As the weekend gets closer, I am reving up for a Costume Party my husband and I will be attending on Saturday. It all started when I saw a Cleopatra costume I really liked in a magazine. My husband said I could pull the outfit off and he would go as a mummy. He immediatly began googling how to do this himself.
I, on the other hand, let him know that the costume he liked for me was $85. We decided I should shop around a little, for several reasons. One was the obvious waste of $85 for a one night wear, and two, I knew if I wore it, it would be obvious I just paid a lot of money for an uncreative costume for the sole purpose of showing off my legs (it wasn’t slutty per se, but it did have a short skirt instead of the long skirt of a traditional Cleopatra).
After our discussion, something struck me. There are generally three options when choosing a Halloween costume: 1) Expensive costume from magazine or from a store, 2) The version in a bag that is more economical but usually as a whole, more skimpy and cliche, and 3) A homemade costume.
If you go to a bar in the city around Halloween, you will see all three represented. What is interesting to me is that, while the expensive costume is usually more eye catching, and the costume in a bag more skimpy, it is usually the homemade costume that wins the costume contest.
I see a social system at work that separates people who make their own costumes, from those buying the version that comes in a bag, from those who buy a more elaborate expensive version from a magazine or store, that relates authenticity and labor.
Most of us labor in our cubicles, 5 days a week producing our piece within the corporate pie. We have no direct investment in the product of our labor, but are rewarded for the labor itself.
It is worth noting that the money we make selling our labor , if you will, allows for other creative outlets such as decorating your house yourself, or planting your own garden. I believe that people who fix up their own houses instead of paying an interior designer and then a contractor to just provide the latest and greatest, may not have as much money, but are happier and more fulfilled when the specific project is done. Just as the zucchini from the backyard tastes better than the one from the grocery store.
All these examples relate to the yearning people have to labor to create something more than money, more than stuff.
To further illustrate this, I would like to explore my own experience creatively laboring over my Halloween costume.
I didn’t make the decision to make my own costume right away. I started at a costume store to see what they had. Afterall, if money was the issue, I figured one from a bag could end up around the same as putting it together myself.
After the costume stores, I scoured discount stores. I found a long dress for $5, numerous gold accessories for less than $5 a piece, a tie I decided to use for a belt from a thrift store for $2 ( I was kind of proud of myself for that one), a black wig for $7 (I personally have no problem with being a blonde Cleo, but my husband was not having it), and I already own a pair of shoes that are acceptably egyptian looking.
Now, I saw Cleopatra costumes at the Halloween stores that looked similar to the one I was putting together. And in the end I was right, there wasn’t much of a price difference. Even with the cheap dress and accessories, details in a costume are key (I was told), and add up. When shopping was complete, my costume ran me about $50 and the Cleopatra in a bag was $44. Now, the gold bracelets and neck piece in the bag are fabric and mine are at least metal, and that doesn’t include a wig, but still, I didn’t exactly end up saving much money for the trouble.
So money was not my primary motivation for avoiding the bagged or magazine costumes. There will be plenty of “slutty” princesses, vampires, witches, devils, and even mummies (I seriously saw a female mummy costume in a bag that was pretty skimpy) out there. Those costumes are cliche, and the wearer branded both uncreative and taking advantage of the rare opportunity to dress like a hooker in the middle of fall.
The reason for this branding is that anyone can go to a store and buy a costume. Heck, you might see 3 other people at a party with your same exact costume – especially since Cleopatra and Mummy aren’t exactly thinking outside the box.
Which brings me back to the connection between the product of my labor, my costume, and my labor itself.
My husband and I started working on his costume last night by soaking the white material in coffee so that the material looks aged. Tonight, I have to wash and dry my wig so it doesn’t have that crazy smashed in the bag look (like I said, $7). Saturday, we will spend the day helping each other put the details together.
It may sound like a pain, but there is a weird satisfaction in putting together my own costume instead of picking the “slutty” Cleopatra costume in a bag, or the fancy version from the magazine. I had a lot of fun bargain shopping and being creative with the accesories I got to choose myself, and even enjoyed ripping and soaking fabric with my husband. In addition, we are both looking forward to the arguably more authentic look we will feel we have as a result of the labor involved.
In the end, it wasn’t about the money or even end product. It was the experiences my husband and I are having putting our costumes together. The experience is more valuable than the thing.