Halloween Costume Dos and Don’ts

Local experts give advice on how to approach your get-up this Halloween.

One of the preiod costumes rented out by the A.C.T. Courtesy photo.

It’s spooky season 2019 and you might have a lot of questions on your mind. Will the President be impeached? Will I ever find parking? And since you know you’ll be asked it eventually, what are you going to do for Halloween? We’re still figuring out the first two, but for costume preparations SF Weekly has you covered: check out these expert DOs and DON’Ts from local names with killer costume game.

DO: Shop locally.

Tired of further enriching the world’s richest man? As an alternative to Amazon, consider window-shopping at one of San Francisco’s year-round costume stores, rich in local lore and diverse dress-up options that will keep profit in the community.

Looks Costuming on Haight has been queer-owned and operated in the same location for the better part of three decades, making it a San Francisco staple. The American Conservatory Theater in SoMa has had an even longer run renting costumes exclusively designed for stage production — perfect for recreating the look of Game of Thrones, Hamilton, or Downton Abbey.  

“It’s an experience that not a lot of people who don’t work in theater have, to come here and get fitted just like an actor does for a play,” said Jef Valentine, inventory manager at A.C.T. Costume Rentals.

DON’T: Be afraid of embracing your inner nerd. 

Do you like video games? No? Well brace yourselves, because Spirit’s annual “Halloween Hotlist” declares 2019 a marquee year for costumes from hit games such as Fornite, Overwatch, and Borderlands 3. See this year’s list for inspiration or a sense of the competition. If it’s memes you want, the Spirit pop-up store in the Sunset District has full-body costumes for Baby Shark, anime, and the cast of Stranger Things 3. For those in need of a Halloween night “plus one,” a life-size animatronic Pennywise is also available.

DO: Go for a style with miles.

Whether you’re attending bar crawls, raves, or re-visiting trick-or-treating, it’s important to have a costume that will last the night.

“For me, comfort is the number one factor — but it also has to be a complete look,” said Lisa Serdengecti, owner of Fantasy Clothing Co. in SoMa, where she showcases a new ensemble daily on the store’s Instagram.

If you’re out at night on the town, Austin Efurd of Looks Costuming on Haight suggests wearing a wig to add not only style but functional warmth akin to a beanie. If you tend to run hot, opt for temporary hair dye as an alternative.

DON’T: Paint your face with crayons.

For looks involving face paint and make-up work, veteran artist Robyn Jean says to consider hiring a professional. Jean’s network Bay Area Face Painters books individuals and corporate events for companies like Facebook and Dropbox. But if you’re going the D.I.Y. route, she says, avoid the low-end wax-based face paints available in stores.

“That waxy paint won’t last and it rubs off very easily, so you’re just going to look like a mess by the end of the night,” Jean said. “The best stuff you’re going to buy is online.”

Jean suggests online retailers such as Sillyfarm.com or San Francisco’s Kryolan store. In a pinch, make-up kits such as Snaazaroo will perform better than wax crayon face paints. Cassandra Love, San Francisco-based make-up artist behind C-Love, also encourages ditching the store for higher-quality face paints such as TAG and FAB available online.


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“If you don’t have a costume, no matter what, paint your face,” Love said. “Even if it’s just a half skull, your whole costume can be your face.”

Love’s favorite part of the Halloween season is learning new looks for clients on the fly, whether she’s prepping a party-goer to look like a car-crash victim, a mermaid, or an oil spill.

She suggests liquid latex as an “easy to use and super fun” way to give skin texture or create fake wounds (“owies”). Just make sure you’re not allergic and avoid applying in areas with hair. Mehron’s Spirit Gum face glue is her go-to option for facial adhesives like mustaches.

“It lasted me all three days of Burning Man,” Love said. “It works really well.”

DO: Consider the planet.

If your plan is to sparkle in costume or hit up the spooktacular rave circuit this Halloween, consider going with glitter that would make Mother Earth proud. Jean suggests choosing chunky glitter made from biodegradable materials, including eucalyptus leaves, rather than traditional polyester. 

“There’s definitely a safer biodegradable version of glitter out there,” Jean said. “It’s a little bit pricier, but for anyone who doesn’t want to just bring polyester particles all over the place it’s a mindful alternative.”

DO: Team up with bae.

Halloween presents a perfect opportunity to embrace a different side of your personality, Efurd says. There’s no easier way to avoid being “singled out” than to team up with a friend or significant other for a couple’s costume.

“You can have fun with each other and work on communication — instead of doing what you want, what you want to do together,” Efurd said.

DON’T: Panic.

Sure, last year the novelty of dressing as “person who forgot it’s Halloween” wore thin. But it doesn’t take much to join the fun with a quirky and memorable costume. Consider, for instance, the low effort genius of these ideas definitely not stolen from cartoon children: inversions of pop culture such as Dragon with a Girl Tattoo, or André 3000 the Giant. Combine a habit and a briefcase and you become “Nun of your business,” without sounding aggressive. And there’s an easy path straight from work to the most obscure look at the costume party as Paul Rudd from I Love You Man.

Whether you opt for biodegradable glitter or an eighteenth-century showstopper, Halloween is a chance to express oneself with maximum flair and minimum shame.

“It can be as simple as coming in and getting a little wig for a change of personality, or allow yourself to let go of patterns or habits that you’re used to putting on,” Efurd said. “Every day we put on costumes, the question is, how much fun are we having with it?”

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