Costumes tell a story

EN GARDE! Halloween in Hawaii with Indiana Jones and Zorro, 1993

EN GARDE! Halloween in Hawaii with Indiana Jones and Zorro, 1993

“Clothes make a statement.  Costumes tell a story.”Mason Cooley

I mentioned a couple of days ago that my siblings and I much preferred making our own Halloween costumes over buying them in a store.  Perhaps it’s because the store-bought costumes in those days were cheesy little plastic masks coupled with cheap apron-like printed garments worn loosely over regular clothes.  I look with amazement and perhaps a twinge of envy at the elaborate quality of embellished princess gowns and pirate gear available for purchase seemingly everywhere nowadays.

But pulling together our own costumes was very much a part of the excitement of the holiday.  Our parents allowed us the fun and rare privilege of plundering their closets, accessories, props and Mom’s makeup to use as we saw fit.  Then the ritual of photographs, followed by heading outdoors when there was just enough light to see and compare our friends’ creations, usually as unique as our own.

One year a friend (with the help of her parents) became an amazingly realistic mummy, covered in gauze made from her brother’s old cloth diapers, taped all over her body and head (except for eye holes and a small mouth hole for breathing).  That might have been the best costume I can remember seeing.  Creating original Halloween costumes is one of the best ways to “go green” by recycling materials already on hand, at home or at thrift shops.

We followed the tradition of home-created costumes with our sons, and they do indeed tell a story that brings back happy memories of their interests and preferences at various ages.  Their costumes call to mind the tales they enjoyed that prompted their choices, as well as the stories I remember of that particular year.  As Halloween approaches, I hope you will enjoy seeing, and maybe creating, the many costumes that fill this season with memorable scenes.


  1. I loved being a gypsy…probably because of the jewelry you mentioned. Hobos were popular too! Thanks for the memories! (Apologies to Bob Hope!)

    • Yes, I think that was always your favorite costume. Scarves, jewelry, makeup! Wow, I can’t remember the last time I heard the term “hobo” – it made me remember Woody Guthrie singing “Hobo’s Lullaby.” We sometimes forget that there have always been homeless people. It seems that the image of the “hobo” was more fanciful and romanticized, though – the bandana tied to a stick, and hopping trains to travel the country. I have no idea how realistic these images were.

  2. Sheila

    Good Monday morning, my friend. Halloween in Hawaii just has a nice ring! I think the boys had fun every Halloween. I hope you still have those decals in the background. They are sooo cute. We saw creative costumes this weekend. The winning couple was “the mouse and the exterminator”. So clever! The playboy bunny with Hugh Hefner ( in red velvet smoking jacket) was a personal favorite! All in fun….. 🙂

    • Wow, I wish I could have seen those costumes! I would’ve put Hef in pajamas, though! I read once where he used to say when he was a little boy that his idea of success would be wearing pajamas as long as he wanted every day. I guess some people never grow up :-). I must admit, a mouse and an exterminator is one I’ve never seen and I agree that it would be the most original. I made the door decorations. The skeletons were bought, but I created the palm tree, sun hat and surfboard. I think I threw them away before we moved. The construction paper colors faded quickly in that tropical sun. Holidays in Hawaii were delightful because they were a combination of mainland tradition and island style. Christmas there was unforgettable and very lovely.

      • Sheila

        Julia, that idea (the door decorations) is so clever. The local surf shops would do well to sell those….. and pirates!

        • Probably there is somebody somewhere who is already doing it. They say there’s nothing new under the sun, and that would definitely apply in a sunny place like Hawaii! Of course there are tons of surfer Santas in Aloha shirts at Christmas.

  3. Michael

    Yea Halloween in Hawaii. We have some friends who are veterans who stay at the Hale Koa every Christmas and we got to join them on our one year stay there. I may have spelled that wrong -hotel name, but as you know it is a military facility. What I remember is the Easter sunrise service at the Punch Bowl memorial, and the chaplain from Kamehameha school gave a message that was very good and the Hawaii Royal band played, which was awesome. Now you have me missing Hawaii again. I think about going back, but both the kids are on the east coast and Verie has two nephews in Virginia. But I don’t remember Halloween in Hawaii.

