A Look On The Lighter Side: The trick of dressing up for Halloween treats

Judy Epstein

There is a lot of advice in this world — most of it unwanted. That doesn’t stop the people from giving it, however.

This week, a lot of that advice concerns what to be, and what not to be, for Halloween.

Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax thinks it’s simple. “Do dress up as something,” she says, but “Do not dress up as a member of a race, ethnicity or culture of which you are not a member. Right? … It’s not perfect, but it’s well-meaning without everyone having to be an M&M.”

Unlike Hax, I don’t think it’s simple at all.

First, let me say that I see nothing wrong with everyone being an M & M! I wish I’d had that option back in my trick-or-treating days. That would have solved all my costume problems, plus functioned as an excellent non-verbal reminder of what made for a good treat.

One of my college roommates was a gifted costume-creator: she turned herself into a 5’6” walking Salada Teabag, complete with nifty saying on the tag: “Tea for Two is the best medicine.”

Then there were the six guys who cut arm- and head-holes in upended garbage cans and went as a 6-pack of beer. A seventh went in front: The Leader Of the Pack, of course.

For my own costume, I just decided to wear a dress and makeup, for once. It must have worked because no one recognized me.

But I have a question about this idea that you can’t dress up as something you’re not.

The best costume of my childhood was one that I remember my mom wearing to a costume party. Somehow, she had acquired an authentic Mexican skirt, with sequins in the colors of the Mexican flag, (which is how I know their flag is red, white and green) and a linen blouse gorgeously embroidered with bright-colored flowers. I couldn’t wait till I was tall enough to “borrow” it and wear it myself!

My Dad, having nothing comparable, had to settle for being Humpty Dumpty, with a big pillowcase head with a face drawn on it, and a belt around his shoulders.

Here’s my question:

Which of them, if either, was insulting anybody? Was it my Mom, in that gorgeous outfit several orders of magnitude fancier than anything she wore again until my wedding day? Or my Dad, in a costume based on a character out of a nursery rhyme?

The correct answer is: my Dad, whose outfit was clearly an insult to both eggs and pillowcases everywhere.

I completely reject the notion that dressing up like someone should be interpreted as an insult, anyway. Sure, blackface is out — even though, if a white person dressed up like Michael Jackson, back when he was the most famous and well-paid entertainer on the planet — and indisputably the best dancer, as well — it’s impossible for me to see that as an insult.

Or, again: look at all the little kids who can’t wait to dress up as firefighters, or dinosaurs, or Pikachu — are they insulting those characters? Of course not! They want to BE those characters! There is no higher compliment!

But there’s an even bigger problem with this new idea that you can only be costumed as something you already are. What then, I ask, is the point of Halloween?

Following that logic, I suppose only an actual vampire can dress up as Count Dracula.
If I see a witch costume, I must assume it contains an actual witch (and what would constitute Witch Credentials, I wonder? Turning somebody into a cat?) And if anyone comes to my door dressed as Freddy Krueger, I’ll have to call 911, because clearly they’re an actual murderer!

The fact is, Halloween is PRECISELY the time to dress up as something you are not. Because if you can only dress up as something you already are, that’s not a costume at all.

Unless you’re a little bit sweet, and a little bit nutty. Then you can join me at being an M&M.

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