Halloween Costumes 1: Fake It ‘Til You Make It. Or Possibly, Just Keep Faking.

It’s costume time again, which means another opportunity for parents everywhere to question their worthiness as parents, consumers, and human beings. Or is this just me? I started out planning one costume post, and I realized that I actually have two distinct costume issues. The first is about the treasured tradition of making Halloween costumes. And how I don’t do it.

I grew up making my own costumes, at least from about 2nd grade on. My parents might help or buy an accessory if I asked, but the costume concept, design, and execution were primarily my job. Just like when I was little, my friends and I would play outside while my parents did whatever important, grown-up stuff that grown-ups did, the whole costume thing was a kid’s job. And that means that you didn’t buy a costume. You’d root around in the basement and the back of closets to find a bunch of accessories (gypsy or baby), you came up with a grand concept that required craftiness and resources (like my paper maché Miss Piggy head and my big sister’s former prom dress), or you came up with an idea based on  scavenged materials (like when I was trash because the bottom of our metal can rusted out).

Because that’s the way I grew up, I feel like that’s the way Halloween ought to be. But these days, all the grown-ups are driving their kids to scheduled activities and tutoring them on homework instead of sending them outside until dinner, and most of us just buy the dang costumes. And you know what? I feel guilty about it. Every year our school has a parade, and a few kids will have fabulously creative homemade costumes, and the fact that my children are not among them is something that I consider to be a personal parenting fail. But here’s the thing: they have no interest in crafting up a costume. They would rather just have me buy something. And who can blame them? They have been raised by their mother.

By high school we had a neighbor with a cache of costumes, and I loved borrowing hers. In college most people would dress up, and I came up with costumes that required the bare minimum of creativity while still showing that I was sporting enough to participate in the whole costume process. One year I was a prospective student, and my entire costume consisted of wearing make-up and copious hairspray while carrying a purse. Another year I taped art postcards to a white t-shirt to “transform” myself into a museum. Whatever childhood enthusiasm I had had about creating costumes waned swiftly, and little, if any, has been communicated to my children.

So the other week, my publisher Debra Ross confessed in a newsletter that she was a little sad that her daughter wanted no help with crafting an elaborate costume this year: she was creating something splendid out of duct tape all by herself. My immediate reaction was, man, I suck. She made fabulous costumes as a creative and bonding experience with her children, and now they are ready to craft without her (well, the 13-year-old is too cool to dress up this year, and I’ll concede: that is sad).

Cute W also feels that, in theory, crafting should be a part of Halloween. He’s made super-awesome crafty costumes in the past that have brought him much joy, and occasionally he’ll get the girls involved in a costume-related project, like the year he and M made a paper maché torch for her Statue of Liberty costume. But we’re often so busy in September and October that it’s tough enough to get the pumpkins carved, much less worry about costumes. Besides, he’s not going to force them into crafting.

Even though I don’t really love making costumes, I would like to be the type of person who loves making costumes. And even though I’m a parent who doesn’t love making costumes, I would like to be the kind of parent who loves making costumes. In fact, looking back, I was trying to determine when I shifted from being a mother who aspired to create crafty costumes to a mother who just said, screw it, let’s buy something.

I checked back for a little history.

2002: My first Halloween as a mother, I had 4-month-old M, and I bought her a little witch hat and I made her a tiny, adorable witch’s broom. I used a twig and some raffia. I was so proud of it. [I couldn’t find a single photograph of the baby, the hat, and the broom all together, although I could swear I had photos once.–UPDATE: found one!]


As a mother of a 4-month-old, I was crafty!

It didn’t last long.

2003: Come. Freaking. On.

When I can drop $20 and get an adorable costume that is warm and cozy that my toddler loves, I’m just going to do it. Seriously. Those baby costumes that you see everywhere are adorable. They’re irresistible, even for non-shoppers like me. I totally get a pass for 2003.

