Archie McPhee’s Cornucopia of Costumes: No Vaseline
For most people coming up with a single costume for Halloween is stressful, but imagine coming up with a whole week’s worth. That’s the challenge of working at the Archie McPhee store in Seattle.
Every year, during the the week leading up to Halloween, the staff dresses up in a different outfit every single day. I work for Archie McPhee (though not in the store), but I’m also an unabashed fan of their costumes. You can see some of my favorites sprinkled on this page or click here for a larger gallery.
I talked to store manager Shana Iverson (shown above dressed as Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”) about how the tradition developed. She told me that at first, the employees just dressed up on the day itself. Some employees were disappointed because they weren’t scheduled on that day, so it grew to include the day before. Eventually, it became an entire week and everyone was happy.
When it comes to the best costumes, Shana says there are two kinds: “Those that go all out and those that do the most with the least.” Also, Shana says, if you pull off a traditional costume well — like a wolfman or vampire — it’s a real plus.
A twist on the traditional is also good. Once on a pirate-themed day, Jeff came as a plank. It really stood out as clever, but also fit in perfectly.
A single element can also define a costume. Oftentimes just a pair of teeth or a wig and an odd-looking facial expression is enough to cause a freak-out.
Not that all the costumes are winners. One year, someone (name withheld to protect the innocent) dressed as a slug. The costume was pieced together from garbage bags and included a trail. So, that all sounds good, right? Well, sure, until she coated the costume with a thick slathering of Vaseline. That way, she could leave a trail just like an actual slug. She didn’t consider that people would have to work next to her, and that her “slug slime” would be slippery.
Besides “no Vaseline,” Shana says that there are a few more guidelines that generally apply to costumes. One is that you have to be able to clap your hands in the costume. Dressing up as in a cardboard box robot costume might look great, but your movement will be severely limited.
You also have to be able to wear the costume all day. People have made huge and elaborate masks or complicated frills that inevitably all come off by the end of the day, except for face makeup or a pair of furry eyebrows. One former employee dressed as a hammerhead shark. and the mask they made was so heavy that by the end of the day she wasn’t even able to hold it straight and you could only make out one eye.
Shana herself has had only one bad costume experience. She dressed as a haggard, undead waitress — and it was so realistic that when she got home, her husband refused to look at her. He got his revenge by dressing as television painting teacher Bob Ross.
I asked Shana if the staff ever gets tired of dressing up. She said that they do, but every time they think about cutting back or discontinuing costumes, everyone refuses. Instead, they choose not to judge the amount of effort. One year you might feel like dressing up as a plank, and the next year you might not want to do anything more than slip on a pair of Groucho Glasses.
In any case, you can certainly look to the Archie McPhee costumes for inspiration or amusement. If you’re in Seattle, stop by and say hello.