Random Thoughts

Costumes

... this is the time of year for costumes from Halloween to New Year's Eve ...

by Ann Robbins Talbot

Wearing a costume can mean several different things. It could be putting on
clothing from a specific historical time such as wearing a Pilgrim costume or a
flapper costume from the 20ís. It could be any clothing that an could be wearing an
outfit appropriate to a certain occasion.

Wearing costumes started early in my life. My family lived in Everett close to the
Malden line and I was enrolled in the E. Virginia Williams (who later founded the
Boston Ballet Company) dancing school for tap and ballet.Our recital was to be
performed on the stage of the Auditorium movie theater in Malden Square.

I was to dance in two ensemble numbers as a Munchkin from Oz and a Hawaiian hula-
type dancer. I wish the photos taken in my backyard had been in color, but no such
thing in 1939. The Munchkin costume was purple, fuchsia and kelly green, a
combination way ahead of its time. The Hawaiian costume consisted of multi-colored
flowers and a gold cellophane skirt. Everyoneís mother made the costumes so they
probably ran the gamut from practically professional to put together on a wing and
a prayer. Luckily my mother could really sew.

Skipping into elementary school, again I was on stage. I performed in the Bean
Dance in Jack in the Beanstalk wearing green pajamas and as the Statue of Liberty
draped in a large white sheet in a patriotic tableau, both
appropriate costumes for little kids. My Apple costume of fourth-grade-health-play
fame was made from white crepe paper sewn into a tunic embellished with a huge
round, red apple of my own creation. Halloween costumes were home-made of the
hobo/pirate variety suitable to wear on a cold night with a half mask disguising
our faces.

At Melrose High School my costumes could also have been termed uniforms. I played
field hockey in a red, sleeveless, very short gym suit worn with a white tee shirt
at the beginning of the season and a long-sleeved white shirt nearer Thanksgiving.
No sweatshirts and no tights. I guess running kept us warm. I was also a
cheerleader and we had the opposite costume problem. At the beginning of the fall
season we were dying of the heat in a red pleated wool skirt and a white shaker
sweater. However by the Thanksgiving game we were cozy in our costumes, except for
the bare legs.

In college our field hockey team did not have costumes other than jeans and sweat
shirts, much more appropriate to the weather. But I returned to dance with the
Modern Dance Club and we were really into costumes. I learned
about dying cloth to get the desired color when I was designated orange in the
Waltz of the Flowers along with two others. We had yards of marvelous orange
tarlatan for our skirts, but dying sleeveless tee shirts to match
was an all day affair. We each bought a little box of powdered dye and poured the
required amount of water into a huge pan borrowed from the dining hall. We stood in
front of the ancient dorm stove and stirred and stirred
with a stick retrieved from a wood pile from the house next door. All we got was a
peachy color. So we ran (literally) downtown to get more orange dye and continued
to stir and boil.

A second jaunt into town for more dye gave us a passable orange. Then came the
rinsing so the dye wouldnít come out of the shirts. If truth be told, the shirts
never were washed. After the performances, we tossed them. We
had no mothers to make our costumes. We usually built a costume around a leotard,
but a few specialty numbers required custom creations, so we thought. One number
called Teddy Bearís Picnic had me in a white diaper with
huge blue polka dots worn over my leotard. We made do on a zero budget.

Other times in life costumes were the appropriate attire for memorable occasions.
Church celebrations like First Communion and Baptism come to mind. Proms in high
school and college required special dress. And of
course the wedding clothing had to be chosen with the idea that everyone would be
looking at the bridal party and taking loads of photos. Even an outfit to leave the
wedding festivities had to be special.

Luckily my sister-in-law asked me to wear her wedding dress and I happily agreed.
It was a Priscilla of Boston, white over pink with matching hat. I ate cottage
cheese and fruit for six months to fit into that beautiful
dress and a week later I probably couldnít have zipped it. But I never had the
angst of choosing a wedding dress like the girls on Say Yes to the Dress, a reality
show that leaves me shaking my head.

Wearing costumes continued into teaching. Why should only the children have fun on
Halloween. One year I wore my motherís set of minks, the old 30ís pride and joy of
women. The students were either freaked out at seeing these animals around my neck
or they stood and patted them like favorite pets. I also was required to wear a
costume complete with dust cap and apron to help Santa at the annual church fair. I
still dress for trick or treat using my sonís black graduation gown and one of my
collection of grotesque masks.

Costumes seem to be with me in every phase of my life.


November 1, 2013


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