Remember When Halloween Was Free(ish)?


Halloween is a holiday rooted in the very best of enthusiasm. How else does one describe covering your front door in fake cobwebs and plastering bloody vampire bats to your windows? But as I prep for All Hallows’ Eve, I can’t help but wonder how Halloween got so far off the do-it-yourself track and so far on the why-don’t-you-just-stab-me-pricing bandwagon.

When I was a child, the spirit of Halloween was very free form: think it up and let’s figure out how to make it. Producing a costume involved the use of materials we already owned, augmented by a few inexpensive craft store elements and the occasional larger ticket item like a wig or a severed head—the very definition of enthusiasm—only when it could not be made by our crafty little hands. It seemed like there was nothing we couldn’t do with red lipstick and a glue gun, but a trip to the Halloween costume store reveals those days are long gone, at least as far as the retail industry is concerned.

According to Forbes, Americans are projected to spend roughly $6.9 billion on Halloween this year. Approximately $2.5 billion will be spent on costumes alone, a number that seems obscene given that over four million adults are going as a witch, the number one costume in America. What’s the price of being a witch? $49.99 for the “Classic Witch” costume, which includes black clothes, hat and cape. No broom, no hairy mole, no stew made from children.

And that’s just the beginning of the spending one can do should you not take the DIY route. For $36.00 you can go as a $100 bill. A “Big Evil Gnome” costume will set you back $69.99. (What’s the price point on a Small Nice Gnome costume?)

Want to be a prisoner? That’ll cost you $34.99, more evidence that crime doesn’t pay, it costs. How about a politician? Masks depicting Hillary, Reagan, Obama, Trump and even Mitt Romney run an average of $29.99, far cheaper than mounting your own run for the White House. If that’s too serious, you can go as “Bathroom Wall Guy,” an ensemble that allows you to scrawl your own comments across yourself and hang a roll of toilet paper from your waist—a beautiful dream that can be yours for $49.99.

Employees at New York City costume store Halloween Adventure said this year’s most popular costume was anything Star Wars and it seems people are willing to pay handily to achieve their look: “Chewbacca Supreme” goes for $599.99 and an “Imperial Guard” outfit runs an eye-popping $699.99. You can be the Yoda you’ve always wanted to be for $59.99. And should you have a deep seeded need to go for the authentic period costume, you and a loved one can rent Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn for $300 and $180, respectively. But we all know how that ended up.

So why all the spending? Part of it is ease. Buying a costume can be a lot easier than making it with your own two hands. And staying up late after work gluing on a bunch of tiny beads that will fall off in two hours can be frustrating. But on the upside, you made that costume—and that in itself rules, you empowered, creative icon you. Who cares if your top falls off by the end of the night? Nothing says enthusiasm more than a costume that evolves with the evening. Am I right, topless Zombie Cher?

Another reason money is thrown at Halloween is lack of time, or should I say, waiting until the last minute. Sometime on October 30th, you look up from your kale salad and realize you need a costume. Most of us can go home and probably compile enough elements to be one of the following: an athlete, a farmer, a businessman, a movie star, a spy, Steve Jobs, Eddie Money or a drunken Paul Bunyan. But if you have your heart set on being a slice of bacon nothing else will do, and retailers are happy to take your money, banking on your willingness to spend at crunch time.

The bacon costume is $32.99, in case you’re interested.

One area where spending is ghoulishly wasteful is costumes that shouldn’t really require you to buy anything. $24.99 for a “toga,” a.k.a a sheet tied around your body. $49.99 for a mock Hugh Hefner “smoking jacket.” Just wear a robe. How about Seinfeld character costumes? For $49.99 you can go as Elaine, Kramer, George or Jerry. Or you can put on some sneakers and a Mets t-shirt and save yourself fifty bucks.

And what of our witch costume? Okay, maybe you need to buy the hat, but you have black clothes, I’ve got a broom you can borrow and, instead of a wig, you can try my patented “no brush” hair technique to achieve that chic, just-boiled-a-few-children look.

If you don’t have the ability, the time or the patience to make a costume at least give yourself the option of spending less money. Halloween retailers and specialty costume shops are where the highest price points are found, but there are numerous places to save money if you really need to buy costume parts. The Salvation Army stores are full of great finds, as are Goodwill and other local thrift shops.

Should we look to high-end costumes shops, killer special effects, and pop culture for inspiration this Halloween? Of course we should. But a cool costume doesn’t have to mean spending a fortune. Keep in mind you have more options than you may think in your closet. Instead of “Bathroom Wall Guy,” what girl wouldn’t be more down with “Bookish James Bond” or “Lounge Singer Gandhi?” All you need is a little of that Halloween enthusiasm.

So let’s put away our wallets, pull out our enthusiasm and get back to the days when hollowing out a pumpkin and sticking it on top of your head meant you could do anything. Of course, breathing in the headless horseman costume was a whole other story.



When not perpetrating ridiculousness on the streets of New York City, Casey Coler is at work on Ridiculous in the City, an epic chronicle of ridiculousness for our times.



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