoying having a great excuse to escape the stress she had been under for so long. She knew it could not last forever and determined that she would resume being responsible in the morning.

In the meantime Jessica curled up on the bed surrounded with every pillow she owned. She felt a bit antsy, even excited, but she couldn’t really tell what it was about. She was enjoying the comfort so much that she was having a hard time sleeping and decided to read a book. She picked up the one on the top of her ‘someday’ stack, Gulliver’s Travels. She had hardly started the first page before her eyelids fell shut.

Soon Jessica was walking behind Rodney as they tried to find something for her to eat. After walking in silence for a few moments, Rodney slowed down and gestured to the right. Here we are. This place should have some ‘cheap’ food for you. When Jessica looked where he indicated, she saw a storefront. Out front were fruits and vegetables of all sorts. The sign over the door just said “GROCERY”, no brand, no logo. As they walked in Rodney took an apple from the bin and took a bite. Jessica was a little perplexed, but figured he knew the owner or something. Jessica directed herself towards a sign showing “Snacks”.

During the time they were in the store Jessica felt more relaxed than she normally did while shopping. She could not quite figure out why. Maybe the people around her were calmer. They certainly were, but was that what was making her experience so different? She felt that there was something missing. Something that normally made her a little tense. When she turned down the aisle for the snacks she saw a tremendous variety of beautifully packaged sweets, crackers, and other goodies. She was at a loss of what to choose. Normally she would just buy a candy bar and tell Rodney that would be the most help to her blood sugar levels. But here she was not sure what was what. Nothing had the familiar brand names she was used to. It all looked like it was packaged by hand, none of the bright gaudy attention grabbing slogans everywhere. However, each wrap was so perfect and so uniform that it had to have been done by machine.

Finally Jessica settled on a bundle of what looked like shortbread cookies with a raspberry cream in the center. They were wrapped in a sheer lavender light mesh done up with a light blue bow at the top. Once she took it, she told Rodney that was all she needed and looked to find the register.

“Is that all you want?” Rodney asked her.

“Yes, this should be plenty to get me back on track.” Jessica was realizing that she had no idea how much the cookies cost and was considering going back to check when she noticed that nothing on the shelves she was passing had prices. Rodney walked straight out the door, while Jessica hesitated inside. She could not see a cash register anywhere but did not know what the consequences were for stealing in Dallas.

Rodney turned around, “What’s the hold-up?”

Jessica could not think of an answer that did not make her sound like a loon, so she took a deep breath and stepped out of the store. She half expected Rodney to start running away from the store as fast as he could, but he just meandered to a bench right outside in the long park they had been walking through. Jessica followed and sat silently on the bench next to him. Jessica was catching on to something, and wanted to contemplate it for a few minutes before saying anything out loud.

After a few minutes of munching on his apple while Jessica nibbled distractedly at her cookies, Rodney said “You know, these apples are not as good as the ones that grow on this tree right here.”

Jessica turned up from staring at her hands and looked at the tree they were sitting underneath. She did not know her botany, but her grandparents had an apple tree when she was younger, and it looked similar. “What you just walk to school and grab a snack right off the tree?”

Rodney looked at her puzzled. “Yeah. Is that odd?”

Jessica turned away from him. “A little.” She paused to take a breath. “I’m not quite sure how to say this.” She slowed as she carefully chose the right words. “This place seems so real, when I am here. But– at home I know,” She paused as she turned to look at Rodney, “that it is all a dream.”

Rodney laughed out loud. Jessica was not sure what she was expecting him to do, but certainly not that. Rodney caught his breath enough to say, “I am glad that you are enjoying your time with me, but I would not think of myself as a dream. I’m normally not a hit with the ladies.”

Jessica went bright red. “No-that’s not what I– I mean you’re nice and all–but—-” Words failed her all at once.

“I knew that couldn’t be what you meant.” Jessica could not help but think he sounded a little disappointed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to–” Jessica trailed off a bit. “I mean a real dream, like right now I am lying in bed at home asleep, and this is all going on inside my head.”

Rodney looked her straight in the eyes to figure out if she was serious. “Well that is news to me, I have been living here for years. Is this some sort of brain in a vat philosophy thing?”

“No really, but if you want to think of it that way, okay. In the real world I just got released from the hospital after a traumatizing robbery at the place where I work. I slept for several days because I have been working too much. The time that I met you at the diner was the first time I was ever in this town. Before the episode in the classroom earlier, I had never been there. The real reason I was acting weird and losing consciousness was because the doctors at the hospital were trying to wake me up.”

Rodney stared at Jessica for a moment as she braced herself for his response. “You are not kidding are you?”

“Nope.” I kind of wish I was. This seems like such a nice place.”

They both sat in silence for several minutes. Rodney staring straight ahead from his place on the bench, while Jessica tried to piece together everything that she was feeling.

Finally she broke the silence. “So I guess that explains how you think of money. To me it is the thing that brings the most stress in life. It only makes sense that in my dream world it wouldn’t exist. But just like most things in dreamland, a world without money could not really function.”

