Store-bought vs. homemade: Costume preferences run deep

What presents a Halloween catastrophe for some is a collaborative confection for others

Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006

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Rosie Kaller⁄The Gazette
Costumes make Halloween fun, but for many the appeal of homemade garments has been overshadowed by time and convenience. This is one of many elaborate designs found at Markoff’s Haunted Forest in Dickerson this season.

After six years of sewing, Dawn Goldberg has about had enough of homemade Halloween costumes.

Though familiar with quilting, the stress of making the masquerade garments sent the Gaithersburg mother of two to the hospital two years in a row, once for severe back pain and the other time for a sprained ankle she attributes to exhaustion.

‘‘The kicker was the Sleeping Beauty costume. The skirt was made of 16 panels of fabric,” she said. ‘‘... My friends told me they’d wrap me up in Bubblewrap every Halloween to keep me safe.”

Though willing to make a stab at costumes this year, Goldberg said her two girls, 10 and 7 years old, preferred the selections available in a Halloween catalog.

Their decision is part of a larger shift by many families to shop for commercially produced outfits over crafting homemade designs.

Michael Greene, manager of Halloween Express in Gaithersburg, said he’s noticed a steady increase in sales in the last 13 years, with pirate costumes topping the list this year.

‘‘When I was child it was limited to homemade [costumes] and when you’re going to a nicer party, you might get into rentals,” he said.

The variety, ease and availability of costume shops simply wasn’t around that long ago, said Heidi Gant, membership vice president for the Kingsview chapter of the Moms Offering Moms Support club in Germantown.

‘‘It seems like in general everyone has less time than we did 30 years ago, when I was a little kid trick-or-treating,” she said. ‘‘I remember it was fun to get our Halloween costumes together with my mom, and I do miss that a little bit. ... Maybe it’s because we don’t spend as much time on handcraftsmanship as our moms did.”

Kate Groves, membership vice president for the MOMS club in Damascus, also said more frantic family schedules and greater media saturation have impacted homemade costuming.

‘‘I don’t think people are less creative, I think people are more pressed for time and I think what kids see in the media, if a younger child sees a character on TV, they expect it to look a certain way,” Groves said.

However, Florence Arnold of Flo’s Costume Service in Damascus said there’s a growing interest in sewing.

‘‘I noticed at fabric stores there’s an increased demand for classes,” Arnold said. ‘‘People want something that’s sort of unique and doesn’t look like everything else and is durable. There’s just an interest in making something so you don’t look like a cookie cutter.”

Amy Alapati of Damascus said her family takes costuming seriously, and has sought to make time for the family activity.

‘‘I want to preserve some of that special experience working together with my kids on a project. It’s time I had with my mom that I treasured,” Alapati said. Her youngest daughter Tori, 7, once wore a cowgirl outfit for Halloween that Alapati had worn herself as a kid.

Tori, who once dressed as a turkey for Thanksgiving, said it’s not the candy that draws her to Halloween — she prefers vegetables.

‘‘My favorite part is I can dress up like anything I want,” she said.

This year the Alapatis are trick-or-treating as a family of birds, with Amy as a flamingo, her husband Nanda as a cardinal, their 13-year-old daughter Sophia as a peacock and Tori as a yellow duck.

‘‘Going out and buying them is a lot easier, but making them at home is a lot more fun because then I can say, ‘I made this,’” Sophia Alapati said.

Injecting personal insight into a design is the most exciting aspect of Halloween costumes for Emilie Long, costume shop manager at Montgomery Community College in Rockville.

‘‘Usually when it’s handmade, homemade or made for you, you have input in them,” she said.

Currently Long is making Samuel Adams and St. Paulie Girl costumes for her of-age son and girlfriend, but admits she prefers to avoid Halloween costumes, as opposed to theatre designs.

Still, she said it’s always fun to see ‘‘something terribly creative” walking down the street, like a sandwich or a toilet bowl.

‘‘I always envy those people that do that inanimate idea as a costume,” Long said. ‘‘My oldest son one year, when he was about eight, he wanted to be toxic waste. You didn’t find that in the catalogue. ... That is some of the most creative stuff I’ve seen, when you take a concept like toxic waste and you try to figure out how to make it into a 3-D costume for a human being.”

For simple costumes, Arnold said she often gives advice over the phone, and otherwise typically rents pre-made outfits instead of making new designs.

‘‘Here’s the thing about sewing, a lot of costumes you can get a pattern that’s not that difficult, but then you’ve got to get the material, cut it out and sew it. Start to finish, I could easily spend 12 hours on it, even at minimum wage, people go, ‘Oh, that’s expensive,’” Arnold said.

Still, for those set on custom costumes, Arnold urged adequate planning. ‘‘People always procrastinate. And they’ve got to allow enough time ... especially if it’s an elaborate costume,” she said.