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Memories of Halloween seem like a great home movie, filled with activity: harried mothers adjusting make-up and hats, you and your friends pausing occasionally for the camera-wielding dads; doors flung open to a tidal wave of the neighborhood’s newly minted witches and Pikachus; bright bags of bulk sweets making their way from pantry to eager buckets or last-minute embarrassed plastic bags.

Despite the variations, childhood Halloweens will always seem innocent in comparison to collegiate expectations of the holiday. If you’re a guy, frightening but undecipherable masks and jeans pass for costumes. And if you’re a member of the fairer sex, then sex appeal is the only requirement: anything from a low-cut nurse’s uniform to fishnets with a bustier (bunny ears optional) seems appropriate. Then, you have to drink so much that bits of the costume are missing the next morning, and no matter how many mints you swallow your breath smells like pumpkin-scented vomit.

Where in the college timeline these rules came into being I don’t know, but this post may help you sidestep them as you go tricking and treating on campus this fall.

1. DIY: Make a costume.

Yes, it’s old-school and maybe your mom was the family seamstress, but even science thinks hot-gluing feathers and sequins to cardboard wings is good for you. A cheap tulle ballerina skirt (thrift stores are full of ’em) and paper towel roll-crafted wand later, you’re a fairy. Gentlemen, avoid the Joker make-up in favor of something fun from your childhood: underpants over some brightly colored pajamas, and an earnest ‘S’ styled onto a red or blue T-shirt with stencils and markers is always great. (To stand out, gender-reverse these costumes.)

Idea Bank: Flip through photos of New York’s Comic Con for ideas, or, in a nod to sentiment and politics, go as Big Bird. Fancy going retro? Hit up some consignment shops for a ’50s frock, appropriate accessories and (comfortable) heels to spend the evening as Betty Draper. (And get the boyfriend to go as Don, or, to confuse/please your TV-savvy friends, dress him as Henry Francis.) TV is a breeding ground for costume ideas: I often go as Liz Lemon from ’30 Rock’ (out-of-style sweater dress and scarf, sandwich in one hand, baby shoes in the other), but dressing as Tracy Jordan’s werewolf, from his ‘Werewolf Bar Mitzvah’ music video, will score you extra points.

“Werewolf bar mitzvah/Spooky, scary/Boys becoming men/Men becoming wolves!”

2. Check with friends to see if anyone’s hosting a party.

The tempo of Halloween turns you into Tinkerbell: you’re never still as you dart from house to house, scooping candy and shrieking as your troupe tumbles down the streets. But we’re in college now, and it can be nice to spend a comfortable evening with friends, listening to the Munsters on repeat and downing cider and candy. If you’re 21 and older, Google local bars to see if any are hosting parties (themed parties are even better), and get a costumed group to join you.

Idea Bank: Hark back to the ’90s and dress as the Power Rangers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In deference to one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters, conquer evil – or at least the local party – as the Avengers. Assemble everyone you can find to go as the cast of Mad Men, or Scrabble letters, or the Beatles circa Sergeant Pepper, or, my personal favorite, everyone dresses as Waldo – this may help if you’re going bar-hopping or to a parade. Unless there are other groups of Waldos. In which case, keep your cell phones on.)

You and your friends will impress as the assembled Avengers.

Class up the night by dressing your gang and you as the mod crew from ‘Mad Men.’ (Ladies, call dibs to go as Joan. Gents, Don is the solid option but the nerdy Lane will score too.)

3. Sadly, some of us have midterms.

Halloween has the misfortune of falling right in the middle of most students’ semesters. If you don’t have a paper to write, you most likely at least have an exam or two. Don’t resign yourself to a bag of Snickers and your laptop for the night, though. Make that Stefon costume (get the roommate to go as the giggly Seth Meyers) and give yourself an hour – two tops – to enjoy the evening. Hit up the bar party for a drink, or swing by your friend’s party for pie. Then stock up on cider (I recommend Red Jacket Orchards) – hydrate yourself as you study – and pound out that paper. And buy candy the next day – it’ll be 50% off, and you don’t need Halloween as an excuse to eat chocolate.

Tricking and treating? Got any quirky costume suggestions?
Share ’em below, and happy Halloween!

Featured photo credit: Just Us 3