In 2009 I was a bad 1980s school portrait. I teased my hair and wore neon accessories, glasses, fake braces, and some thrift-store finds, like a stonewashed denim jacket and a vintage T-shirt, knotted at the waist. In addition, I tied a giant hand-painted laser background to my back, which framed my face. It was alarming how much that costume made me resemble my middle-school photos. (See Lindsay’s 1980s school portrait here.)
In fourth grade, I dressed in a full-body skunk costume, complete with a fluffy tail that was as long as I was tall. My mom helped me complete the effect by spritzing the tail with every bottle of perfume she and my grandma had lying around. No one wanted to come near me, but wow, that costume was authentic. (See Tammy’s skunk costume here.)
Bedminster, New Jersey
Two years ago, when we were living in Ivory Coast, my husband and I got together with some fellow expats on Halloween and used our costumes to announce that we were expecting a baby. He dressed as a chef, and I dressed as an oven—with a bun in it. The best part of the ensemble? The timer, set to 40 weeks. (See Beth’s bun in the oven costume here.)
Bujumbura, Burundi, Africa
When I was 11, my best friend and I were so inseparable that we decided to be two parts of a single Halloween costume. Because I wanted to be a spider and she wanted to be a princess, we went as a two-headed black-widow–spider princess. To pull off the look, we wore black clothing and crowns. Plus, I actually carried her on my back all night so we appeared to have eight legs. I put her down only when I wanted to eat candy.
I used to work at a scientific-research station in Antarctica, and Halloween was a huge deal there. There weren’t many places to go shopping, though, so every year I had to scrounge around for each part of my costume. My favorite was Rosie the Riveter. Somehow I found Carhartt pants, a vintage lunch box, a boy’s denim shirt, a red kerchief, and even a real car riveter on loan from the Vehicle Maintenance Facility. I also “tattooed” my arm with a permanent marker. (See Cindy’s Rosie the Riveter costume here.)
Back in 1990, my boyfriend (who’s now my husband) and I decided to go to a costume party dressed as “windswept.” We starched all our clothes so they leaned to the left, and then we sprayed our hair in the same direction. We also carried umbrellas that had been blown inside out. There was a costume contest at the end of the night, and we were declared the victors.
Pacific Palisades, California
My mom always helped my sister and me with our Halloween costumes, so the year she died—when I was just 10 years old—we felt really lost. To ease our pain, my dad hired a seamstress to make whatever Halloween costumes we wanted. I chose a banana. I can still picture that costume: a yellow pantsuit with a black stripe down the legs, plus a few brown spots to make it look real. Wearing it helped me realize that we would be able to manage without my mom—that life would go on and we could be happy again.
Once, my sister and I dressed like our favorite TV characters: Laverne and Shirley. I was Laverne, right down to the L on my mohair sweater. I’ll never forget how much we laughed as we knocked on doors and belted out the show’s theme song: “Schlemiel, Shlimazel, Hasenfeffer Incorporated!”
When my four-year-old nephew asked me to go trick-or-treating with him back in 1999, my best friend, Jim, an artist, decided to make me a costume for the occasion. He wound up building a stunning foam aquarium that fit right over my head. People came up to me all night to stare at the plastic fish floating in the tank. In fact, one man even offered to buy the costume from me onthe spot. I politely declined.
Village of Waltz, Michigan
A gum-ball machine. My mom made the somewhat unwieldy getup from a cardboard box, sheer netting, wire, and colorful balloons. Among my vivid memories from that night: a kid from the neighborhood following me around, pestering me for gum. I hope to make one just like it when I have kids of my own someday. (See Amanda’s gum-ball machine costume here.)
My favorite movie is Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, so when I was eight months pregnant, I decided to dress up like Violet Beauregarde in the scene where she turns into a giant blueberry. I had a blue face, blue hair, blue everything. My husband went as Willy Wonka, and our three-year-old daughter was an adorable Oompa Loompa. See Stephanie and her family dressed up here.)