Halloween Costume Etiquette

27 Sep

Or, How Not To Be A Pain In The Ass While Shopping For A Halloween Costume

Ah, Halloween; that magical night of the year when children are allowed–nay, encouraged to beg for handouts, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is socially acceptable for mainstream viewing, and I never have anything to wear because I’m exhausted from all the costuming I do the rest of the year. Is that irony? I can never remember.

One of the many bizarre jobs I’ve had in my thus-far-brief life was a stint at a costume store. Not one of those soulless “Halloween stores” that spring up in September and are gone by November 2nd, mind; this is a real, honest-to-Nye costume store that was open year-round and does business in quality retail and rental costumes as well as makeup, wigs, accessories, and whatever bizarre shit Jimmy, the manager, decided he wanted to sell. Most of the extensive assortment of rental costumes are made in-house, and the staff (there were about eight people in permanent positions) were enormously weird people who could costume just about anyone or anything.

It was hilarious and bizarre and laid the foundations for a love of costuming, and I loved it. There was one time of year, however, that I did not love. Can you guess what that was, based perhaps on the title of this entry?

If you said “spring, when you rent the Easter Bunny costumes and white fur gets everywhere,” you’d be close, but not quite correct. My least favorite time of year was Halloween, because Halloween turns people who are normally quite polite into Raging Shitcocks with enough entitlement to choke an elephant. It’s been several years since I worked Halloween at a costume store, and my blood still boils a little when I think about it. In the interest of venting my spleen and perhaps educating some people enough to avoid Raging Shitcock Syndrome, I’ve compiled a list of things you can do to help make your costume shopping experience that much more pleasant, both for you and the overworked, exhausted employee who is going to stab you with a pair of plastic vampire fangs if you don’t pick something and get out already.

  • Start Early
    Halloween is October 31st. You’ve known that most of your life, so why in the name of Zeus’ butthole are you only just starting your costume shopping on October 30th? Seriously. Why. Now sometimes things come up; I get that, I do. Maybe you’re throwing or attending a last minute party. Maybe you’ve been in a coma for twelve years and woke up just in time to look for that killer Bob Dole costume that everyone is just going to love. If that’s the case, be aware that your options are going to be seriously limited even at the most well-stocked costume store, because everyone else in the country is also looking for a Halloween costume. I know. Crazy.

    If you’re not in a coma, though, or think there’s the slightest possibility you’re going to want a Halloween costume, start looking early. The stores will be less crowded, so the employees will have more time to devote to walking you through your options, and the lines will be shorter. Plus, you’ll have one less thing to worry about and can devote the rest of your time making sure the fake spiderwebs on your porch are really realistic-looking. 

  • Have An Idea
    You don’t have to walk in knowing exactly what you want to dress as, but some sort of idea would be helpful. At the very least know approximately how much you’re willing to spend, whether you want to rent a costume or buy one, and how detailed you want to get. These things will help the employees help you come up with an idea. It will also be helpful to know what you like. You’d be surprised at the number of people who, when asked “Well, what are some characters you like?” will say “Um…I don’t know.”


  • Be Flexible
    You don’t have to give up your dream costume because the store you’re at doesn’t have it, but you might have to be willing to go to another store, build or alter something, have something built or altered, or compromise on details. But again, start early. Alterations and custom-made pieces take time, and the closer you get to Halloween, the more seamstresses will be booked.

  • Be Familiar With Store Hours
    Many costume or costume-related stores extend their hours of operation for the Halloween season. This is great for you, the customer, but only if you know what those hours are. If you’re reading this, I know you know how to get on the internet. I’m willing to bet $5 (that’s all the money I have right now) that your local costume store(s) has a website, and that this website has their hours listed on it. Go to that site. Look at their hours. Do not show up ten minutes before closing and complain when they close. And for fuck’s sake, don’t be the guy who shows up ten minutes after closing and whines to be let in. Just don’t. Nobody likes that guy.


  • Be Familiar With Return/Exchange Policies
    It’s entirely possible that this policy will be a very strict, very simple “No.” The reasons for this are pretty obvious if you think about it: people will buy a costume, wear it, repackage it, and bring it back. Regardless, make sure you understand it before you buy, and don’t bitch about it later. If you don’t like it, find some place that’s willing to let you do exchanges or returns (and good luck).


  • Put Things Back Where You Found Them
    If you decide you don’t want something you’ve been carrying around, either put it back or give it to an employee to put back. Don’t just leave it somewhere. Furthermore, don’t leave your empty Mr. Pibb can in the dressing room, throw it away! What are you, five?

  • Don’t Steal Things
    Do I really have to clarify this? I wouldn’t think I would even need to mention it, but the huge amount of stolen merchandise during the Halloween season tells me otherwise.

And finally, the piece de resistance

Don’t Be A Dick
Don’t yell at employees if the store is out of something. Don’t cut lines. Be patient. Say please and thank you. Don’t pick fights with employees or other customers. Basically, remember your manners and everyone will be happier.

2 Responses to “Halloween Costume Etiquette”

  1. Ann Coston Neff September 27, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    Are you familiar with the LJ comm Customers_suck? They would love some specifics.


  1. Repost: Halloween Costume Etiquette « What Is This I Can't Even - October 10, 2012

    […] this time last year, I wrote a simple, easy-to-understand post about How Not To Be A Dick While Shopping For Halloween Costumes. It includes helpful reminders, swearing, and a reference to The Rock. In the absence of any fresh […]

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