Halloween weekend is upon us, ushered in by chilly nights and a waning but still bright Hunter’s Moon. Ghosts and gremlins appear on neighborhood streets and office hallways, though the spectre that haunts many of us most this time of year is the question, what costume should I wear?
Dressing up is no longer as simple as finding an old sheet: cut eye holes, it’s a ghost, wrap it around you, it’s a toga. These days Halloween attire requires navigating sticky questions. Why does the woman’s firefighter costume come with a mini-skirt and garter? Does dressing the dog in a tutu qualify as animal torture? And for those who are in a relationship: do we or don’t we couple up our costumes?
There are only a few times I’ve had dates for Halloween parties, and in none of those instances did I do a couple’s costume (although one year I was Martha Stewart and my fella was The Scream…hmm). One man I dated briefly in grad school disdained dressing up; for a party we went to, he wore the same green button-down he’d had on all day, stuck a single leaf in the breast pocket, and called himself a tree. Another date didn’t don a costume at all, unless you counted his black leather jacket and turtleneck.
At the time I thought those guys just weren’t that into dressing up. According to some of my students, they just weren’t that into me. When I asked a couple of my tutors what they thought about couple’s costumes, Emily was enthusiastic. “There are so many awesome duos to choose from,” she noted, “and they’re so much fun!” She added, “And I like the commitment that someone has to spend Halloween with you.” Erin chimed in, “Besides, if you are in a couple, and you don’t do a couple’s costume, people will ask you why not.” For them, a couple’s costume is, at least in part, a signifier of commitment, a kind of referendum on the relationship status. That may be true in some cases. One long-ago boyfriend of mine embraced Halloween whole-heartedly and always took pride in choosing and creating a costume independently—and we broke up one year the day after he donned Dracula, I Chicago’s felonious flapper Roxie Hart.
Still, I wonder if there’s a generational element, too, if couple’s costumes have even always been a thing. A colleague pointed out they may have been popularized by Lily and Marshall of television’s How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014). They were known for wearing some epic couple’s costumes: he as pirate, she as parrot; she as matador, he as bull. The long-time singleton in me particularly likes how they often incorporated the unattached Ted, such as when he complemented their salt and pepper duo by dressing up as cumin. I don’t remember many couple’s costumes from my younger days, except for one Barbie and Ken in grad school. My mom and dad did go to a Halloween party while I was in college wearing Dalmatian costumes mom had crafted from white sweat-suits and black fabric paint. I remember thinking they looked super cute, though my dad was probably not super thrilled. He was a good sport, though, and played along.
There seem to be different kinds of couple’s costumes. My parents’ Dalmatians were coordinated, but they weren’t based on a specific pairing, like salt and pepper. Some simply depend on a plural; some reflect a natural pairing, and some hearken back to famous (often romantic) duos in history or popular culture.
The first year Steve and I were together, he was traveling over Halloween, so I went to a party solo, dressed up as my hostess’s dry-cleaning. Last year, I was excited at the prospect of doing a couple’s costume, because I’d never been attached to someone who wanted to coordinate. I’m less drawn to the established-couple type of costume and tend to prefer a pun or something slightly off-the-wall, because I enjoy the creative challenge. So last year, as Steve and I threw around some ideas while on an early autumn hike, we toyed with the idea of doing a hiker and a trail-head, creating a sandwich board with maps and a logbook. Then it hit us: back in the spring we’d hiked a mountain named Bald Knob, and Steve had jokingly posed next to the sign.
He volunteered to go as the mountain, so we affixed a summit marker to his head, wrapped him in leaves, and I made an elevation sign for him to carry. Talk about a good sport. What a couple’s costume reveals about their willingness to play together, be silly, and laugh at themselves and with each other might be the clearest indicator of whether a relationship will survive and thrive.
Which brings us to this year’s costume: pigs-in-a-blanket. As newlyweds, I feel pretty secure in our commitment to one another, coordinating costume or none, but it was fun to find something to do together. It takes two (at least) to make the pun work, and I got to have some fun crafting hooves and assembling our pink outfits from scrubs and t-shirts. Best of all, having a big cozy blanket be part of our attire means we have an excellent excuse to snuggle all evening long.
Have a fun, safe and Happy Halloween, everyone!