There's something about the subject of costumes, like the subject of cooking, that has acquired a moral patina. These days parents who send their kids off trick-or-treating dressed as paper bags -- like the hosts who produce banquets from carry-out -- can expect to suffer the whispers of others.
If you really cared, you'd make the Ninja Turtle costume. Or Jasmine's harem pants. You'd spend a weekend or two -- or 20 -- turning your tot into Baby Bop.
Now, just in time to pour on the pressure, comes "Creative Costumes for Children (Without Sewing)" ($11.95, Cool Hand Communications Inc.) by Baltimorean Mark Walker. (The book is available at Greetings & Readings and Gordon's Booksellers.) This crafty-person special gives designs and instructions for roughly 50 costumes, ranging from the Headless Man to the Statue of Liberty. There are details for scary costumes, heroic costumes, historic costumes, pretty costumes and novelty costumes.
Required are glue, felt, contact cement, poster board, makeup, plastic tubing, aluminum wire and a willingness to read -- and follow -- instructions.
We gave the book to two Baltimore families to see how easy it really is to make your own costume without sewing.
Kate Farinholt, attorney and mother of Andrew, Christopher and Benjamin Ward, ages 5, 8 and 12, produced costumes of Robin Hood and Julius Caesar for Andrew and Christopher.
Camara Jones, a physician who is finishing a doctoral degree in epidemiology, decided to make the Poppy costume for her daughter, Calah Singleton, age 3.
And so, gentle costumers: Is this book the answer to parents' masquerade prayers? The blueprint for further nightmares?
The news is mostly good.
First, Ms. Farinholt's story:
She says the Legend of Sherwood Forest proved far more time-consuming than the Roman statesman, which she describes as mostly working with old curtains. (It also cost about $70 to create Robin Hood from scratch, including the bow and arrow, turtleneck and belt. The Caesar outfit cost about $5, for the foliage.)
"It was easy once I had everything," she says. "But I had to go to about six different stores to get all the materials. And those green tights! It turns out that green tights are very difficult to discover."
(She eventually found them at Kids R Us.)
Then, there was the bow and arrow.
"Apparently, toy bows and arrows are not a normal item in stock. What they have mostly is the Nerf-type crossbows in neon colors. I was trying to make things more authentic, and I wanted one of those cheap little bows and arrows. Believe it or not, I couldn't find one at most of the stores I went to."
(She bought the last one available at Toys R Us.)
Ms. Farinholt praises the instructions, which she finds very clear. However, she says that someone who has never made anything for kids might have trouble judging how much material is needed for a costume.
"I think anyone using the book should decide to cut more fabric than it says and see how it works out. You can always trim it."
And her sons' impressions?
Christopher, a.k.a. Julius Caesar: "I like the costume because it was easy and I liked the idea," says the Roland Park Elementary School third-grader. "It looked good. And I will be one of the only ones there [in the neighborhood Halloween party] to look like that."
(He refused to sacrifice his sandals to the book's suggestion that he spray-paint them gold.)
"I like my costume. I like the bow and arrow the best," he says. The kindergartner helped lay out the felt and lace up the costume's sides and sleeves. He went on a neighborhood hunt for just the right feather.
"I think it's a great book to have on hand, especially for the kids to look through and even make their own costumes during the year," Ms. Farinholt says. "I think it's sad when a mother -- or a father -- produces an intricate costume that's not going to be used more than once and the child hasn't learned anything or en
joyed making it . . . I don't think that's the point of Halloween."
Now, the verdict from Dr. Jones:
"The Poppy is only for the hearty," she cautions. "For those brave at heart."
Although she enjoyed making the costume, Dr. Jones figures it required about 10 hours -- between the shopping and the reed frame-making -- and cost about $40 or so for materials.
"I learned a lot by making it. If I ever need a lightweight frame for anything, I know how to do it," she says.
She also says the costume is quite durable. She expects it to last another 20 years or so -- well past most of Calah's floral-wear needs.
Her biggest complaint -- like Ms. Farinholt's -- was estimating how much material was needed based upon the size of her child. At the moment, Calah appears a bit dwarfed by her blooms.
And what does Calah, a student at the Downtown Baltimore Childcare Center, think?
"I'm a flower," she announces proudly. "I like my costume very much."
Further inquiry though, leads to a brain-curdling dilemma that no costume book can solve. Although Calah likes her new disguise, she has other ideas for Halloween.
"I'm going to be Barney."