    • You spelled Hale Koa just right, and we always loved to go there. They had done a fabulous renovation just before we moved there in 1993, and had a gorgeous new oceanfront pool that was HUGE, with three connected sections. Military families who were stationed in Hawaii were allowed to go there and swim free anytime, and we had some lovely days on the beach and in the pool. It’s right next door to the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and I’ve always thought that was the prettiest (and certainly the widest) section of Waikiki. At Christmas, all the hotels along that stretch would go all out with extensive and beautiful decorations; it’s a popular time for tourists.

      Punchbowl is a moving experience for sure, even when not attending a sunrise service. I bet it was wonderful. At Punchbowl I first learned all about the heroic 442nd Infantry Regiment who fought for the USA while many of their family members were enduring internment on the mainland.

      Halloween in Hawaii was much like on the mainland for kids, except that the densely populated neighborhoods allowed them to visit many more homes (more candy to receive and give out!) and the warm weather made it possible to go on for hours if they wanted. It seemed as if they had local restrictions on the hours that stipulated certain times for starting and ending. They may have also had trick or treat on another day than October 31; I know in Ohio they had “Beggar’s night” for trick-or-treaters, which was not always on Halloween itself.

  4. My father was an expert in preparing contestants for fancy dress competitions. I remember people coming to him for ideas and he took a lot of effort to make the costumes perfect. Once there was a contest at our churchyard. When the name of a boy was called out a fierce devil on stilts emerged striding the compound wall of the cemetery. Kids started screaming and were almost scared to death. The audience had never seen or expected such an entry and Papa got a lot of appreciation. It was such a great hit.

    • Bindu, your father sounds like a very creative man! I so enjoyed reading your memories of him on your blog. I think having childhood memories such as these are worth more than any monetary inheritance parents could leave their children. When our parents are present in our lives during our childhood, we never really lose them because of all the happy memories that live on.

  5. Sherrie Cannon

    What I remember most about Halloween in Hawaii is running out of candy the first year, just like you said–so many houses so close together and so many kids. It was such a contrast to our time in Michigan–being able to just sit outside and wait for the trick or treaters (in Hawaii, not Michigan). I need to go look for a picture of Bryan in 1993 and see what his costume was. I’m afraid I was never very creative and it was not my favorite holiday for that reason. I refused to spend a lot of money on costumes, tried to use the thrift store, etc., just had a problem with ideas.

    • I remember how exciting it was for our kids to live in really close proximity to lots of other kids. In California the homes were much farther apart and having nice big yards was wonderful, but it was also cool to be just a few doors away from your friends and classmates. Do you remember that Christmas when a big group of adults and kids went caroling in our neighborhood, complete with a rolling piano that went from door to door? I remember thinking that would probably only happen in some mild climate such as we had in Hawaii. Happy memories!

  6. Carlyle

    I remember as AL grew older he became more creative in his costuming. I had to really work at creating the “Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” Another Halloween, he painted his face as a skull, wore my old WW11 flying helmet and jacket to become a Ghost Pilot.

    • Daddy, somewhere in our slides I believe there is a photo of Al in his scarecrow costume. I don’t remember the ghost pilot costume, but I do remember you could paint or draw almost anything, and came up with some pretty scary skull faces over the years! I also remember that one year when I was a witch (using Carla’s black Pilgrim dress from her school Thanksgiving play the year before) you made me a fabulous witch hat with a huge brim, like the one worn by the Wicked Witch of the West on the Wizard of Oz. I know a lot of people find such things objectionable nowadays, but to me it was a harmless fantasy, not unlike those “good vs. evil” fantasies spun by Tolkien and Lewis. Not for one minute did any of it seem real or truly frightening to me. I’m glad I grew up before Halloween became something to protect kids from. I have never to this day watched any of the horribly violent Freddy Kruger-style slasher movies, so maybe that’s why my memories of Halloween are so benign.

