A Costumist Manifesto: Or why I love Halloween / by Jim Lounsbury

A spectre is haunting Australia -- the spectre of Halloween. All the powers of parochialism have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: the guy in the office who keeps moaning about it being an “American tradition”, the two hour waiting line at Spotlight, and the stores who skip straight from Father’s Day to Christmas. Where is the voice for those who would paint their faces and wear cheap witch costumes in fabrics that do not breathe? Where is the voice for those who would be, even for a moment, a Jedi?

There was a moment during the zombie swarm when my son looked up at me, blood smearing an axe-wound across his nose, with mild panic in his eyes and I had a deep paradigm shift, one that left me asking myself, “Am I the cool mother who does special effects makeup on my sons and takes them to culturally unique events like the Sydney Zombie parade? Or am I the really weird mother who douses her children in blood and drags them to disturbing counter-culture events that they will eventually describe tearfully in therapy?” I wouldn’t let them watch a zombie movie, why am I here with bullet wounds in my jaw, dragging them shuffling up the main street of the CBD?

I love costuming. I have worked in drama and film for decades and I know that a good costume changes you. In the words of aphorist Mason Cooley “Clothes make a statement, but costumes tells a story.” Costumes are a mask; a full body armour that allow you, even if just for an evening, to be an entirely different person. Or gender. Or species. The grease paint and feathers erase a fragment of that worry that we aren’t good enough and people might not like us… because frankly EVERYONE wants to hang out with princesses and pirates.

Costuming isn’t an “equaliser” like school uniforms. Costumes are attention seeking. (And yet, somehow, not in the same way that a man-bun or platform thigh-boots are). When you see someone in a costume you want to talk to them and it feels okay to do it. I learned this from my youngest son, who at the age of two begged for his first costume- a Viking dragon-trainer – and has since spent nearly every day of his nine years in a costume. Even on school days he will have an accoutrement such as an army belt complete with handy sandwich box attachment, or a shemagh or steampunk goggles, or on a subtle day just a debonair moustache which he achieves by stabbing at his face with my expensive eyebrow pencil. What he knows is that people will stop when you are in costume. They will talk to your character – and then they will also talk to you. They remember you. They become your friends. It is also a sincere form of flattery. He knows the neighbourhood baristas, mail people, garbage collectors and law enforcement because he has dressed up like all of them at one time or another. (His barista costume was especially marvellous. It involved hand drawn sleeve tattoos).

Schools understand this need to dress up. The school book-parade can turn even the shyest child into a (foam) sword-wielding dwarf or a proud outerpants wearing superhero. Comicon understands that this need is also a part of adulthood. I take my son to the convention every year, knowing it is his spiritual home, and we walk amongst a few hundred thousand of the happiest people in Sydney. Batman chats with a guy from Halo about costume density. Sailor Moon poses for photos with Mad Max and Where’s Wally roams freely- visible to all. My son met Boba Fett and still thinks it might have been real. There is a great deal of flesh on display – some of it toned and tanned, some of it far less toned and Golden Retriever levels of hairy. All of it – accepted.

While it is possible to spend a huge amount of money on cosplay, a regular old homemade costume will only cost you a few dollars in fabric and sanity. The other beauty of the costume is that is doesn’t really have to last. You can hot glue it together if necessary, cover the rips with a patch or better yet, douse them in blood and recycle for Halloween. And that brings me to Halloween. Yes, it’s an American thing and yes; it’s a pagan festival of ghosts and death. But it is also about dressing up and meeting your neighbours. You know who has embraced Halloween the most wholeheartedly in my neighbourhood? The oldies. They have the door open, the cobwebs up and quite high-end candy ready for the kids. Last year one elderly gent had Guylian seashells and tiny plastic cups of champagne for the parents. It took two hours to get around the four streets closest to my house because everyone was busy talking to each other. Why? It doesn’t happen at Christmas, or Easter. It’s not just about a holiday. In my humble be-wigged opinion it is because people get into costumes, which means they are willing to look a little foolish and fences get broken down (occasionally actual fences – there is candy up for grabs after all).

In short, both of my children survived the zombie parade and the several thousand photographs and conversations as we caught the train home. They are already planning their costume masterpieces for Halloween at the end of the month. It’s coming whether you moan about it or not. Just go buy some candy and moan with your neighbour.

 And to this end I say, let the ruling classes tremble at a costumist revolution. The people have nothing to lose but their dignity. They have a world to win.