2004: M was almost 2 and a half, and she got it into her head that she had to be a penguin. Keep in mind that this is before the release of March of the Penguins or Happy Feet. We hadn’t even read that Steven Kellogg book yet. I don’t know where the idea came from, but in addition to being prescient, M knows her mind. The penguin thing had to happen. And it might have been a simple enough sewing job, except that I gave birth to J on October 1st. So I was coping with a new baby, sibling rivalry, etc. So, another pass for me.

Incidentally, J was dressed in a hand-me-down pumpkin costume and slept through the entire trick-or-treating process. I picked her up, sleeping, put her in the costume, strapped her into a carrier, walked the neighborhood, took her out of the carrier and the costume, and laid her back down and she missed the entire experience. I have photographs but, frankly? They’re not her most flattering shots.

2005: M is a princess and we have plenty of dress-up stuff. J gets the hand-me-down lion. This is more like Halloween the way it’s supposed to be. Oh, did you notice that M is sobbing? I believe that’s because some kid wearing a Scream mask scared the living crap out of her. She was traumatized and ended up bursting into tears every time the doorbell rang for the rest of the evening. Or wait, was that a previous year? Well, I don’t know. Probably she was sobbing because I had two pieces of candy and gave them each one and she was still mourning how in the Good Ol’ Days she always got all the candy and everything before J ruined her life. Or something like that. Poor little M, and poor sweet, oblivious J!

2006: And here’s where I call it. This is where I just threw in the towel. Because M saw this 50s-style dress and loved it. It was one of those polyester jobs and I could have made something better, but she loved it. Dude, I sewed a skirt in 7th-grade home ec class. I could have made us all matching poodle skirts. We could have been adorable. But I just wasn’t up for it. We found something 50s-ish for J, and she liked it, and we called it a day.

2007: Hello! M’s costume is at least assembled from disparate pieces, and I believe J’s broom is an encore of M’s petite version from 5 years believe, but I believe we can all see which way the wind’s blowing here.

2008: Yep, completely store-bought. But adorable. And now the kids don’t even want me to take a picture. Parenting-wise, I’ve lost significant ground, and they’re only 6 and 4 here.


So, you know, the kids are happy buying their costumes.

And I’m happy. Or, when I’m not lamenting the fact that I’m not a completely different person who revels in Halloween hot-glue-gunnery, I’m happy. It reminds me of the The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which I talked about in a previous post. Her first commandment is “Be Gretchen.” Actually, I was looking for something else she said, something like, “You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.” In other words, at various times I’ve wished that I could, say, appreciate Led Zeppelin or opera or The Cure, but the truth is that I just don’t. Sure, I could expend a great deal of energy to acquire a taste, but an easier path to happiness is just to embrace that I’m a girl who’d rather sing along with some chick whose lyrics I understand. So, I’m going to try to embrace my Halloween Costume self.

Hello, my name is Katie, and I’d just rather plunk down $25 to acquire a fully-formed costume. And that’s okay.

And my kids would rather just buy a costume, too. And that’s okay, too. Except that they have to pay the extra money. Because kids are supposed to be in charge of their own dang Halloween.

Next Up: Halloween Costumes 2: My Daughter, The Sexy Crayon



  1. Claire

    Wow Katie, you have really high standards. I never even entertained the idea of making costumes, since I don’t sew. I feel pretty good about myself if I come up with costumes that have some type of significance (for example, the year my son was Tigger Tiger and his favorite thing to do was bounce; I thought it was so fitting for his personality that I gave myself a big pat on the back).

  2. @Claire, I guess I thought most mothers had this guilt, but perhaps I’m perverse. Not sure which option would be more depressing. . . .

  3. Heather

    There are so many types of mothers that I wish I could be – but we just have to say screw it cause we don’t want to teach the kids that they have to measure up to some ideal standard that they have in their heads. It’s just better to be happy. But no Katie, you aren’t perverse.

  4. Erin T

    Katie, I have exactly the same guilt every Halloween. For me it is topped with feelings of inadequacy because I never had the homemade, creative costume and always wanted it. And now can’t even give that to my kids. The Albany Art Room’s existence always gave me inspiration and another, creative adult to serve as inspiration for my kids…

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