Halloween: Why the fright fest is not just for kids
From Heidi Klum's mega-effort prostethics to Jemima Khan's political satire, Halloween has become Christmas for adults
Time once was when Halloween meant sticking a few holes in a black bin bag, donning a scratchy plastic mask and traipsing from door to door in the cold to collect enough monkey nuts for a potential party. Suffice to say that things have changed since then. In the last decade, Halloween is second only to Christmas as a massive celebration, and the lead-in time is stretching year on year.
But for grown-ups, it’s not about collecting wine gums and swizzle sticks. It’s an opportunity to let one’s freak flag fly, and to engage in a harmless bout of sartorial one-upmanship with one’s nearest and dearest.
“Thanks to the likes of Facebook and Twitter, people have really started putting in the effort to dress up because it’s not just the people at the party who will see your costume,” explains Ronan O’Brien, CEO of thecostumeshop.ie. “It also acts as a great way of bringing down barriers among people on a night out. You might have pressure in your job or life, or you might be shy or reserved, but for one night you can be a character who isn’t any of those things.
“If you’re dressed up as Superman and you see Wonder Woman, you have to go talk to her. Dressing up gives people a whole new conversational gambit to work with.”
James Elliott, director of Elliott’s Fancy Dress (elliottsfancydress.ie), is in agreement: “The dress up party has become a date night out, where people really want to dress to impress.”
Already, celebrities have been putting their game faces on and dressing up for the season that’s in it. Jemima Khan isn’t quite a household name, but it’s likely you’ve heard of her Melania Trump costume (complete with ‘grabbing’ Donald Trump puppet).
And in the steeplechase for column inches, Heidi Klum always ensures that she comes out on top with an overblown Halloween fancy dress party each year. Her elaborate costumes have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous: Jessica Rabbit, Lady Godiva (complete with real horse), Cleopatra, a cadaver. In short, she is the undisputed queen of dress up: providing laughs with her wry pop culture nods, gasps for her sheer weapons-grade dedication.
But given that Halloween is originally a Celtic pagan festival, it’s no wonder that we do the holiday particularly well. Burlesque performer and dance teacher Bella Agogo is famed among Dublin’s dance community for truly getting into the spirit of things around this time of year. Part of the fun, she admits, is sourcing costume parts year-round, and making up an elaborate, detailed costume.
“I’ve always loved Halloween, and we had a dress-up box when I was a kid,” she recalls. “I started ballet at the age of four, and my mum made all of my costumes. We’d go trick-or-treating on the street in Kimmage/Crumlin, where I grew up, but I never gave up the dressing up side of it.”
And in the years since then, Bella’s costumes have been little short of eye-catching: “I once did Lestat from ‘Interview With A Vampire’, in full 18th-century costume and a chest binder,” she recalls. “I’ve been vampires of varying types. I’ve been a Borg from ‘Star Trek’, using bits of old technology to make the costume.”
And this year, a nod to pop culture: “I’m going to be Kate McKinnon’s character from the ‘Ghostbusters’ movie,” reveals Bella (pictured above). “It won’t be sexy or anything, as it’ll essentially be a pair of overalls, but I’ll be making the proton pack myself with bike lights, and making the whole thing a bit steampunk. Usually I start my costumes at the end of September but this time around, I’ll be burning the midnight oil.”
She certainly won’t be doing so alone. According to Elliott, business has increased exponentially in the last five years in Ireland, and is approaching saturation point. In the US, Halloween has long been a calendar behemoth. According to figures, over 157 million Americans celebrate the holiday by dressing up, with total domestic spending estimated to reach around $6.9bn. In the UK, sales in the sector were projected to reach £283 in 2015, up from £275 million in 2014.
“Because of our ties with American culture, we’re way ahead of the rest of the British Isles and even cities like London,” Elliott explains.
Derry has, in recent years, become a Halloween hotspot in particular: “Derry has always been ahead of the game,” Elliott affirms. “The Derry council promoted it as a version of Christmas, and it got to a point where every chemist, shop and even bookstore has a section for Halloween party time.”
According to those in the industry, Irish people spend an average of €30-35 on a costume; thanks to an explosion of manufacturing in China, the cost of costumes has dropped significantly. Still, others are prepared to push the boat out: “We’ve sold a €1,000 Stormtrooper or €500 Chewbacca outfit,” says O’Brien. “We’re constantly surprised at the extreme lengths some people will go to.
This year’s go-to outfit, according to costume experts, is Harley Quinn from ‘Suicide Squad’. Stock for the sexy character is already running perilously low, but specialist stores have no shortage of other options. “Costumes often follow film trends, but we’ve found that guys still like a mix between gore and funny,” says O’Brien. “Some people love to be outrageous — I’ve seen a ‘party pooper’ costume, complete with toilet. The ‘Trumpa Loompah’ costume has also been hugely popular this year.”
Adds Frank McNally, owner of Costume Corner (costumecorner.ie) in Cavan: “Clown outfits have been selling particularly well for us in the last while. For women, standards like Batgirl, Dorothy (from ‘The Wizard of Oz’), Red Riding Hood and Mrs Brown have always sold well. For men, it’s often a case of the cruder the better.”
“It’s not about how cool I’ll look, but how I’ll feel on the night,” says Bella. “If someone comes over to me and has a laugh, that’s the great thing.
“For me, dressing up is part of me,” she surmises. “I enjoy the process of making a costume, even if it means being up at 3am at a sewing machine. The effort that goes into it as just as enjoyable as wearing it. If I feel great in it, it’s the same way someone else feels in a ball-gown. It’s my Christmas.”
5 costume trends of 2016
1. Stranger Things
The 80s supernatural drama has been one of Netflix's biggest draws this year, and the show's most memorable characters - Eleven and the sartorially, um, uncompromising Barb - are ripe for Halloween.
2. Ireland's Olympic Heroes
The O'Donovan brothers were the feel-good hit of the summer, and their costume should be straightforward enough. Steak, silver and spuds.
3. David Bowie
Anyone wanting to pay homage to those who sadly departed in 2016 won't be left short of options. But Bowie left behind not just a glorious musical legacy, but any number of costume ideas.
Dark, shaggy hair? Been to the gym quite a lot this year? Scythe somewhere within reach? Done.
5. Yeezy model
Remember Kanye's ill-fated fashion show? To recreate the look, try some M&S shapewear, some old runners and a well-practised look of ennui.