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How To Make Your Own Halloween Costume; Or, Say No To The Naughty Nurse

Lydia O'Connor |
October 10, 2010 | 11:12 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Photos by Lydia O'Connor
Photos by Lydia O'Connor
Eighteen or so years into their Halloween costume careers, people get the idea in their heads that come Oct. 31, they have two options for their attire: (1) affirm their maturity by not dressing up, or (2) attach a “naughty” prefix to a career of their choice. So they fall back on overpriced, pre-packaged costumes, and everyone ends up looking pretty identical and boring — which couldn’t be any more antithetical to this holiday.

Halloween is not “the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it,” as Lindsay Lohan puts it in “Mean Girls.” On the contrary, Halloween is the one night a year people can unleash their creativity, sense of humor and gutsiness via costume and hope that everyone has something to say about it.

On top of all of this, being in Los Angeles calls for Halloween’s outlandish originality requirement to be magnified. Shame on those caught dead in a "Scream" mask or a naughty nurse ensemble when we live in the pop-culture center of the world, a creative gold mine overflowing with innovation, a mecca of thrift and vintage stores.

The bits and pieces to your costume may be scattered around Los Angeles — in a pile on the sidewalk outside a store, or on some rack sandwiched in between nursing scrubs and assless chaps — but once you piece together the puzzle that is your costume, you’ll have a costume that you can shamelessly dance the night away in among a hoard of generic fairies and animal ear-clad amateurs.

Scouring racks of disorganized clothing in search of inspiration can be overwhelming. At some point in your shopping adventure, something may jump out of the racks and scream at you to turn it into a spectacular costume.

But most of the time, those semi-hideous foot-long feather earrings you stumble upon in thrift stores won’t inspire an owl (a la Ga’Hoole) costume until you’re sitting in a theater the next week mesmerized by the cute owls that make an otherwise unfortunate film tolerable.

Come autumn, if you keep Halloween in the back of your mind as you go through your daily activities, you’d be surprised by all the beginnings of costumes you have laying around your closet and kitchen and by all the ideas that sprout from your daily activities and conversations.

Case in point: My university just started a Quidditch team for people who like to run around pretending to fly on brooms. I was intrigued by the role of the golden snitch — the little winged, dazzling ball that flits around the field until a player catches it and ends the game.

The golden snitch represents an ideal costume: It has a current angle with the seventh “Harry Potter” film coming out next month; as an iconic item from one of the most popular series in literary history, the costume will be pretty obvious but avoids the unoriginality of dressing up as Harry Potter himself; and the hunt for the costume in thrift stores wouldn’t be too daunting — anything gold will do.

Let logging into your Facebook account inspire a costume of being the page itself. Stare into your shopping cart and see the tinfoil you grabbed off the shelf and the funnel in your kitchen as a “Wizard of Oz” tin woodsman costume or a Hershey’s Kiss get-up. Go chat with your friends, take a walk, watch a movie — the perfect costume will come knocking if you are expecting it to show up.

Your first shopping stop should be your own closet.  There, you may stumble upon an idea or find a good starting point for costume. I, for one, am weird enough to own a metallic gold leotard. With one item to go off of, I took to the streets of L.A. in pursuit of the perfect wings and anything golden I could wear as a bottom half, throw in my hair, wear on my feet, or bedazzle myself with.

Melrose Avenue, composed almost entirely of cheap boutiques and vintage or thrift stores, is bound to house many of your unique costume needs. Do not disregard the places that don’t market themselves toward Halloween customers this time of year. At one shop, whose name I couldn’t ascertain, I picked up two gold glitter hair bows to get the ball — or the snitch — rolling for a few dollars. I mulled over a pair of gold sunglasses but decided that ran the risk of my costume being mistaken for one of those metallic painted, robot-emulating street performers.

At Crossroads Trading Co. on Melrose, a contemporary second-hand store that definitely doesn’t project a “costume shop” vibe, I bought a pair of gold pointed flats for $15 that will conveniently double as everyday footwear.

Thrift and vintage stores will, however, usually have a wider and more elaborate selection. Find success in these types of stores by looking beyond the clothing’s original intent.

At both American Vintage on Hollywood and Wasteland on Melrose, I found gold sequined pieces and gold metallic blouses that could easily be cut apart and safety-pinned to create a golden snitch skirt. Jet Rag on La Brea — which on Sunday has rows of piles of $1 items outside — has many discarded dance and theater costumes. I almost ditched my original gold leotard for a gold sequined one I found inside for a measly $8.

One of the reasons so many people turn to pre-packaged costumes is that they fear that their costume will not be clear enough otherwise. Buying an already-assembled costume seems to guarantee that you won’t have to spend your evening addressing the perplexed stares at your homemade smorgasbord of a costume. I definitely do not want to correct people all night who assume I am a golden fairy or an ironic gold digger.

My greatest concern over golden snitch ambiguity was the wings. The snitch’s wings are long, pointed and have an almost biblical sense about them. As Halloween nears, thrift stores fill up with leftover costume bits, and I ignored all of the cutesy, round wings I encountered in avoidance of anything “fairy” or “bumblebee.”

Being picky paid off when I got to American Vintage’s other location on Melrose. They had what can only be described as an alarming number of cowboy boots resting on every shelf and rack, but I chanced upon an angel costume that looked like something I would have been forced to wear to a church pageant during my Catholic school days.

The shapeless sheath was nothing special, but its Velcro-attached, puffy, gold metallic angel wings were perfect for the snitch. At $14, the costume seemed pricy, so I brought it to the counter and tried to bargain for the wings separately at a lower price.

Maybe it was because the clerk had never seen anyone as excited about finding “the perfect wings,” but in bewildering altruism, he threw my golden find in a bag and, with a shoulder shrug, told me I could just have them for free.

In a few days spent shopping and exploring colorful parts of L.A., the search for your costume can be fun and fruitful, and hopefully, you’ll come home with more than you set out to find. While walking through these neighborhoods and sifting through the racks in search of the literal and figurative gold, I found inspiration for the rest of my costumes — I wouldn’t be a Halloween freak if I didn’t celebrate multiple nights in multiple costumes, now, would I?

A wig tied into a bow in a window display on Hollywood had me keep my eye out for pieces for a Lady Gaga homage. Her obscure fashions enter a whole new realm of creativity — think Kermit the Frog stuffed animal heads, plastic bubbles and ornaments, and plastic kitchen play meat to emulate some of her most famous outfits.

But that’s a whole other adventure in pursuit of original costumes at a toy store. In the mean time, I’ll focus on thrift and vintage shops in the fight against pre-packaged Halloween.

Reach staff reporter Lydia O'Connor here.



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