Costume culture: Society’s changing acceptance of Halloween apparel
When I entered the Spirit Halloween store off of Valley Mills Drive, a colorful neon clown greeted me, bloody mallet in hand. It became clear that Halloween has come much farther than orange and black.
But how far is too far?
Spirit Halloween opened its doors to Waco on Aug. 13, as it does every year for the season. And some of the store’s employees were eager to express their opinions on the subject.
Charlene Lee has worked at Spirit Halloween for three years.
Lee immediately offered to give me a tour of the entire store as soon as I mentioned I was a reporter seeking to know which costumes and contraptions she believes take things a little too far.
“Let me tell you what I think is crazy,” Lee said as she guided me down a long aisle of distorted facemasks and body parts.
We stopped at a small makeshift island in the middle of the aisle and she pointed to a costume hanging on one of its shelves.
“How many people do you know that want to see somebody dress up with their private parts showing?” she asked.
As I focused in on the “Happy Camper” costume she was pointing to, we both started cracking up.
“Now that is too far,” Lee said between laughs. “We also have a costume right here that is a “Socket and Plug” and “Wet T-Shirt Contest.” But the craziest has to be the full body “Breathalyzer” costume.
It seemed that the innuendos of the costumes are what ultimately cross the line.
As I continued jotting down my observations, I noticed two little children standing mesmerized by mechanical demon girl swinging on a swing. As I approached the cage, I noticed the price marked $179.99.
“Tell me that ain’t too far, too,” Lee said as she gestured toward the sign. “I see about $500 worth of that stuff every day I’m at work, too.”
Our next stop was the pet section, which included a selection of costumes that was as diverse, if not more so, than the sections of costumes for people.
“People love their pets,” Lee said. “We got tutus, fairy wings, a taco, star wars. I mean, that’s just too much.”
I thanked Lee for the tour, and headed over to Halloween Bootique, also on Valley Mills Drive, another hot spot for Halloween goodies in Waco.
When I peeked in to the much more intimate store, I was casually welcomed by store employee, Isabella, and asked her if she has seen any costumes that she believes take things too far.
“Well, we are more of a family-oriented store,” she said. “So, not really. I have heard about a costume that is a sperm bank, though, which is pretty crazy. We don’t have that here, though.”
The last stop on my search to discover how far is too far was Wally’s Party Factory.
Entering the oversized party supply store with no idea what to expect next, Wally’s employee, Hope, led me straight to the back of the store into a room reserved specially for the Halloween season.
She graciously showed me around the different aisles of costumes, makeup and spooky apparatuses, and did not shy away from expressing her opinion on the subject at hand.
“You know what I honestly think is too far?” she said. “The prices. I mean, think about some parents with three kids paying around $30 to $40 a pop.”
She scooted some of the costumes around on one of the shelves, finally settled on one, and pulled it off the shelf to show me.
“There’s a lot of unicorn costumes this year,” she said looking whimsically at the plastic pack of unicorn themed trinkets. “I think that might be a little too far.”
She carefully placed the pack back on the shelf and directed me over to a wall lined with solid color body suits.
“These skin suits are always popular every year, mostly with the college boys,” she said. “Can you imagine guys in these costumes that are basically like wearing a full-body stocking?” she asked as she chuckled. “I mean you would see everything and that is way too much.”
Right as I thought I had heard and seen enough, Hope recruited Wally’s employee Frank to give us his two cents.
“I mean, the skimpy costumes are pretty skimpy this year too,” he said. “And they always are a little too far.”
Hope, Frank and I stood in the costume room a while longer to browse the different costumes and our conversation took quite an interesting turn.
At one point, I asked Frank, a nine-year Wally’s employee, how he feels about the power of sex and violence in American culture, and if they believe the Halloween costumes have changed along with our culture.
“Our culture has changed a lot over the years,” Frank said. “I feel like it’s easy for people to be influenced by the society around them, and Halloween costumes have definitely changed a lot. Having worked here for almost 10 years, the costumes have gotten more revealing on one end and more gruesome on the other.”
As I made my way out of Wally’s, notepad in hand, I watched as two male college students approached Hope.
“Hey, do y’all have big suits?” one guy asked. “Like a panda suit?”
Now, that is taking things pretty far, but seemed a relatively normal request compared to all of the abnormal costumes I had been shown throughout my adventures to the Halloween stores around Waco.
When I arrived back to campus, I asked several students what they believed was too far, and some of their answers might just surprise you.
“I think covering the three B’s is necessary,” said Los Angeles junior Hayley Di Naso. “Putting a fun twist on your typical witch costume is great fun, but no one wants to see what’s straddling that broomstick.”
Dallas junior Laura Beth Vaughan had a similar opinion.
“Yeah, I think Halloween costumes get a little out of hand when people try to be too sexy,” she said. “Wearing animal ears with lingerie does not make it a Halloween costume. My favorite costumes are ones that are funny or have a lot of thought put into them.”
All in all, students and the employees that serve and observe customers of various ages, genders and apparently species, seem to think that nothing goes unheard of these days when it comes to Halloween costumes and décor.
“And, it keeps getting more insane by the year,” Lee said.
So, how far is too far? Apparently never far enough.