Do today’s Halloween costumes make you feel inadequate?

The scene in Shandon. Or ONE of the many scenes in Shandon…

How was your Halloween? Mine was nice. Went trick-or-treating with my grandchildren in Shandon, and they had a good time, and the weather was nice. My wife stayed at home and tended the door, which made me feel guilty, of course…

And then I came home and watched the Rangers whip up on the underserving Diamondbacks in Game 4. A perfect cap to the evening. I had worried about having missed the first half of the game, but then I saw that the boys from Texas were ahead 10-1. I’m so proud of them that they don’t need me to actually be watching.

But I was thinking about costumes, and how they’ve changed over time. While walking about with my son and daughter-in-law, I bored them with my thoughts on the matter. So why should y’all escape their fates?

On my way into Shandon, I saw something I hadn’t seen before, and was impressed — a kid, probably 8 or 9 years old, in an astronaut costume. It was obviously store-bought, and quite nice. All plastic, but the look was good. It was an old-school suit, from the days when astronauts were heroes — white, with the (in this case soft, and I hope not airtight) helmet and everything. A real, miniature John Glenn. Or at least Gordon Cooper.

And it hit me that back in the day when all the boys that age might have wanted to dress as an astronaut (I was that kid’s age when Glenn went up), there were no nice-looking prefab astronaut costumes to be had. And such a thing was hard to improvise.

Back then, we usually did improvise, and the results were unimpressive. A pirate was a standard fallback for me (which means I was pleased that one of my granddaughters chose that approach last night). Of course, we weren’t looking to win prizes; we were out for candy. We were a mercenary lot.

You could buy prefab costumes back then, but they were all pretty inadequate. When I was about four or five, I was excited that my mother let me get an official Bugs Bunny costume from a store. When I got it out and put it on, I was deeply disappointed. You know, one of those nylon things that covered the front of your body and tied with a string at the neck. And some rabbit ears for my head. I think the body-length covering said “Bugs Bunny” on it — like the real Bugs would wear a sign with his name on it. I knew I would fool no one. I had practiced my “What’s up, Doc?” in vain.

After that, I made my own. But I was never terribly creative. Kids today are way more creative. The granddaughter who went with “pirate” this time went as her ancestress Elspeth, the confessed witch in 17th-century Scotland. It took some explaining, but what a great concept! Her twin sister went as her own mother. At that time, my attorney daughter was a lobbyist. That took some explaining, too. But that was great — they spent time talking about people who meant something to them. And when one of them turned to “pirate” this time, it was much nicer than any pirate costume I ever put together.

My youngest granddaughter kind of blew everybody away by dressing as Walter White from “Breaking Bad” — complete with a bald cap that she got from a Halloween store (harrumph; we didn’t have such stores in my day). But the rest she did herself, and it was great.

As I say, they’re more creative. But even the kids who are NOT creative had way more options for going out and buying costumes that are worth the effort — like the astronaut kid.

I was reminded this morning of how bad we were back in the day, when “Ron Ziegler” posted a couple of pictures on the @dick_nixon Twitter feed. (I’m a big fan of that feed.) They showed the president greeting trick-or-treaters. And the costumes looked like what I might have devised — pretty lame, although they seem to be having fun:

Of course, Nixon dressed as himself, and it was pretty effective. Very scary. And nice try, bloody kid. Oh, and probably the best of those was the pirate — as I’ve suggested, it can be a good choice.

Anyway, I just wondered whether y’all notice the same things these days: Costumes that make you look back on your childhood and feel inadequate.

If so, perhaps you make up for it by being creative in your household decorations nowadays. Like some of those folks in Shandon…

Yes, those are skeletons riding pink flamingoes.
Here’s a closeup…




9 thoughts on “Do today’s Halloween costumes make you feel inadequate?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Of course, some of you are young enough that maybe there were “Halloween stores” when you were a kid. Or even Amazon!

    Well, good for you, Mr. Fancy Pants! In MY day, we made do with a bloody sheet, or a red bandanna tied around our heads, and we LIKED it!…

  2. Dave Crockett

    My mom handmade a devil costume for me when I was about five…and I wore it for several seasons until it was WAY too small. After that, my folks sprang for a store-bought set of Marine Corps blues which I outgrew faster than the devil. After that, I fell back on the old sheet with eyeholes before I gave up Trick or Treat when I was around 12.

