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Reflecting on a Childhood of Homemade Halloween Costumes

Clothing, as a structure, is a vehicle for many things: aesthetics, social capital, cultural indicators, and, perhaps most crucially, tradition. The Industrial Revolution caused a lot of things, among them the loss of such tradition in exchange for the ease of mass manufacturing. No longer are our clothes painstakingly crafted; rather, we supply our closets with clothes manufactured for mass consumption in faraway places under unethical means. It’s easy to look at craft as a lost art, something that tragically has no place in our current society. All the same, there has been some preservation of the spirit of craft within home sewing projects — particularly, homemade Halloween costumes.

As much as I pined for commercial Halloween costumes when I was a kid, I’m so glad that, now, all of my costumes were handmade. Wrinkly synthetic plastic that dusts sparkles on everything it touches has nothing on the care and thought that my grandmother put into my costumes each year. Even as hand-embroidery becomes less and less common, it remains a vehicle for craft and the creation of real life magic. My grandmother continues the tradition of embroidery and sewing. She, taught by her own mother, created magical dresses and crowns for me and my sister when we were young and wanted more than anything to trick-or-treat as elusive fairy princesses. Halloween already is a complex tradition. Its Pagan roots and harvest celebrations have melted away in favor of candy and gaffes, but the intricacies of costume remain at its core. I remember my grandmother sewing dainty flowers around the crown of my cone-like princess hat, which she carefully made with cardboard and fabric. She taught me the simple stitches and gave me a bag of thread and needles — on it she had embroidered my name nestled into a sprig of flowers — so that I could help with my costume the next year. 

The widespread version of craft upon which we used to depend might be dead forever. No longer will every article of clothing emerge from such care and skill, traded instead for the shoddy workmanship of industry. But certain craft traditions remain. The preservation of craft now falls on the individual and her relationships with creation. Making your own Halloween costume might just be a start.

Clarissa Melendez

Columbia Barnard '24

Clarissa Melendez is a freshman at Barnard College, where she studies Art History. She loves books and movies and spends her time in Austin, Texas making collages and driving her 2003 Toyota 4Runner to the video store.
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