Columns > Published on October 28th, 2014

Dressing the Part: A Look at Literary Halloween Costumes for the Family

Image via Lake Interlochen (Editor's note: NOT Leah's family.)

This was supposed to be a very different column. 

When I originally pitched this column, my six-year-old daughter had a plan. We, as a family, were going to dress up for Halloween. She was going to be Hermione Granger, my husband was going to be Sirius Black, and I'd be Luna Lovegood. "Because Mommy, I have Hermione's wand, and Daddy loves Sirius Black, and you...well, you said you didn't want to be Professor McGonagall." 

Though her facts were slightly flawed (my husband loves Gary Oldman, not Sirus Black, and who WOULD want to be Professor McGonagall anyway?), her arguments paid off, and for the first time in our nine years together, my husband agreed to dress up for Halloween. A Harry Potter theme it was, and I was going to use our experiences as a jumping off point for an emotional column about the fun of dressing up as a family and the use of a literary theme. And then I was going to use all that lovely emotion to toss out other ideas for YOUR family, so YOU could have as much fun as US...

...and then my daughter fell in love with a pirate costume at Costco, so now she's going as Captain Jack Sparrow, and my husband will never agree to be Will Turner, and I sure as hell can't pull off Elizabeth Swann (I'm quirky, not pretty). We have no group costumes, no shared joy, and BAH HUMBUG HALLOWEEN! don't really mean that. I swear it. I still love to play dress-up, and I still love the idea of a family literary-themed costume plan. So while this column will be BARREN of ALL EMOTION, I still talk costumes! I can be analytical! I can turn to...

SCIENCE! YES!! Let's use Science to find some great literary-themed costumes for all of you who are not subject to the cruel, terrible whims of a domineering child.

So here's how we're going to do it. There are rules to establish first and foremost, and they are:

  1. "Family" is defined as any group of three (3) or more people who want to dress up together. We're going to assume there's at least one child in the mix here, because I said so;
  2. Literary-themed means I will use not only books, but movies made from books, because they provide convenient visuals; and
  3. I am judging based on these categories:
    1. Are there enough character choices?
    2. Are the costumes cost-prohibitive?
    3. Do I want to try this out?

Sometimes, Science is subjective. I swear! That's why I capitalized it.

So here I go with some widely disparate choices, and no, I'm not going to do Harry Potter because WAH I CAN'T BE LUNA LOVEGOOD THIS YEAR!

'Matilda' by Roald Dahl

This may not be an obvious choice to those of you without kids, but it happens to be a VERY obvious choice for my family. My daughter resembles Mara Wilson, who played Matilda in the 1996 movie version starring Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman. Since she was two years old, I've had people stop me in stores to ask if I've seen the movie (yes), and if she's seen the movie (yes), and didn't I think the resemblance was just STRIKING (meh)? But it's a fun kids' book (the only kids' book in this collection), and maybe the costumes could be fun. Let's apply Science to see just how good it is.

Are there enough character choices?  

Yeah. Kind of. There's Matilda, which is perfect for almost any little girl with a red hair ribbon. But there are no little boy roles, really, unless you count Matilda's mess of a brother, and what boy wants to be that? Men could be an FBI agent investigating Matilda's father's business, or Matilda's father, the quintessential used car salesman. 

For us grown(ish) women, there are a few fun roles as well. There's Matilda's mom, a trashy, disinterested woman who doesn't understand her bookish daughter. There's Trunchbull, the terrifying principal at Matilda's school who bullies the children and anyone else she meets (and technically, she's mannish enough that a man in drag would make a GREAT Trunchbull).

Me? I'd be Miss Honey, Matilda's awesome teacher. She's super-sweet and comes through for Matilda in the end.

Are the costumes cost-prohibitive?

This is where Matilda really shines. Any and all of these costumes can be easily purchased at your local goodwill. You've got a track suit for the athletic-minded Trunchbull, cheesy clothes for the parents, and pretty dresses for Matilda and Miss Honey. Piece of cake.

Do I want to try this out?

Well, you know, it's a little boring now that I've talked about it, so no. Let's move on to...

'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

Mmm. This is my all-time favorite book, and I read it about twice a year. I love it. I love the movie. Again, it seems an obvious choice for my family, as Scout Finch has straight brown hair with bangs (not just in the the book, too, as evidenced by the descriptions of Boo Radley's soap doll carvings), just like my own little girl. But for my family, that's where this starts to fall apart. Let's see what Science has to say about it.

Are there enough character choices?