  7. I always wanted to go as Charlie Brown in his costume with all the holes in it but I never had the courage, just in case all I got was rocks!!! The boys look great. Talk with you soon.

    • Amy, you should have done it! You could have painted black holes all over the sheet. Then you could paint the front of your bag to say “NO ROCKS PLEASE” so people would see it when you held it up! 🙂

  8. Nancy

    Remember the Halloween I spent with all of you in California, Julia? And how sick I got??? I stayed in bed while you all went treating!

    • Nancy, I had totally forgotten about that! It must be true that we tend to forget most of the bad memories in favor of the good. I remember your visit, but didn’t remember your getting sick. Hope it wasn’t my cooking :-)!

  9. We never had store bought either, always something thrown together from odds and sods, and often borrowed from a neighbour since everyone had 4 or 5 kids in the 60’s. You’re so right, that’s half the fun of Halloween is being creative! I laughed at the campy skeleton surfer behind your boys, ha very hip Halloween at your house 😀

    • Whenever I start “thinking like an old person” as Jeff says– meaning, thinking how today’s generations are missing out on certain things we enjoyed– I think how I feel sorry that today’s children don’t have the huge numbers of other kids around them that most of us did when we were young. Until Matt was born and we knew we’d have our hands full just managing his medical situation, I had always argued that I wanted four or five kids (something Jeff definitely DIDN’T want). I used to tell him that the best gift my parents gave me was siblings. I can remember in high school how a classmate who was the rare “only child” among us told us all that she was very glad she was an only child. When we asked her why, her answer was “you get more and better things.” No comment on that one, except to say that I stand my my original “old person” contention that big families are mostly a blessing, even if a mixed one.

      • LOL, I bet ‘that one’ is in therapy as we speak, How sweet you are to consider your siblings as the best gift your parents ever gave you. That must surely warm their hearts. Yes, it’s a mixed bag isn’t it, I’m closer to some family more than others and I wouldn’t want to be without them. Since Mr B and I don’t have kids, we are adopted into other families who share their celebrations with us. We feel so very lucky.

        • Yes, it’s really true that “friends are family we choose for ourselves” (don’t know who coined that one) and some of my most beloved relatives are those to whom I have no biological ties, just love!

  10. We always had homemade costumes as kids and my family has continued the tradition by making our son’s every year. Now he helps and it is so much more fun than buying something wrapped in plastic!

    • Yes, so much of the fun is in the imagining and creating of a character to take on for just one evening. I think creating the costume helps us pretend to play that role for the night, almost like getting into character for a theatrical part.

  11. Raynard

    the comment about Hawaii caught my eye. I was stationed there 1990-1992, Schofield Barracks. My middle daughter was born at Tripler Army Hospital August 1992, Best duty station of all for me. 1st Christmas there , I was on the beach. While there, learned to “boogy board and horseback riding and went on lots of hiking trails. Use to drive around whole island of Oahu in 2 hours. Went downtown Oahu to movies , seen a man play live organ during intermission. Also went to my first drive in movie. Daughter who was born there wants to go back to visit”her homeland lol.

    • Yes, Hawaii is a dream tour for sure. You lived in one of the prettiest parts, too. I always loved the inlands (mauka) because of the mountains. You got out of there right before they opened up a WalMart in Mililani, which was a major event on Oahu. You should take your daughter back; it has really changed. With the H3 open you can zip between Pearl Harbor and the North Shore in only about 15 minutes. We used to take an hour to get there whether we went on the LikeLike Highway or the Pali. I always preferred the Pali because the scenery was even more beautiful. Now I guess nobody sees it as often since they all take the H3 up. I used to love going to Kaneohe too. The entire Windward coast is gorgeous.


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