Today most of us buy costumes for Halloween for ourselves and our children off the store shelf or via mail order without giving it much thought.
I think it is a general change in our direction as a society from self-reliance to convenience in a way or maybe it is a sign of the times that we put more value in the type of costume we wear. There are those who still make their own costumes but for the most part I think that may be few and far between.
Some of the best costumes I remember though are those we made at home. My dad and mom were very clever when it came to making cool costumes and they encouraged my brother Jeff and I in our creativity as we got older. One of the first costumes I remember though was an old Phantom costume that I think was a hand me down from friends who lived across the alley.
If I remember correctly, my brother had a chimpanzee costume perhaps based on Planet of the Apes which was on television at that time. Both were the old style Collegeville costumes that included the white elastic band used to fasten the molded plastic face mask over your own face. The elliptical eyeholes and two nose pinholes as well as a slit for the mouth rounded out the mask. These molded masks were basically the same in structure for any costume sold by the company even though the features obviously varied.
As we got older and out grew those basic costumes, my brother and I did a fair amount of creating our own Halloween costumes sometimes with Mom and Dad's help but as we got older more often without. We didn't go shopping for the newest licensed figure. There were so many old style monsters from which we could choose, that we didn't see any need to go beyond them.
One of the most elaborate costumes I remember we made for trick-or-treating was the year of the robots. The pair of automaton costumes were the coolest costumes I remember Dad helping us make. The masks were fashioned out of a papier-mâché shell that was created over large balloons if I remember correctly.
It took us a few hours to coat the balloons with a enough papier-mâché to make a solid mask. When we were finished, Dad carved the eyes and mouth through the hard shell. The formula for papier-mâché was simply flour and water if I remember correctly.
Just out of curiosity, I researched the formula for papier-mâché and most of the recipes are similar to what I remembered. I happened to find one that does not require cooking and uses 1 part water to 2 parts flour.
The mixture should be stirred until smooth with no lumps. It should be the consistency of a thick glue. Water or flour should be added as necessary. I add some salt to it to keep it from getting moldy, but it really isn't necessary at this time of year. Apply it to whatever you are using as a base and allow it to dry and when you are done, the result is a fairly strong shape.
I believe if memory serves me right we used paper bags on our heads that were shaped to fit us, and we applied the papier-mâché to the shaped bags right on our heads until it was a few inches thick. I think we put eye holes in prior to applying the paper strips so that we knew where they belonged. Needless to say we needed to be quite patient during this process.
Upon conclusion we used tempera paints to paint the surface of the masks and then we attached some painted cone-shaped spools that my mom brought home from the factory for antennae. While the masks were made the same way, it was the decorating that set up apart.
For bodies we used cardboard boxes that were painted silver and then decorated with shapes and colors to look like lights and dials. We wore sweatshirts and white gloves under the boxes with dark colored pants.
When they were done, they looked pretty cool for being homemade and they brought extra satisfaction since we made them ourselves. Even though we only used them once, we had those costumes in the attic for several years, and of all the costumes they remain one of my favorite.
A close second but not as successful in that it didn't stay together very well was the mummy. This mask was also a papier-mâché concoction but it was constructed directly over a bathing cap using paper toweling instead of newspapers so that it would give a bandaged look. We mixed the paste up and then applied it to white towels and shaped it on and over the bathing cap. It didn't take quite as long to build it up but obviously it required being created right before trick-or-treating.
The mask lasted most of the night fortunately until my sweat finally moistened it to the point that the flour paste became weakened. Even though it did not survive the full night, it was one of my second coolest teen efforts at Halloween.
That was probably the last year I stuck to those methods. During the year, I purchased a book about monster make ups and that led to using more theatrical techniques toward my costumes.
Til next time …