I was never good at thinking up Halloween costumes. I have friends who can put together elaborate outfits using items from thrift stores, a few fabric scraps, a handful of sequins or a cup of glitter, and a good glue gun. Every year, I used to try and come up with one really good idea, but it never happened. By the time I hit my 30s, I realized I should just accept who I was: one of those people who shows up at a costume party without wearing a costume. Yes, that person.
But one year, tired of being costume-less, I decided if I couldn’t think of an outfit, I could at least do the next best thing—buy a wig. I went to the store and tried some on until I found a neon orange bob with bangs. It was not only fun, but I didn’t look at all like me. And isn’t that the point?
I wore it to the office Halloween lunch gathering, and some of my co-workers didn’t recognze me. That weekend, I went to a swing dance costume party. I wore my regular swing dance outfit—black skirt, black top, black heels—but instead of pulling back my long brown hair, I tucked it underneath a hair net and put on my orange bob.
My dance friends instantly recognized me by my face, but my dance acquaintances (people I only talked with while actually dancing) were confused, sometimes just for a few seconds, sometimes longer, trying to figure out who I was. One of the men I danced with at every swing dance asked me indeed to dance, but he had no idea I was me. “Have we met?” he asked. “Do I know you?”
I played coy, refusing to tell him. We kept on dancing.
“Please,” he said. “Tell me your name.”
“You’ll figure it out,” I said. But he never did.
I probably left the dance without ever confessing. Why would I? It was fun being someone else in the moment, for the evening.
I knew of a girl who, when she went to college, pretended to be from England. She used a fake English accent—it must have been really good—her entire freshman year. At the time, it sounded a little crazy, but it sounds pretty impressive now. I probably understand it better as an adult—how a person might want to escape the past and write a new history.
Halloween lets us do that: don an outfit, become someone (or something) else. Most of the time people know who we really are, can recognize us beneath our cat/witch/clown/cowboy/gypsy outfit. But if you get it right, like I did, you get to become brand new, even if for a few hours—long enough to have a great time, but just long enough to remember I didn’t mind returning to who I was and what I knew.