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November 15, 2017

Costuming: a group project and a family tradition

(Courtesy of Jackson Cote)

The hunt always started in the summer, at least six months before the date that I anticipated all year with uttermost glee: Oct. 31, an occasion for consuming endless sweets, dressing up with friends and experiencing late-night tooth aches. But in my eyes, Halloween was not a day centered around stuffing as much candy into a pillow case as possible. Rather, it was an event that required intense preparation. I was Cinderella, and Halloween was my midnight ball, and mom and dad: my band of merry mice, helping me craft the most suitable gown for the occasion.

My methods were ridiculous, but mom and dad went along with me—and jovially so! For who can deny a little tyke the wonders of searching for an alter ego, a single outfit that can transform a small child into the persona of their dreams?

For me, this dream persona took many shapes and sizes. I assumed the identities of superheroes, of Star Wars Jedi, of Buzz Lightyear, of a red ninja and a red Rower Ranger (too much red in hindsight), of a pumpkin, of Robin Hood, of a pirate—the list goes on. Throughout it all my identities evolved, from the cutesy vegetable and animal costumes my parents forced me into as a toddler, to the heroic protectors I sought to emulate as a boy (and whose armor hurt my parents’ purse), to the more creative costumes that I crafted in my adolescence. Almost always, I had at least three costumes on the back-burner, just in case I had any last-minute doubts, as my indecision had no limits.

Bottom line: every Halloween was a theatrical show. However, it was a show that the entire family starred in. This rang especially true as my costumes became less of just a transaction at Party City and more of a group project. With an ambitious mother who loves project managing and an artistic father who loves crafts, this group project was a bonding point.

The loftiest construction my parents and I undertook was Lord Googoo, the male counterpart of Lady Gaga. This was circa 2010, when I was an eccentric and attention seeking eighth-grader, so don’t judge me too harshly for my choice. In all honesty, it wound up being an impressive ‘fit.

Even years after my parents’ divorce, Lord Googoo was still a group effort. While my mom drove me to the store to buy retro, 80s-style glasses, along with the other necessary adornments, my dad worked with me at home, crafting the materials.

Using Velcro, cardboard, aluminum and paint, we constructed a shiny and obtrusive piece of fashion art. It resembled one of David Bowie’s more experimental outfits, composed of an all-black, long sleeve shirt and skinny jeans and a giant triangle made of cardboard and aluminum foil, which was attached to my shirt by a few, stray Velcro strips. By the end of Halloween night, the triangle would be crumpled and the Velcro strips detached.

Naturally, after I finagled myself into the end product and spray painted my hair silver, my parents and I had a necessary photoshoot in the driveway. Lord Googoo was fitted and ready to go. Waving my mom goodbye, I walked my tight, skinny-jeaned legs to my dad’s car to drive to one of my first Halloween parties, instead of trick-or-treating.

Looking back at that Halloween and all the other ones before, all the group projects and costumes crafted and bought, I feel a definite sense of nostalgia. While celebrating Halloween with one’s parents may be considered dorky, for me, it was a production with five acts. It was a tradition, an excuse for two parents and their kid to come together.

And although I may be in college, an hour-and-a-half away from home, my seven younger siblings are not. The show will go on. Two years ago, for instance, I helped my 15-year-old brother draw blood on his face so he could go out with friends as Christian Bale from “American Psycho.” This year, my five-year-old sister told me she will be going trick-or-treating as a princess-skeleton-witch (whatever that may look like). And me? I may just go out as a red Power Ranger.

Jackson Cote can be reached at jkcote@umass.edu and on Twitter @jackson_k_cote.

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