In elementary school, I went as a soda machine for Halloween. My dad made the costume by painting an appliance box to look like a vending machine and cutting out arm and face holes. It was perfect for the Colorado Halloweens of my youth, where snow would often make an appearance, and a cute Tinkerbell costume would have to be covered up with a parka.
It snowed on the Halloween when I wore the soda machine, and a thin layer of flakes piled on top of the box as I walked door to door gathering candy. Later that night, the snow melted and dripped down the side of the costume, smearing some of the paint. But the box held up for all the Halloween events that year and helped secure me a month’s worth of mini chocolate bars and gummy treats, so I was OK with letting it go. As a fan of spontaneity and mischief, my father always liked Halloween and enjoyed helping me create my costumes. Another year, he transformed a box into a wearable Rubik’s cube for me by carefully measuring and painting the coloured squares onto the sides.
When I had my own kids, I remembered the soda machine and some of the other unique costumes I had worn during my childhood. For the first few Halloweens of my kids’ lives, my husband and I attempted to construct costumes, or modify store-bought ones to make them unique. One year, we sewed felt spikes onto a shirt to transform it into a hedgehog costume, and another year we created Batman and Robin getups by buying capes and sewing felt logos onto form-fitting clothes.
The Batman and Robin costumes turned out to be the last ones my dad would see my kids in, and after he died, I felt a renewed desire to create memorable costumes. Putting work into their uniqueness felt like a good way to remember him and pass on a tradition.
But last fall, when we were browsing a big-box store, my sons latched on to two store-bought costumes: a black cat and a hot dog. It was late September, and since kids change their mind about Halloween costumes about as often as the performers change in a Broadway show, I hesitated to buy them. Should I stall a bit longer? Try to recreate similar costumes at home? I’d also seen the vast wasteland that is a store holiday section a few days before Halloween and didn’t want the outfits to get snatched up by someone else if the boys had their hearts set on them. I decided to buy them and keep the tags on, figuring I could return them if they changed their minds.
While I can appreciate the uniqueness of homemade Halloween costumes, they can be difficult to assemble around work and other obligations. Previous Halloweens had involved late-night sewing machine sessions and multiple trips to the overwhelming aisles of a craft store to get them finished on time. Unique homemade costumes can also be difficult to use again or pass on, and a lot of parental desires can get mapped onto kids’ clothing—who was more interested in creating a memorable costume, them or me?
Last Halloween, my older son remained steadfast in his desire to be a black cat, so he wore the costume we had bought. My younger son cycled through a series of costumes we had in the house for various Halloween events—Spider-Man, a leopard, a superhero and the hot dog.
They both seemed happy with their choices and enjoyed celebrating the holiday, which I realized mattered more than any Pinterest-perfect holiday visions I had in my head. In the future, if one of my kids gets his heart set on going as an obscure inanimate object, I will be more than happy to help him create it, but if all he wants is to throw a sheet over his head and go as a ghost, then so be it.
After last Halloween, we added the hot dog and cat to our box of dress-up clothes, and now my kids occasionally don a costume to jump on the trampoline or complete a homemade obstacle course. It’s nice to see them getting more use out of them. Sometimes, when I’m watching a hot dog and a black cat hold an impromptu dance party in the basement in June, I pause and think about how entertained my dad would be to see them, too.
This article was originally published online in October 2018.