A Critical Roundup of Halloween Costumes

Halloween Costume shirt
We know. / via

Halloween Get-Up Prediction: This is just a guess, but the limb I’m going out on isn’t that long, I don’t think. Look for many revelers going about the streets and to parties this Halloween in Ebola medical protective gear. As I say, it’s just a guess.

I’m writing about this because a few days ago, climbing the steps out of Manhattan’s Columbus Circle subway stop, I passed a fellow coming down the stairs sporting a black T-shirt with a message on it in white letters: “This is my HALLOWEEN costume.” (The all-caps was his, not mine.) That’s what got me thinking about the holiday, which isn’t so official that banks and schools shutter and no mail is delivered. Yet, millions of Americans consider it the one holiday offering the most opportunity for fun. It also offers merchandisers a great revenue opening.

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So I thought I’d go see what’s available for All-Hallow’d-Eve celebrants to put on. I stopped first at my local supermarket, where I’d already noticed a few racks of wearable goods—something I’d never seen there before. I found out that the items on sale were placed by an outside supplier. (This was a confirming sign that more and more outlets are jumping on the Halloween bandwagon.) Packaged at $19.99 were any number of costumes, but I liked a kid’s Yoda ensemble best. Also on hand were color-make-up at $1.49 and some rather elegant peaked silk witch hats at $3.99. That’s not to say those seasonal chapeaus are anything out of the seasonal ordinary.


Then it was off to the local branch of an all-purpose emporium, where sizable space just inside the door was cleared for the impending loot (soon enough to be replaced by Christmas stuff). Among a group of $8.99 wigs, I couldn’t look away from a “Red Fairy Wig.” I also liked a “Rockin’ Zombie” mask. But my favorite attraction hung in a row of $24.99 costumes: “Backwoods Hunter.” This one comes complete with foot-long full beard that easily allows its wearer to say he’s part of the Duck Dynasty.

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What about Ricky’s? It’s the New York City aggregate that’s made great efforts to corner the Halloween market—and may have succeeded. To underscore the hegemony, they’re advertising in the subways by way of a brightly colored poster heralding “over 20,000 costumes.”

Not content to settle for my neighborhood Ricky’s, I decided to travel to a much larger pop-up shop on Brooklyn’s busy Smith Street and was glad I did. I’m certain I would have found the same inventory in most of the shops, like the “Nun’s Kit” with wooden beads, the Saturday Night Fever retrospective apparel and the more up-to-date Breaking Bad duds that conjure Bryan Cranston in his later Walter White phase.

What delighted me most, though, was a severed ghoul’s head. I was looking at it when a salesperson materialized and pointed out that the item wasn’t a mask but meant to be hung (if not hanged). I expressed dismay, to which she added, “Of course, you could attach it to your shoulder as a second head.” What a great idea, I thought, and told her so. Far as I was concerned, she set a fine example of creative salesmanship.

Speaking of masks, I was interested in what kind I might turn up. At the pop-up shop I favored a Scream mask that looked like a distillation of Edvard Munch’s iconic painting. It was only one of a profuse line that might appeal to the crowds scouring Ricky’s for ideas.

The realism is eerie. / via
The realism is eerie. / via

There was one type of mask I wanted to scope out that I didn’t find at Ricky’s or elsewhere in my on-foot search. I was surprised I couldn’t locate it: the famous person mask. I figured, wrongly, that stores would carry Barack Obama masks and the like. But to locate them I had to shop on-line, and even then I found the pickings thin. Yes, there are sites where a long, if not full, line of Presidents masks, past and present, are available. They include JFK, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Given the low approval rating of the incumbent President, I’m speculating that Obama masks won’t sell heavily this year. Incidentally, the Michelle Obama mask is sold out on one website I visited, but the Jackie Kennedy (Onassis) wig is still in stock. Sarah Palin and Bill and Hilary Clinton masks are also obtainable.

Nowhere to be found (where I looked), however, were pop celebrities. I got it in my head (but not on my head) that maybe I’d find a little Prince George mask or a Jessica Lange mask or a George Clooney mask. No go, though a Chucky mask exists, and the pop-up Phantom of the Opera store in Manhattan’s Paramount Hotel will be auctioning off masks designed by “phans” of the show as part of a just-ended competition.

When Clooney came to mind, I started thinking about matching masks for couples. Might some jovial pairs doll up as George and Amal this Halloween? How about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate)? Jay-Z and Beyoncé? Kanye West and Kim Kardashian? Okay, the last two are already parodies of themselves.

I should note that the annual Halloween parade in Manhattan passes through my neck of the scary woods. It’s unlikely anyone marching with that gang of marauders would be seen in store-bought rig. They might have purchased the odd (or oddest) item to put with other pieces, but they wouldn’t be caught dead in something someone else could have snagged.

On the other hand, they could very well be passing as something dead. But that’s a whole ‘nother Halloween story.