The Cost of the Halloween Costume I Won’t Be Buying This Year

I love Halloween. During a period of several years during and right after college, I was the type of person who went hard for the holiday. My 2009 take on Lady Gaga was one of my flagship costumes, featuring two different looks, no pants, and a pair of surprisingly comfortable platform stilettos. I topped it off with a “Poker Face”-inspired blonde wig that a friend helped me steam into dead-straight submission.

As I’ve gotten older, my Halloween motivation has waned. Work commitments have kept me from celebrating at all some years. But exactly a week before Halloween this year, I had a fit of inspiration. I decided I’d finally pull off the costume I had always dreamed about: “Oops, I Did It Again” Britney Spears. Vinyl red cat suit and all.

After a few hours scouring the Internet, I had assembled a killer ensemble in my Amazon cart. It would arrive at my house within two days (#prime #blessed) and I even had time to spare to return the cat suit if it didn’t fit. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to click “proceed to checkout.”

The dollar amount itself wasn’t so spooky, but the prospect of spending that money on something I had no hope of wearing again brought on a wave of guilt too intense to suppress. Lauren in 2009 wouldn’t have blinked. Lauren in 2017 was cursing herself for being older and more responsible.

Here’s a look at the cost of a somewhat last-minute Britney costume:

  • The cat suit: $23.99. There are a surprising number of reasonably priced red mock-turtleneck cat suits on the Internet. The only snag is that the perfect wet look suits are only available from international retailers with long shipping times. I couldn’t take my chances this close to the holiday, so I turned to Amazon. The best option wasn’t wet look, but it would work in a pinch.
  • The wig: $16.99. I have a brown lob that in no way resembles Britney’s early-2000s locks. I already have a sizable collections of blonde wigs (see: past costume as Lady Gaga; the year I went as Kesha), but Britney’s super sleek dirty blonde tresses are tough to replicate with costume wigs. My search for a solution took me into the bowels of the Internet—hello, Yahoo! Answers—to no avail. I’d have to settle for a costume wig in a not-quite-right brassy blonde that would be a challenge to style, but it was better than nothing.
  • The shoes: $0. Let us pause for a moment to consider the shoes in “Oops! I Did It Again.” A full body pleather cat suit is a bold sartorial choice—one that I personally wouldn’t pair with black sneakers. I remembered I have a pair of ugly retired running shoes buried in the back of a closet that are mostly black with purple accents. This costume was getting more and more busted as I went along, but at least the footwear wouldn’t put me any further in the red (…lol sorry).
  • The face: $20. Beauty vloggers are truly doing God’s work. I found a fantastic makeup tutorial for the “Oops! I Did It Again” look, but the eye makeup would require eye shadow colors not often found in nature, nor in my bathroom. I wouldn’t splurge on the higher-end palettes used in the tutorial, but I could easily drop $10 on new eyeshadows from the drugstore and another $10 or so on fake eyelashes.

COSTUME TOTAL: $60.98 before tax.

Ouch. More than $60 for a costume that was a little bit off in a lot of ways—starting with the close-but-still-not-vinyl cat suit, then the cheap blonde wig in the wrong color, and some new makeup that could only do so much to compensate for the rest of the costume’s shortcomings. And I’d never wear any of it ever again.

I thought back to my college days and started adding up the cost of my old costumes. When I went as David Bowie from Labyrinth in 2010, I sprang for a velvet trench coat from a consignment shop that cost at least $40. This was in addition to the pirate-esque white blouse I purchased and the wig I picked up at the pop-up Halloween store (the sock I used to fill out the crotch was free, at least). I hunted for those pieces for weeks, and I easily spent more on that costume than I would on Britney—and I didn’t lose any sleep when I never wore any of it again.

The cost of Halloween revelry has become harder to rationalize as I’ve gotten older, even as the price tag for a costume has remained close to the same. In college I would wear a costume for at least two or three nights while jumping from house parties to bars, but these days I might go out one night for the holiday, at most. Plus, as a homeowner in a neighborhood with decked-out Halloween houses that attract trick-or-treaters from across the city, we burn through at least $75 worth of candy each year. (I start buying jumbo size bags early with coupons while they’re on sale, but I’ll admit that I refuse to scrimp by opting for the cheapest white-label stuff; I believe in handing out the candy you want to see in the world.)

Until now, my costumes were an expense I’d taken on gleefully—an indulgence I allowed myself each fall and a sanctioned opportunity to stray from my otherwise very responsible financial habits. In college I squirreled away my waitressing money to create a nice savings cushion for life after graduation, and I kept my discretionary spending to a minimum, buying only the occasional new pair of pants (or going-out top) from the clearance rack. These days, I’d rather hold onto that $60 to put toward an investment piece like a nice pair of boots. Or a light therapy box—which is an Amazon purchase I did pull the trigger on last week—because at this juncture, a practical and unsexy SAD lamp is a better use of $60 for me than a badass Halloween costume. It’s just part of growing up, but it’s still a bummer to forego a favorite ritual.

Maybe someday I’ll return to my former glory as a person who goes hard for Halloween. For now, I’ve accepted that I’ll dress up as Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction for the fifth time in the past decade, if I go out in costume at all. The Mia Wallace wig—the only one in my collection that is neither waist-length nor blonde—is sitting in the same closet with my raggedy old gym shoes, ready for duty. I’m still a little disappointed I won’t be experiencing the high of a new costume this year, but I also won’t be grappling with buyer’s remorse when I hang up a red cat suit up to collect dust on November 1.

Lauren Sieben is a writer based in Milwaukee. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Racked, Brit + Co and other outlets.

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