Let's see. For my daughter, we have Scout, of course. A family with an older boy would easily have their Jem Finch. A young-ish boy friend could be a cute Dill. 

For men there are two major options: Atticus Finch and Boo Radley. Both are slightly intimidating. Can a man pull off the inherent sexiness to an old-school Southern attorney with a conscience? Can he do it better than Gregory Peck did? Or can he try to be pale, creepy, and silent like Boo Radley, hovering in dark corners and hiding from darker misdeeds?

Women fare worse here. I'd struggle to find the right costume. I could be Maudie Atkinson, the spunky, quirky neighbor, or I could be the busy-body Aunt Alexandra (ick). Or I could be old Mrs. Dubose, the ancient, cantankerous neighbor. None of these make me jump for joy. 

Are the costumes cost-prohibitive?

Again we have some standard Goodwill fare — suit and tie for the men, overalls for Scout and Jem, and old-school dresses for the ladies. There are references to Aunt Alexandra's corset in the book, so there's that, too...but it wouldn't be too terribly expensive at all.

Do I want to try this out?

Cute as my kiddo would be as Scout, and as weird a Boo Radley as I think my husband could pull off....maybe not. There's just not a role for me.

'Interview with the Vampire' by Anne Rice

Admit it. This would be awesome for someone to pull off. Science will tell us why.

Are there enough character choices?

Yes and no. In the first place, though I can picture no one other than Kirsten Dunst playing Claudia (thanks, movie-version), I do think my child would be a GREAT vampire girl. Get the child a curly wig, a fancy dress and some fangs and she'd be good to go. This would be a great costume choice, in fact, for any little girl with a taste for dramatics. Claudia is wild and strong and blood-thirsty. What could be better?

That said, there's absolutely nothing for a little boy, so that rules out any brother-sister teams.

For the men-folks, the choices are amazing! Louis or Lestat: both are fabulous. It just depends if the man has a sweet side (Louis) or if he's a bit more...spice (Lestat).

But again, for the (slightly) older women, the pickings are slim. I suppose I could be a tavern girl or a whore, but neither of those really appeals to me. I could slap on a long, black wig and a long, black dress and be Anne Rice, but that doesn't sound great either. Hmm. This one isn't working out well for me, is it?

Are the costumes cost-prohibitive?

This gets a resounding YES. Period costumes, if done well, are mighty spendy, so you may want to think twice before committing to dress up your little vampire girl. 

Do I want to try this out?

I'd love to see my daughter as Claudia, and I'd do just about anything to see my husband dressed up as a hot vampire, so let's say YES. I'll bite the bullet and be Anne Rice for a day. That's fine.

'The Shining' by Stephen King

I had to try a Stephen King on for size here, and The Shining happens to be my favorite of all the options I considered. Science will tell us why. Science RULES!

Are there enough character choices?

Why yes. There are. Here they are:

Wendy Torrance, for the mom who knows how to wield a knife.

Jack Torrance, for the tortured writer type (not that we know ANY of those around here).

Danny Torrance, for the sweet little boys (or girls who don't mind dressing up like a little boy).

The Grady twins, for the movie-buffs who don't care that the Grady daughters don't play a big part in the book, and for the little girls who like to be creeeeeeeepy.

Mrs. Massey, the old lady in the bathtub, for the women who want to FREAK PEOPLE OUT YO.

There's also a bartender, a groundskeeper, and even Dick Halloran. Those who want to be really nutty can wear some greenery and be a possessed piece of zoological topiary. There's very little more frightening, after all, than a possessed piece of zoological topiary.

Are the costumes cost-prohibitive?

Considering that Wendy spends much of the story in a bathrobe, Jack and Danny wear normal 70s clothes, and the twins just need matching dresses....not at all! You can DO this one with a trip to Goodwill (and a lot of fake blood).

Do I want to try this?

Yes please! YES YES YES!! Please! I may need to borrow some creepy twins, but I can totally see us pulling this one off!! Bring it on!

All right. Maybe I did get a little emotional by the end, but that's what a good costume can do for you.

Now it's your turn. What costumes do you think would be awesome for a family? Why? Do they stand up to Science? 

About the author

Leah Rhyne is a Jersey girl who's lived in the South so long she's lost her accent...but never her attitude. After spending most of her childhood watching movies like Star Wars, Aliens, and A Nightmare On Elm Street, and reading books like Stephen King's The Shining or It, Leah now writes horror and science-fiction. She lives with her husband, daughter, and a small menagerie of pets.

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