Friday, October 24, 2008


If you love Hallowe’en, then you and I have something in common. It's that one time of year when we get to be a little outrageous, possibly push the boundaries of political correctness, and maybe even get away with it. But I think the best part is giving free rein to our creativity.

I enjoyed dressing up when I was kid but when I had children of my own, I loved making costumes for them even more. Most were sewn from scraps, remnants, and hand-me-downs. Occasionally I’d use a pattern, but I usually made things up as I went along.

This is my son—circa 1983—in a clown costume that was literally pieced together from whatever I had on hand.

Instead of using a wig, I made a red yarn fringe and tacked it inside a cone-shaped hat.

The next year he was a pirate, complete with a cardboard sword and swashbuckling black eye patch. For safety’s sake, I didn’t want to completely obscure his vision in one eye, so the eye patch was just a piece of black felt attached to the bandana.

Of all the costumes I’ve made over the years, this next one is my most embarrassing creation and greatest achievement, all rolled into one. As my daughter (who is currently at university doing a double major in anthropology and environmental studies) likes to point out, it’s both historically inaccurate and politically incorrect. What was I thinking?

What can I say? It was 1985 and I was completely clueless. And apparently I wasn’t alone, because my son came home from school with a ginormous bag of candy—first prize for the best costume.

In spite of the inappropriateness, I must say that the wig turned out quite nicely. I made it myself from long strands of yarn stitched to a section of pantyhose.

These next two were a lot of fun to make.

My daughter’s red crayon was super easy. Patterns for this type of costume were available, but I simply made hers from a tube of red felt. And remember that red cone hat from the clown costume? Here it is again, minus the fringe.

I made the skeleton by having my son lie on some black fabric while I traced around him. From that I stitched up a jumpsuit, allowing enough room for warm clothes underneath, and used white fabric paint to draw on the bones.

Next up is an intergalactic princess, also affectionately known as our adorable little space cadet. I used a pattern for this one, and the fabric came from a ‘70s gold lame evening dress we’d scooped at a garage sale for a dollar. Anyone remember those dresses? Gack! Much better suited for space travel.

That year the intergalactic princess went trick or treating with a vampire, and it was also one of those rare occasions when I tried to do some creative photography. I don’t remember what we used to make my son’s hair black—he’s a redhead in real life—but I do remember that washing it out was not easy. The next day he went to school with some very dark highlights.

Over the years that black cape saw a lot of use. For example, with the red collar tucked inside, it worked as a witch’s cape.

Speaking of witches in black capes, this wasn’t Hallowe’en, but here’s my daughter (on the right) as the Witch of the West in her elementary school’s musical production of The Wizard of Oz.

By then it was the ‘90s and political correctness had come into play, so she wasn’t Wicked, she just wasn’t very nice. And instead of meeting her demise at the end of the play, she was tossed into a caldron, reduced to a tiny version of her former self, and then she ran away. Instead of “Ding dong, the witch is dead,” the chorus sang “Ding dong, the witch has fled.”

The last time I made a costume was two years ago. Meet Marilyn. The intergalactic princess might be all grown up, but that didn’t stop her from asking Mom to make a rendition of that oh-so-famous white dress. And Mom happens to think she’s every bit as gorgeous as the original wearer.

And just for fun, this is our neighbors’ cat, Peter. No costume for Pete. He’s wearing his everyday tuxedo, tastefully accessorized with a pair of jack-o’-lanterns.

I’m sure I have more photos around here but these are all I could find. They certainly provided an entertaining stroll down memory lane. What about you? Did you have a favorite costume when you were a child? Or did you make costumes for your children? Please tell us about them!

Happy Hallowe’en!

Until next time,

Lee's blog
Lee's website


Gillian Layne said...

Lee, those pictures are adorable! We've always had fun with Halloween; only my youngest dresses up now, and the older two trick or treat for Unicef. She's having fun digging through our costume tub and figuring out what to wear. Having her older sisters put make-up on her is her favorite part. :)

Magdalena Scott said...


What wonderful costumes! Those were the days!

Favorite costume of my own? Sometime in elementary school I was Raggedy Ann. Loved the red yarn hair. I went to a party during high school as “Delta Dawn” if you remember that old song. I had “a faded rose from days gone by” and everything. No one could figure out what I was supposed to be. That costume is memorable because it was such a flop!

