When we were in the process of buying the house where we live now, we were living in a rental house nearby. We wanted to put ourselves in a position where we could really take our time, choose the right neighborhood and schools, not be forced to rush while picking our Forever Home.
That year, we put an offer on our house in October. A few weeks later, Halloween rolled around and we thought we’d head to the street where we were hoping to live and trick-or-treat there with the kids, see if these were Our People, make sure we’d chosen the right place.
We put on costumes. The little kids were in store-bought that year, and our oldest went with friends. My husband wore a pirate costume he just happened to have on hand. I don’t legitimately remember what I wore, but I suspect it was of the last-minute variety.
We walked the neighborhood and saw exactly one other adult in costume. We got some pretty high eyebrows, too.
But the amazing part isn’t that we all dressed up for Halloween. What’s amazing is that the following year, a neighbor hosted a Halloween party in their backyard, and there were three or four families where at least the dad had dressed up, even if the mom hadn’t. We, of course, wore a full family costume a la Scooby Doo, including some ad hoc elements combined with some handmade. My skirt was scrap jersey knit stitched super fast to look like Daphne’s skirt. The littlest was legit wearing an old sheet with a giant hole for her face so she could be the ghost (her preschool teachers STILL talk about that costume, which was easily the least effort I have ever put into any costume I’ve ever produced, and I’m including the ones I ordered from Amazon in that assessment).
And the year after that? The neighborhood association launched an annual gathering in one of the culs de sac, complete with pot luck and elaborate decorations, and LOTS of families were dressed up. Our handmade dirndls and the lederhosen my husband bought at Oktoberfest were a HUGE hit, and got lots of attention.
When the adults went back to the house to hand out candy while the kids rode the hay wagon, other parents walking past hollared up to the door to ask what our Family Costume was that year. People were INTO it.
I’m not saying we single-handedly invited an entire neighborhood of 300-ish families to reconnect with their inner children through dress-up. But I’m not NOT saying that, either.
It wasn’t our intention to alter the culture of our neighborhood by encouraging the other parents to dress up in costume for Halloween. Honestly, maybe we didn’t; maybe we just landed in that house at the same time that other families with young children were moving into houses nearby, and it was circumstance that they also wanted to dress up. All I know is, they didn’t dress up before we got there, and every year now we see more than half the families in our area going all out, and the moms & dads are having at least as much fun as the kids.
Without question, it’s been something our family has looked forward to enormously every year, to the point that in November the kids are already discussing what we should choose for our group costume. And even though our son swears he’s too old for it, we’ve always nailed a family theme where he’s thrilled to be on board with the rest of us by the time tricks-or-treats roll around.
Not every year is handmade. I’ve written about that before, some years it’s just TOO MUCH and store bought is the right choice. The year we did Harry Potter, I literally forgot to make myself a costume–so I tossed on a witches hat and wrapped myself in plaid flannel yardage and was dead pleased with my McGonagall.
Some years are over-the-top handmade, like our dirndls, which took huge amounts of work and fabric; or the year the kids picked Revolutionary War as the theme (which just also happened to be the year Hamilton was huge except none of us had seen it so we were either prescient geniuses or accidental posers). I really went above and beyond with the handmade that year, and never once did I regret the time I invested. I even hosted a Virtual Sewcial on Instagram to track the progress–folks over there are sharp as tacks, and most of them guessed our theme before the seams were even sewn.
My dress and our daughter’s were made from ancient stashed yardage. Our youngest had pants and shirt made from Kona cotton that I had on the bolt. Our son’s pants were Kona and his vest was from an old wool plaid I’d hoarded.
We recycled one of the dresses the following year–you can see our daughter wearing hers here with the cuffs removed, when she’s dressed as Marie Curie for our Famous Scientists theme. Our youngest is wearing a shirt I handmade for her brother years prior, which was the one HE wore when we did Back To The Future, for which I wore a dress made from the pattern in Stitch By Stitch.
Sometimes I pull handmade from my closet–for our Scientists, I wore an Archer Shirt under a sweater for my riveting portrayal of Rachel Carson.
When we did Elf, my husband already had the Buddy costume (doesn’t everyone??), but I made a Jovi costume from scratch to go with it. Our littlest wanted to be the narwhal, so some fleece and Dana’s sweatshirt pattern hacked to be longer made that happen. Like the Mystery Machine I painted years before, I spent the most time on the Christmas Card, because our middle schooler wanted to be Debbie, Amy Sedaris’ secretary character.
All of these costumes, over the years, have been worn again and again. Not just recycled for other Halloweens, but used for dress up and play pretend; used for the kids to write their own plays to perform after supper; or worn for class projects at school. Let’s just talk about how much easier it is to commit to a social studies project when you know you’ve already got a stable of costumes on hand that will do the trick–I mean, talk about taking the pressure off.
This past year, we were the Simpsons. Make-up was more challenging (bald cap? pointy hair??), but costumes were almost entirely store-bought and assembled from things we already had. It doesn’t always have to be sewn. Our son was eager to have a skateboard, and as soon as he knew Bart rides one, he was in–and has become passionate about skateboarding ever since.
We have no idea what 2020 will mean for trick-or-treating. Will people buy tee shirt cannons and just shoot candy at passers-by in the street? Maybe. But we’re already considering ideas for this year. We’ve gotten so much out of making or assembling costumes over the years we’ve lived in this house that even if Halloween goes all-digital like so many other things, we will be dressing up and pulling the wagon to catch as many Sour Patch Kids as we can.