    With my white hair and goatee, I went to a halloween party several years ago in a white shirt and shorts, with a home-fashioned short black tie and dark, black-framed glasses. Just to make sure that everyone ‘got it’, I wore a nametag proclaiming “Sanders” and said I was the Colonel on vacation.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Those sound great! I wish I’d known there were Dress Blues costumes when I was a kid!

      Since you mentioned costumes you’ve worn as an adult, it reminds me of some of my faves from when we used to have those huge annual newsroom Halloween parties at The Jackson (Tenn.) Sun.

      A top five:

      1. Ernest T. Bass — At that time, before we got to the Golden Age of TV, Andy Griffith was pretty much my favorite show ever, and Ernest T. possibly my favorite character. I had more fun with this one than anything: Baseball cap, long underwear shirt, vest over it, a bit of a beard stubble, my hand holding a pillow case full of rocks. I was in character all night — walking around kind of stooped over and cackling madly. One of my best friends at the paper was a woman whose name was Wylie, so I kept saying, “How-do-you-do Mizzus Wy-LEE?” You know, like this. I also frequently picked up women at the party — physically, not seductively — so I could say, “See? Ah’m REAL STRAWNG!” I’m kind of a method actor. My wife’s character was way more original, though — tight skirt and lots of makeup. She was one of the Fun Girls from Mt. Pilot.
      2. The Right Stuff — This was about the time the movie came out. I got a couple of flight suits from an Army surplus store and borrowed a motorcycle helmet, and I went as Alan Shepard and my wife as Sally Ride. I may have a picture of that, but not the others. (Before I release it, though, I’ll have to get permission from Sally.) No space suits; but I figure astronauts, over time, wear flight suits more than space suits. Especially Shepard, being a Naval aviator. And there are lots of pictures out there of Sally in a flight suit. I was really, really into Wolfe’s book AND the movie. John Glenn, who was running for president at the time, was my hero, but I figured I had a better chance of passing for Shepard. Anyway, Shepard was first (after the Russians) — as was Sally.
      3. Fidel Castro — This one was topical. This was 1982, and Robin Beard was making national news by using negative ads attacking our incumbent Senator from Tennessee, Jim Sasser. This was a novelty back then, before things got really nasty. He was accusing Sasser of somehow having voted for some funding that had gone to Cuba, and he had an actor made up as Castro lighting a Cuban cigar with American money, and saying “Gracias, Señor Sasser!” to the camera. I had a full beard at the time, so I got an old Army solid-green shirt and a baseball-style matching cap. I couldn’t find the 1950s Ridgeway Army cap that Fidel wore, but people got it. Especially since I had a cigar between my teeth and a handful of fake money in my hand. If anyone seemed to wonder, I would light up a bill, hold it toward the cigar, give a grin and say, “Gracias, Señor Sasser!
      4. Apocalypse Now — I don’t think my wife went to this one, which was a little earlier, closer to when Coppola’s picture came out. Anyway, Capt. Willard was something of a loner. I had my hair slicked back and my face thoroughly covered in camo makeup — like this. It wasn’t quite perfect, though. If only I’d had a tank of water, misting at the top, to rise out of. That would have made it perfect. You might have noticed that for me, a big part of the costume is the performance. It’s not just the way you look; it’s what you do.
      5. Cowboy and Indian — Back to couples concepts. This one was pretty simple, but I think it looked good. I, who had spent so much of my childhood wearing cowboy guns, was the cowboy, of course. My wife was the Indian. We pretty much embodied all the cliches of the Western movie canon. Other than that, not much to say, except I’m pretty sure this was the year we all trekked over to the Lambuth campus to participate in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” That was pretty epic.

      Don’t worry. We’ve outgrown all that now. We were all a young crowd in those days in Jackson…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yes, and that’s such a shame. She looks like such a baby in all the pictures you see when you Google her. Of course, she was a couple of years older than I am, but it wasn’t old age. It was pancreatic cancer. Horrible.

          Of course, I was thinking of MY “Sally,” who survived stage 4 breast cancer in 2001, thank God for the miracle!


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