I made all my son’s costumes, except the year he and his buddy both decided to go as Batman. Those were “store bought.” But I loved making his Little Dutch Boy costume when he was three and had wooden shoes from our summer visit to Holland, Michigan. He collected candy in a “Dutch Boy Paint Can.” It had never had paint in it, of course. We took the cover off an old paint can and glued it onto a big juice can, and added a handle. Like you, I often recycled pieces of costumes. The Robin Hood cape was later part of a King costume, etc. My favorite part of Halloween was drawing the facial hair on him…that would have been Robin Hood, the King, the Pirate, and—best of all—Indiana Jones. Now he’s too old, and grows his own facial hair. Ah, well…


Lee McKenzie said...

Hi, Gillian! Glad you enjoyed the photos. Some of them are scans of old Polaroids, which don't archive very well. My kids loved that camera. These days we're used to seeing digital photos immediately. In those days it was Polaroid that gave us that instant gratification!

Lee McKenzie said...

Magdalena, your Little Dutch Boy sounds perfectly adorable. And your story about the Delta Dawn costume - LOL! I've had a few of those myself.

I used to dress up as a red hat lady to hand out treats - everyone needs an excuse to wear red and purple feather boas, right? - but we get so few trick-or-treaters now that it doesn't seem worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

Lee, I loved the trip down memory lane!

As a kid, I was always a last-minute costumer so tended to go out as a hippie or a lumberjack (there was always a tie-dyed T-shirt or a big plaid flannel jacket kicking around in the late sixties).

When my stepson was little he was much the same, but one year he decided ahead of time to go trick-or-treating as Elvis and I had so much fun glueing glittery things onto a belt and the big collar of a vintage black blouse.

He looked great, too. It was worth sacrificing the blouse!


Shelagh said...

Wow! These are really impressive costumes! I thought I was a decent Halloween mom, but not in your league. The children look amazing. Thanks for sharing your trip down memory lane.

Estella said...

What wonderful pictures!
I grew up in the country, where houses were few and far between, so did not go trick or treating.
My children also grew up in the country, but in a different area. The houses were closer together, so they were able to trick or treat by car. I made all of their costumes when they were small. Later they put together their own.

Lee McKenzie said...

Rachel, the Elvis costume sounds, um, glittery! I'll bet your stepson still remembers it as one of his favorite things.

Ellen said...

Love the costumes.
I never wore a costume as a child as we were not allowed to go trick or treating. I don't remember why but there was some reason my parents forbid trick or treating.

Lee McKenzie said...

Hi, Shelagh! Thanks for joining me on the stroll down memory lane.

Lee McKenzie said...

Estella, I grew up in a rural area, too, and I was taken trick or treating by car. The treats were awesome in those days and many were homemade - candied applies, popcorn balls, peanut brittle. Yum! And everyone knew everyone else so there was never a concern that the treats had been tampered with in any way. It was a wonderful, carefree time to be a child.

Lee McKenzie said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed seeing the costumes, Ellen! These days many parents don't allow their children to go trick or treating. Sounds as though yours were ahead of their time.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Lee, what an adorable stroll down memory lane! (And I bow to your costume making abilities--I stink in that arena). I do love the dressing up aspect. I actually did a blog post the other day about how ironic it is that me, my six year old and seven year old LOVE Halloween...even though we're the biggest scaredy cats on the planet. Then there's my husband, who's pretty much unflappable and really enjoys horror movies but we have to coerce him into dressing up and joining us to trick or treat!


Lee McKenzie said...

Tanya, I'm a charter member of the scaredy cat club ;) Even the trailers for horror movies have been known to give me nightmares. But I love the dress-up, pretend-to-be-someone-you're-not aspect of costumes and trick or treating.

Megan Kelly said...

Lee, incredible pictures! I wish I had half your talent, but I barely sew on buttons. Although when my 1 1/2 year old wanted a costume and insisted her 1 month old brother did too, I improvised a Casper the Friendly Ghost out of white footed pjs and a plain white cap. Hers took more planning: I tacked magenta circles on a green sweatshirt and pants so she could be Baby Bop (ugh). The hat was a chore, but I have to admit, she was a gorgeous dinosaur. :) Afterward, I took the circles off and she wore the sweatshirt and pants through the winter. I've always loved Halloween. It'll come as no surprise I always wanted to dress as a witch. Even now, I have the pointy hat, striped socks and black dress. I don't paint my face, but so far no one has had any doubts as to what I am. Hmmm...

Lee McKenzie said...

Megan, using your kids' everyday clothes as the starting point for costumes is a great idea. And I love the description of your little green and magenta dinosaur. I'll bet that costume was an attention grabber!