Monday, October 28, 2013

Incognito: Costumes and Other Cheap Thrills

Gilda from Planet Glitz

© 2008 – 20013 by Joyce Mason
All Rights Reserved

During October, The Radical Virgo is hosting some of my favorite posts from my other blog, Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights. See announcement

I have always loved costumes and reported in a previous post my penchant for getting up like Auntie Mame, the Purple People Eater, and a Christmas Tree, among other alter egos.

As most of you know, my first mystery novel, coming out next month, is set at a costume affair called The Crystal Ball. It’s the silver anniversary of a longevity organization in San Francisco. The revelers are invited to come as you will be in the next 25 years. You have no idea how much fun I’m having with that! I can invent costumes without regard to the problem I have in real life—mechanical execution. For example, Micki Michaels, the protagonist and head of IOPEA, the  Immortalists on Planet Earth Association, attends the bash as a DNA molecule. That one was a lot easier to pull off in print than in person. As to the rest of the party-goers, think the bar scene in Star Wars and a lot of other highly original characters.

What is it about costume parties, costume balls, and dressing up that gives us a cheap thrill like no other? In fact, the longstanding costume shop from the hippy dippy heyday of Sacramento is called
Cheap Thrills. It remains a local cultural icon.

Psychology of Costumes

No question in my mind will remain unanswered a click away from Google. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to know that our choice of costume says something about us. However, I found a
fascinating exercise proposed for teachers of clinical psychology. In a way, that’s all of us. Life is the clinic! The exercise: (1) Write down costumes you have worn in the past, (2) Write the costumes you’d like to wear in the future—then, (3) Let others in a class setting (or a gathering of family or friends) tell you what costumes they’d choose for you. Do I want to know?

I even found suggested
costumes for introverts! Again, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that introverts don’t like being the center of attention, but certain costumes are easier to hide behind than others. Or bestow a bit of of the brazen. And for those of you who want some costume interpretations without thinking too hard, click here for some expert opinions from a psychologist.

My Stab at the Costume Exercise

1. Costumes Past: You already know I’ve been Auntie Mame, the Purple People Eater, a cosmic cowgirl, and a Christmas tree--and (pictured) Glitta from the Planet Glitz in a Golden Galaxy, dripping gold, not 14-carat.

2. Costumes Future: I decided I had to write down my pure desires, regardless of how ridiculous I might look in these get-ups at my current age, weight, etc. Try not to laugh too hard: trapeze artist, ballerina, CSI (complete with disposable gloves and that nifty specimen collection kit), and a private eye (beige trench coat and sunglasses). I suppose these all make sense, as I try to keep my balance while navigating the mysteries of life.

3. How My Friends Would Dress Me Up. Several of them were game! I just sent them an e-mail. Here’s are some of the surprising results with my parenthetical reactions:

  • I could see you in a Dorothy costume with cute little Toto in tow. (I hope it’s only my wide-eyed wonder of a child and my tendency toward glitzy accessories. I’d kill for those sparkly red shoes!) Yes, plus your persistence to get to your goal and help get others there, too, and to overcome obstacles and pick up friends along the way that are definitely not mainstream thinkers… which is a good thing! All of the Joseph Campbell mythic journey is wrapped up in the one little story... you’re living it!
  • I am not sure what costume I can see you wearing, but one of my favorite all- time costumes is a clear trash bag filled with colored balloons and the person inside wearing a leotard and tights in a bright color – and they are a bag of Jelly Bellies! (You were channeling! I love Jelly Bellies!)
  • Don’t laugh…I can see you in an Elvira costume. Also, Lily Tomlin as the little girl with the big lollypop. (I’m nothing if not versatile.)
 Now, don’t you just have to try this for yourself?

All-Time Favorite Costume Ideas and Incidents

I tend to be most impressed with costumes that are objects of some sort. I think it’s much easier to portray a person—I already am one—than a thing. Morphing into an animated object takes real talent. One costume that caught my eye was someone in a paper box crafted as a traffic light, complete with ovals of changing colors—Go, Caution, STOP!

Here’s my most hilarious costume incident. Our neighbor down the street, a fun guy, but never known to be on the bold side, showed up early on Halloween night as an adult trick-or-treater. He was wearing one of my coveted costumes—a trench coat—only he had a different job in mind for it. As I opened the door, he ripped opened his coat like the proverbial dirty old man played by
Arte Johnson on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. His exposé revealed a large salami and two rounds of cheese hanging from his belt. (He was otherwise fully clothed.)

He got the last surprise when he stepped across the threshold and saw that he had just “exposed himself” to my sixty-something mother-in-law. A proper lady, Mom fortunately had a great sense of humor, but she still couldn’t put Paul at ease, who skulked home, embarrassed about his flashdance.

Probably the most clever costume party I ever heard of was called a Cocktail Party, and it was literal to its name. It happened in Wisconsin in the ‘70s. People came dressed as cocktails. I can only imagine the Harvey Wallbanger. I would have gone as a mint green Grasshopper. There was a Pink Lady, a Tequila Sunrise, and my favorite—six people who walked in together with a big brown box around them, bottle caps on their heads—a six-pack! Contest: Tell me how we’d adapt this to modern day. How would Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, or Charlotte from Sex & the City dress up like a Cosmo? I can’t begin to imagine where this would take one of my favorite bloggers, the
Martini Diva, but I know she’ll Comment and tell your herself! (Sex on the Beach-a-tini would, no doubt, be the life of the Cocktail Party!)

Like Day of the Dead that follows it on November 1, Halloween is a mixture of the sacred and secular--of life and death. Overall, the holiday has become highly commercialized and more people, adults included, are into decorating and dressing up. Seasonal costume shops are cropping up on more corners. For those sensitive to it, there is no denying that All Hallow’s Eve is a night where the veil between worlds is thin.

Halloween is a celebration of the hidden mysteries of life and the mystery of our own multifaceted natures—the parts still hidden inside us. As you get ready for this annual night of tricks, sugar rush, and brushing elbows with ghosts and goblins, see what you discover about yourself in the fun, in the disguise—in the touch of the forbidden—in the magic.


Photo: Joyce as Gilda from the Planet Glitz, some Halloween in the late 1980s.

Are you on The Radical Virgo mailing list? If not, join in the upper right of the sidebar to be part of a drawing on Halloween for a signed copy of Golden Prose & Poetry, which contains Joyce's short-story, "Cruel Embroidery." It reminds some people of a modern-day Salem witch trial, just in time for All Hallow's Eve. 

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