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Costume Conundrum

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Halloween may seem like just one day a year, but for children and many of its grown-up fans, the holiday’s spirit runs through much of the calendar. In my house the discussion of what to be for Halloween is never closed—that is, until the costumes for this year have been bought, borrowed or somehow cobbled together.

So many key elements make up Halloween: decorations, costumes, pumpkins, parties and the candy, of course. For kids, however, costumes rank right up there with the free candy. It makes sense, doesn’t it? We’re always asking kids: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” On Halloween they get to try it out and they get to be who they really want to be: Superman, not a doctor; Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, not a real astronaut; or a princess, just like Cinderella or Tiana.

I asked my kids for their costume advice. My 10-year-old son offers: “It should be something scary and gory and bloody. Well, maybe not for the little kids. They should probably try to look cute.” If only it were that easy. My daughter says, “Pick something you like,” which probably means not just what your mom wants.

Three-year-old Zoe Seppi of Oswego will be wearing the same costume as last year. “She asks all the time to wear her butterfly costume, so she’ll wear it again,” says her mother, Lisa Seppi.

My children’s costumes began before they were born: We received an adorable and warm cat costume as a baby shower gift from a couple with four cats. At 8 months, my son wore it to the day-care party on Oct. 31, sat for photos with the other kids, and then spit up all over it. The wonderful day-care provider washed and dried it for us so he could wear it that night as he helped us give out candy to the seven children who rang our doorbell. Maybe those early-years costumes are more for us? (We deserve it.)

The next year I learned that resale shops are some of the best places to look for Halloween costumes. I splurged and spent $10 for another cat costume (New With Tags, as they say on eBay) from the resale shop. This one was white with a pink belly and the most irresistible button on the chest. When you pushed it, it meowed. My then-6-month-old daughter didn’t mind it, and my son and I loved it. I say “splurged” because we already had a costume for her. One of my sisters sent an adorable duck costume. The photo from a moms-and-children group gathering on Halloween of my daughter in that duck costume, sitting in my lap, is still one of our family favorites. At night, she wore the cat costume.

Where are those costumes now? Well, a few went back to the resale shop and even more moved out and into someone else’s house. Hand-me-down or hand-me-over costumes are the best kind in my book. Someone else has tried them and loved them, and now it’s another child’s turn. My mother-in-law picked up a gorgeous peach Colonial-style gown for $6 at a church sale several years ago.

Unfortunately, it was a bit small for my daughter. But it’s been shared by several other women’s granddaughters at her church. It inspired my mother-in-law to sew two other Colonial dresses, one in pink and one in yellow, for my Annie. She picked out a parasol at the costume shop to accessorize and wore them each like the belle of the ball. Now the yellow one is boxed up to mail to Grandma, who has a few other girls in mind.

I have attempted to make few costumes over the years. I still remember my bag of M&Ms in my 20s. I wore bright green tights (for my favorite color M&M) under a black garbage bag with holes cut out for my head and arms. I taped a huge M&M cutout on the bag and was off. My kids groan at the sound of it, but the Spock I met at the party liked it.

Since cutting holes in a garbage bag is the extent of my sewing ability, I suppose that’s why I let my children buy costumes these days. They pore over the costume catalog that comes in the mail each year. They beg to visit the big costume shops in the area. And then they beg to buy.

Three problems with buying a costume: the money. The sizing. And the sluttiness. I realize college students may want to dress up like a “French maid” on Halloween, but that’s not appropriate for my elementary-school-aged daughter. Unfortunately, the Halloween shops and catalogs appear to disagree and are filled with mini-skirted, tight-fitting, low-cut black and red lace dresses for our girls.

One of my main challenges is to steer my daughter away from those and toward something “more appropriate” without her knowing that’s what’s going on. (I have explained, but you know how it is.) Luckily last year, she found a black lace dress that was full length! It had long, flowing sleeves. I believe it was called “vampiress.” A bit Goth for me, but hey, it resembled a princess gown. The store allowed costumes to be removed from the bags so we could tell that it fit. And it was only $25.

I set a costume-price limit each year and make the kids stick to it. I think they somehow know that a $50 costume or more really doesn’t make sense in today’s world—or at least in our home. Last year’s limit was $25 each and they both reached it, including accessories for my son’s grim reaper. The year before my son’s costume was on the sale rack and came in way under budget, much to my relief.

With inflation, I considered raising the cap to $30 each this year. Then the catalog arrived with a $10-off coupon. So we’re staying at $25, thank goodness. My daughter asked my thoughts on a choice between a Jetsons costume and something black, short and too old for her. I said, “I love The Jetsons show! What do you think?” She replied, “Do you think I should get the pink or the blue Jetsons costume?” Then she read the description and the Jane Jetson dress comes in purple. Whew. That sealed the deal. And we avoided the Victoria’s Secret-model look-alike contest for another year.

We still have to figure out the size, though. Note whether the costume is sized for children or adults, and costumes usually run small. When the bag says “For children 6-8,” does that mean age 6 or size 6? And will the costume fit over a sweat shirt or even a jacket depending on the weather? So trying on a costume or being able to return a costume that doesn’t fit is necessary.

You might recognize my son at your door on Halloween. He’ll be the kid in black with fake blood dripping off his costume and some eerie sounds emanating from his candy bag. We both think that is age-appropriate for a 10-year-old—and he’d like a lot of candy, please.                                  

Eileen Gilligan, a mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York