Published on October 10th, 2013 | by Malaina Poore


MALAINA POORE on HALLOWEEN: Wear What Your Mama Gave You

A neighbor of mine who grew up in a little community in rural Virginia tells me that when he was a kid there was no such thing as a store-bought costume, and the mamas weren’t even trying to sew up some kind of disguise to wear for just one night. It was a kid thing, cobbled together with any junk you could find. He says a kid could just put on two different shoes, cross their eyes and collect candy in a pillow case. One year he wore an oversized men’s suit backwards. Another year it was his sister’s dress, rubber gloves and a ski mask.

Right on, right on. That is what I’m talking about.

I believe strongly in the homemade Halloween costume. I cannot abide those store-bought get ups and I really cannot bear their sleazy counterparts, the sexy costume. The sexy nurse, the witch in fishnets, the donkey with cleavage. C’mon people. We can do better.


My own mother always came up with something and made it work. When I was five she made me into a pretty little Mother Earth using only a white bed sheet, gold ribbons, a garland of silk flowers and some creativity. My little sister was a yellow felt sunshine that year. I think a yellow jogging suit was involved. (The colored jogging suit is a great jumping off point for many costumes.) She also made us rag doll wigs from yarn, and striped tights with rings of electrical tape. One year I was a monk with a big wooden cross and my friend who came to trick-or-treat with me was dressed as a “hooker”. That was fourth grade. I think every year after that I was ‘goth’ and put together the costume myself, dressing as I wished I always could in spiderweb stockings with flour on my face. I know a few little boys who could barely wait for the one night of the year when wearing a dress was permissible, little girls who put on hardhats and work boots  and felt finally at ease. Halloween is all about the alter ego and sometimes the future self.


I’ll tell you about some of my children’s greatest hits: Llyr dressed as the ever-tough Dog the Bounty Hunter and his busty, fierce wife, Beth Chapman, played by Isis. I messed up on Dog’s mullet but the chest hair turned out nice. Llyr’s attitude carried it. No one called Social Services on us, but they could have. Isis’ falsies were a shameless but essential touch.


I think I have a photo of Isis as the Goddess and after about 2 minutes she lost the elaborate crescent moon head peice I made from Fimo clay. She still represents in her gown and black wig with snake bracelets on her arms. Llyr was a Davy Crocket type that year and I will admit that we found his costume parts at the thrift store in the summer time and put them aside. We keep a stash here for costume-ish things.


At four Llyr was a cabbie who resembled Harvey Keitel’s character in Taxi Driver. I created five o’clock shadow with Vaseline and coffee grounds and drew a thin mustache with eyebrow pencil. This look was topped off by a leather paperboy cap and Member’s Only jacket and you have a look. When people asked what his costume was I think I said he was kind of a sleaze ball. (Again, I may have pushed the envelope here.) The pictures were cute!

When Llyr was a baby I strapped him in a pouch on my chest dressed as a little black worm with antennae and I wore a caftan with butterfly sleeves and together we made a complete insect.

One year we dressed Isis as a “nice little girl”. If you got it, you got it. (Most people didn’t get it and thought it vaguely cruel on our part. But she was small and going through a mud eating phase and rarely wore clothes at all. To have dressed her as a cavewoman wouldn’t have had much impact. Instead she was a little doll in white tights/smocked velvet dress/hair ribbons/black patent leather shoes and rouge on her cheeks.)

Now, here are twenty cheap, easy ideas off the top of my head: The Christmas tree, blue baby Krishna in gold beads, a farmer in overalls with a sunburned brow, a mummy in surgical gauze, the hippie runaway girl child (Can’t picture this? Reread the cautionary tale Go Ask Alice, honey.), the tie rack, a soap opera star of the 80’s in shoulder pads and rhinestone earrings, static electricity kid with socks and panties stuck all over and the laundry basket for a candy receptacle, the art gallery owner in all black and a Cleopatra wig. I would give further instructions except these things are easy and I know you can figure it out. I’m not claiming these are the most original or wittiest ideas in the world, but you can have a good time searching for the pieces and putting them together in your own way. A great pleasure indeed.

Also the classic hobo. Or the hobo clown. Or the train hopper gutter punk. You’ll get some use out of the grey Carhart overalls in the cold months of winter. Liquid eyeliner makes mighty fine facial tattoos for kids old enough not to smear. Strap a big knife on their belt, hand them a washboard and you’re set.

Or look for inspiration in the circus people of yesteryear. The bearded lady – easy peasy if you have spirit gum and access to hair weave. Or the tattooed man who is also a baby. Or the strong man in his striped onesie and handlebar mustachio. Perhaps a wee lion tamer in a thrift store blazer with gold fringe at the shoulders. Try half woman, half man with a ponytail on one side and hair slicked down on the other. Don’t bother with the circus geek. That’s in bad taste.

A friend’s son was Mick Jagger about 10 years ago and I’m still talking (squawking!) about it. How did he do it? Wild hair, black eyeliner, opaque black tights a faux fur coat over a bare chest. On an 11 year old. Are you kidding me?  And some kids just get the Spiderman jumpsuit from Target.

If your kids are little enough they can still dress to please you. Take advantage of this. My kids are too old this year to give a hoot and I miss it already.

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About the Author

Malaina Poore is a mama, writer and creator of altered books. Her work has been published in “The Journal for Participatory Medicine”, “Social Work in Education” and “My Hearts First Steps” and a few other odd places. Currently she works as a freelance flim flam woman.

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