Many of my friends love Halloween more than any other holiday. What's not to like? Lots of candy, scary (or not-so-scary) movies, and costumes. Who doesn't like costumes, the chance to be a different person, or maybe not a person at all. How about a gorilla? A slice of pizza? A BART train? Yes, to all of it.
Yet this idea that you can only wear a costume on Halloween ignores the fact that we all put on a costume every day: our clothes. Sometimes it's a formal uniform, like the company polo I wore when I worked at a pizza restaurant, or the nostalgic outfit I wore when I worked at the amusement park. Sometimes it's an informal uniform. I spent my early 20s, when I was the youngest person in my department, dressing in tailored jackets and skirts. I decided I would feel less inexperienced if I looked like a professional woman.
Every day, we choose a version of ourselves to present to the world, even if the image we want to project is "someone who doesn't care about clothes." I usually don't want to project that image, but if you could see me as I write this, in a mauve t-shirt, red hooded sweatshirt, jeans, teal slippers, and stained ballcap, I would seem like that person. I would also seem color blind.
When I go shopping, I turn away from both sober navy dresses and neon orange shirts, because they're "not me." But of course, I'm still me, whatever I wear. By "not me," I mean those outfits don't project my image of myself, or of the self I want to show the world.
I started my hat blog because I had so many hats I never wore--I worried they would project an eccentric image. Yet I had bought them thinking they expressed a fantasy version of myself, one that lived the glamorous life seen in mid-century movies, or a modern me that was more confident and stylish. The first hat I ever bought was for a Halloween costume, but most of them I got because I liked to imagine myself wearing them, whether I actually wore them or not.
In the end, our Halloween costumes are an expression of our image of ourselves, just as our regular clothes are. In the picture above, part of me wanted to BE Carmen Miranda, wear an outrageous hat and gobs of jewelry. When I wore this costume to a party, someone asked me where I had gotten the "perfect" dress. I had to confess I'd gotten it from my closet--I'd worn it to a company party a few months earlier.
You'd think, as a writer, I could inhabit any character I want to, and in a way, that's true. I've written stories in the points of view of women and girls, boys and men. Also a parrot and a hive of bees. But all these characters are from my imagination, from me. Like my Halloween costumes, and my hats, they contain some essential part of me, no matter how far from my daily reality they are. Writing fiction, I get to wear a costume every day, pretend I'm someone I'm not. But somewhere deep inside each character, some tiny part of me is hiding behind the mask.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Bayou, The Laurel Review, and Sou’wester.
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