Rodney took several moments before he spoke. “I know that you believe this story you are telling me, but I can’t. This is my world. I really live here. I do not think that I am just a figment of your imagination. I don’t want to tell you that you are crazy, but that’s what it seems like to me.” Jessica’s heart broke. She knew that would be the result when she brought it up. She just thought that since it was just a dream it wouldn’t hurt so much. Rodney went on, “In this world, there is no money, and it does work. I would try to tell you how, but I don’t really understand the point of money, so I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

Jessica could see that Rodney was hurt by what she had said. “I wish I could know how you are feeling, I know this must be difficult to accept. Would it help if I told you about my world? If it won’t help I won’t do it. We can just go on like we never had this conversation.”

“But we did. I think that it might help me, but you will have to excuse me for thinking of that as your dream world, not this. Maybe we are really living in two separate worlds and when you sleep is when you come to visit.”

Jessica did not really think that was the way it worked, but if that would make Rodney feel better, she would go with it. “That’s okay. I think that in your position I would ask nothing less.” Jessica was a bit confused. From what she had been told about lucid dreaming, once you realized it was a dream, you could control everything in it. But maybe she just had to practice.

Chapter 14 – Worlds Collide

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CHAPTER 7 (WIP) – SELL SELL SELL

Jessica meandered through the mall, looking for nothing in particular. Everywhere sale signs beat down on her as she realized that ‘sale’ means nothing when you are broke. No matter how much off, if you have no money, it is still prohibitively expensive. About this point Jessica realized how dumb it was to come to the mall when she had no money. This was a place where everything had a cost, and without money even walking was not fun.

Jessica walked into a small deli and grocery. The smells of food that was not ramen tempted her taste buds. She paced up and down the aisles as the signs that said “Sale!”, “Buy 2 get one Free!”, “40% off!” seemed to push her down. She was hearing them in her own head. “Sell!” “Discount!” “Value!” It all made Jessica feel ill.

The deli connected to a hospital wing, where Jessica went to the desk and told them she was not feeling well. The lady at the desk asked for an ID and insurance card. When Jessica provided these, the lady did not even look at them before proclaiming that this hospital was too good for that insurance, and told Jessica that if she could not pay for care herself she would be escorted off the grounds, ill or not. Jessica turned to the door and decided to go to a park to clear her head. When she got outside, Jessica found the park very relaxing. At least for a little while she could escape the money grubbing and the constant marketing.

As soon as this thought occurred to her, Jessica realized that the sounds still echoed in her head, “Online Reputation.” “Social Media Marketing.” “Page Rankings”. As she shook her head to get rid of the voices she noticed that the grass was made of paper money and all of it with a picture of Franklin. She jumped to her feet and plucked as much as she could get her hands on. Soon she was surrounded by others doing the same thing.

Jessica filled her arms with the bills and headed for the exit before people stole them from her. At the edge of the park a man in a suit directed her to deposit her armload into a chute. When she shook her head he told her that she would be taken to prison for theft if she did not let go of her spoils. As she did, the man in the suit put on a visor and punched a few numbers into a calculator. He handed her a small slip of paper as he said “15 minutes plus commission, your pay for this morning is $5. Thank you. This field in worthless now, tomorrow we hope to see you at Downtown Park for the next reaping.”

Jessica left the park confused and dazed. She felt the check slip from her hand and dropped down to retrieve it. Suddenly mud splashed into her face. At first she thought she must have done it when she landed, but after wiping her eyes she saw black dress shoes with mud on the toes. As she looked up she saw a man in a black suit and black sunglasses holding her check. He looked at it, reached to his right and handed her three dollar bills. “Uncle Sam needs to keep you safe” was all he said before walking away, leaving Jessica in the mud with nothing but $3.

As she looked across the now desolate field, she saw people putting up tents while the suits talked about selling mineral rights while people still saw value in it and how to convince workers that collecting as much as possible as quickly as possible was in the worker’s own self-interest.

Jessica thought that no matter how rich she was she would never treat people like slaves. A voice behind her began to speak. “You have to spend money to make money.” Jessica spun around to find that no-one was there. “Money fuels the American Dream.” Jessica frantically looked for the source of the words.  “Putting down your own money shows commitment.”

Everything became a blur as Jessica called out, “But how do I show commitment when I am broke?”

Jessica ran toward the voice, “We will tell you how much is enough commitment.” responded the voice of the bank. Jessica stopped running. If she emptied all of her accounts and committed to survival based on the investment, wouldn’t that show more commitment than the richest man alive buying it outright?

Jessica found herself alone in a sea of black. She had only her three dollars to keep her company as she suffocated from the lack of air in this space. How would she ever escape this well of poverty when in order to grow she needed wealth?

Jessica found herself gasping for air as she awoke to hear Kenzie’s training videos, “Sell, Sell, Sell!” “Motivate!” “Upsell!”

Chapter 8 – Collateral Damage

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