Halloween Dress-Up: For Kids Only?

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    Dear Whit:

    With Halloween coming up and friends starting to get excited about it, I wonder what you think about adults who dress up and go to Halloween parties? My friends want me to come with them in costume to these parties that are supposed to be for adults. When I tell them that I think it’s for kids, they say that it’s harmless fun and doesn’t have to be just for kids.  To tell you the truth, I can’t see myself as Dracula or Wonder Woman, or even a French maid. It seems like people who want to put on Halloween costumes are childish and want to pretend that they are still kids. What do you think?

    Not Dressing Up

    Dear Not:

    A song by a forgettable band from the late ‘60s has the not-so-forgettable lyrics, “There’s something happenin’ here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” The sentiment applies to your question because I think that going to Halloween parties is more about being an adult than being a child. Your friends have a point when you think about what is “happenin’ here.”

    Certainly, Halloween parties are fun, but are they childish? I don’t think so, even though the people dressing up are pretending. They are pretending to be someone else, you’re right, but the costume might reflect an aspect of their personality that they don’t ordinarily feel comfortable enough to display to others.

    What people wear tells you something about them that they don’t reveal under normal circumstances. In a way, seeing them dressed up is a little like seeing them undressed, only not as creepy, awkward, or stark.  Similarly, dressing up is a little like undressing—think how good skinny-dipping feels—in the way that it lets one shed conventional covering. That good feeling, a kind of frisson, comes from flouting social, cultural, and sexual taboos without getting caught, safe behind the mask.

    Every once in a while, even adults want to break out and break the rules because the release feels so liberating, especially as a contrast to the usual toeing of the lines and staying within them that most adults do most of their lives. Considering all of the sexual-stereotype costumes that you see on both men and women, for instance, super heroes and as you point out, French maids, you can see that this kind of hide-and-seek isn’t just child’s play.

    If you are really uncomfortable with the run-of-the-mill Halloween costumes, use your imagination to come up with an outfit that reflects your proclivities and personality. You might select a recognizable literary, political, or historical figure that you respect or admire. If you want to be more creative, you could pick a visual joke or a well-known figure of speech.  Whatever you select, as contradictory as this advice sounds, be yourself when you’re going as someone else.

    So when your friends cajole you into a costume for some harmless fun, you don’t have to be a vampire or a vamp to enjoy yourself. The trick is to loosen up when you dress up, while at the same time also grow up. If you do, you’ll find, I think, that you’re not too old for this kind of adults-only, Halloween treat.

    Got questions about life? Love? Parenting? Work? Write to Whit’s End, an advice column by local husband, father, teacher, coach, former executive and former Marine Corps officer Al Whitaker.  Send your questions to [email protected]

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    1. Thanks Al. Sound advice. Now I don’t have to feel badly about pulling out the Marquis de Sade costume that’s in my closet.

    2. You know, it’s easy to get kind of stuck in adulthood. Like being embarrassed to dance at a party–really dance–like you used to, when you loved it. Or refusing to wear a costume for Halloween. I completely understand Not Dressing Up’s hesitation; some people NEVER would have worn a costume, it just isn’t them. But it sounds like the writer used to enjoy doing this but thinks she’s “too old.” I think we have to guard against a kind of creeping fuddy-duddyism. Maybe taking the risk of dressing up on Halloween can be sort of like therapy, keeping our psychological arteries from hardening?

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