Halloween: costume and community

Photo by Angelina Abitino.
Photo Courtesy of Angelina Abitino
Photo by Angelina Abitino.

I have always loved Halloween. When I was little, it meant spending long thrilling days on elaborate cardboard constructions with my family – notable products of our labor were my furry pink telephone and tooth costumes. I played dress up around the house on any old day, but Halloween meant everyone played dress-up with me, and made dressing up into a group event.

At Swat, where the Halloween party is one of our two largest, SAC-hosted events, Halloween seems like it might recapture some of that exciting communal spirit. And so I was surprised when, on Friday morning, five out of six students in my class– the sixth being me – didn’t know what they would be wearing the next day! I had been thinking about my costume for almost a month, albeit inconsistently.

But I was wrong to worry. Clearly many Swatties didn’t see their Halloween prep as a high priority like I did, but that didn’t mean they weren’t willing to pull out a few stops the night of the party. My friends gathered together in a dorm room and in a frenzy of last minute adjustments they pulled apart wardrobes and pulled together costumes. When we arrived at the party, everyone seemed to have done the same. Whatever the level of commitment to creativity or thought had gone into the costumes, everyone at the party had come prepared to participate together in jettisoning the regular for the extraordinary; for this one night, we had all made an effort to do something different.

A final surprise of this Halloween, however, came from the multiplicity of Halloweens spilling across my computer screen beginning Friday evening. Friends from colleges across the country, friends still in high school, even parents of friends had all dressed up too, and I saw them do so through my newsfeed. All the years before, the majority of my friends were all in the same place celebrating together, a physical, locational community.

This was a strange way to be looking at my community, drawn together despite disparate locations and situations by celebration and costume. The togetherness of the event spread beyond Swarthmore’s campus, into the infinite everybody the internet seems to represent. But it is interesting that the togetherness of this particular event comes through mutual disguise.

Dress-up has always been appealing to me because it means physically engaging with a story and exteriorizing the imagination. It allows you to lose yourself in a narrative you craft or at least manipulate. That can be, and I think is always to some extent, a part of dressing on a daily basis.

Photo by Angelina Abitino.
Photo by Angelina Abitino.

Perhaps that’s what makes Halloween so perfect for coming together as an entire community. We are all admitting to what we do anyway: manipulating our self-presentation. We are all honest in our disguise, because we say it is disguise – we even generally say what narrative it is meant to convey.

Standing on the lightly quivering floor of Tarble, watching swarming masses of swatties writhe to the rising notes of “Stay High,” I felt happy. I didn’t know anyone better than I had the day before, when they were running around campus in their “normal” clothes. But today they shouted it out to me, challenged me with that fact, and asked me to ask them – “who are you?”

Halloween is over, and here I am again in my biggest sweater and worn brown boots. There you are across McCabe, with your rolled up button-down sleeves. But I don’t want to forget the freedom Halloween gives us to ask about disguise, and to see community in our mutual use of disguise. I like to write about clothing because I like clothing, but also because everyone has an experience of clothing, of clothing themselves and seeing clothing on others. We may have lost some of the fantastical in our disguises as Saturday night came to a close, but that doesn’t mean we can’t claim a little magic for our everyday clothes – our ordinary disguise. So I’ll ask you – what does that crisp shirt mean, and why is it here today?


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