Everyone has a shtick, and for some reason, part of famous sports broadcaster Jim Rome’s was, at least at one point, hating on Halloween — specifically people over age 10 who wear costumes.
“Not to kill anybody’s buzz, but I’ve done this every single year. Memo to adults,” he said on a 2008 broadcast, “Halloween is for kids. Young kids. It’s not your holiday.”
Uh, yeah it is!
Rome’s not the only person with a dim view of folks like me, grownups who eagerly plan their costumes each year with the same rigid detail and precision with which some brides plan their weddings. Fortunately, we’re having too much fun to care.
“We don’t think that here,” says Harriet Berlin, who for 42 years has run Towson’s Artistic Costumes & Dance Fashions Inc. “We do have a children’s section, but we find that it’s an adult holiday.”
Is it ever! The National Retail Foundation predicted that adults will spend a delightfully frightening $1.7 billion on Halloween costumes for themselves this year, even more than the $1.3 billion projected to be spent on kid’s costumes. This year’s projected Halloween haul for adult costumes, according to NRF, is back to pre-pandemic highs.
“I think it reminds people a little of childhood,” says Berlin, who has gotten a lot of requests for “Bridgerton”-themed Regency costumes — thanks to the popular Netflix series — flapper outfits and the witches of “Hocus Pocus” costumes, perhaps because of the recent Disney+ sequel. “It’s a special evening. People enjoy getting out of character.”
Abby Walker, who used to live in Baltimore City but now lives in Catonsville, had a pre-pandemic tradition of showing up at the annual Maryland Science Center Halloween party and absolutely killing it. Among her most jaw-dropping creations: Edward Scissorhands, a Vermeer painting and a pop art poster. They’re very meticulous, and I’m very jealous.
“Definitely, there are people who make negative comments about adults liking Halloween, knowing I am one of those adults. Very backhanded. It reminds me of the way some people like to hate on ‘Disney adults,’” she said. “To me, if something brings you joy in a world that can at times seem joyless, and zero people are harmed by it, then what’s the issue? It’s a net positive. Let people enjoy things.”
A 2021 story on the site Big Think wondered if the uptick was about the millennial aversion to growing up, or the booze-related aspect of Halloween parties and pub crawls. And maybe that’s true for some, given the existence of Sexy Nurse, Sexy Priest and Sexy Care Bear costumes.
I queried people on Facebook about their reasons for dressing up, with and without their kids, and was virtually pelted with photos of gloriously silly getups, from bananas to Jedis to Tippi Hedren in “The Birds” to those green glitchy creepers from Minecraft. And they mostly said it was about the fun of stepping into someone else’s pointy shoes. But never their skin, because blackface is wrong and you don’t look any more like Beyoncé with shoe polish on your face. Just wear a wig. Don’t be weird.
“It’s an opportunity to display a different side of your personality or become someone else entirely, sans judgment,” explained Paige Lehr of St. Mary’s County, who won a 2018 office Halloween costume contest with friend Brandi Maloney as, respectively, The Big Bad Wolf and Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. “Also, candy corn.”
I do love candy corn, and those little waxy orange pumpkins that get stuck in your teeth. I love being able to indulge in a spectacle, in a big shameless flourish, and spending time, creativity and money on something that’s just for me. As a pop culture writer and fanatic, my costumes are almost always celebrities like Diana Ross and Molly Ringwald or characters like Shuri from “Black Panther” or “The Avengers’” Black Widow. I wore that one the year before my book, of the same name, was released, paired with my son, who was Black Widow’s best friend, Hawkeye.
Family togetherness and product placement? Yes!
I used to go all-out before I became a parent, but it’s stepped up into craziness since. Not only do I love dressing myself up, but before he was old enough to have an opinion, I used to put that poor baby in so many gloriously dumb outfits, like Baby Prince at two — complete with eyeliner mustache — and tiny Darius Rucker with a red baseball cap, guitar and stubble. He will not let me pick his costumes anymore — tragic sigh — but he seems tickled by my weirdness as long as I walk ahead of him when we trick or treat. And the Black Widow/Hawkeye thing was his idea. No matter what he says.
Halloween is like a game to top myself every year, and it’s my thing. Everyone has a thing. Some people have the Renaissance Faire. My late husband spent hundreds on Ravens jerseys. Me and my red Molly Ringwald wig, my faux-leather Joan Jett jacket and black wig and my Diana Ross cape and curly wig aren’t hurting anybody. I didn’t ask you to pitch in for wig and cape money.
My friend Nikki Lewis, a Baltimore Polytechnic Institute graduate who grew up in Baltimore and now lives in Austin, Texas with her husband Sam, also a Poly grad, says her love of clever dress-up compares to the feeling she’s had when she’s done theater. “There is safety behind the mask and makeup,” she says. A few of her all-time favorites are fierce, zombie hunter Michonne Grimes from “The Walking Dead” and “The Avengers” boss Nick Fury, “or Nikki Fury.” (See? Clever!)
Perhaps my favorite photo costume find was Susie Reed-McCullough of Greenbelt, who in 2020 went as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, complete with crossbow. For her it was extra fun to wear a pop culture classic like Buffy “that has a cult following, to have someone recognize your costume and bond over the shared interest.”
Being Buffy did more than give her an excuse to wear a crossbow. Her husband Jesse, a Prince George’s County firefighter, died of cancer in 2018. “My anniversary is two days after Halloween and I really wanted to have a reason to wear my wedding dress again. Because my husband had already died, it felt like an overwhelmingly sad thing to do unless I did it in a really fun way. And I did! I really had fun with it.”
See? You have no idea why that Wookie is in front of you at Walmart or why Black Panther is getting fries in the drive-thru. Maybe there’s a meaningful story. Maybe they just felt like it. There shouldn’t have to be a reason to not safely — and, again, without blackface, redface, brownface, yellowface, whiteface or any face in a skin color that’s not yours — escape into the magic of masquerade once in a while.
And if you don’t agree, that’s fine. I’d doff my wig to you, but this thing is on tight and I’m not taking it off.