This time of year, every empty storefront in downtown Manhattan, my neighborhood, becomes a Halloween pop-up—vast emporiums filled with slutty Snow Whites and lascivious Betty Rubbles, voracious Raggedy Anns and insatiable Cinderellas. If the position of women and our success in the workplace has been gaining ground during the last half century, you wouldn’t know it from these places, where the female-friendly professions are confined to Blazin’ Hot Firefighter, Stop Traffic Sexy Cop, and Hospital Honey Nurse.
This is vaguely depressing—okay, more than vaguely—until it occurs to me: Why do we need these stores at all? Why should we spend good money on cheesy stuff that will barely last through Susanne Bartsch’s Halloween party when we can channel those funds into real clothing?
Who would buy a flimsy, nasty black cape and a dumb pointy hat when she could be a ravishing witch in a Yohji Yamamoto Y’s cropped cape coat for $440 with a flurry of pea-green Chanel Epatant Illusion d’Ombre eye shadow standing in for rouge on her cheeks? (If you want to spend serious money, Alexander McQueen has exquisite cape variations, including an example enhanced with pearls and made of a patchwork of fox, goat, and mink for $16,452.) And why settle for a packaged flapper costume (these ensembles are having a renaissance, no doubt due to Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby and Martin Scorsese’s Boardwalk Empire) when you can locate a gorgeous cerise chiffon beaded dress at H&M, knee-baring in front and calf-grazing in back, for $69.95? Enhance this with an extra-long strand of Fallon bike-chain pearls for $140.
Did the Met Costume Institute’s “Punk: Chaos to Couture” exhibit put thoughts of radical disaffection in your pretty head? A visit to Trash and Vaudeville can supply the $82 plaid bondage trousers, along with a $28 Ramones T-shirt. (Surely, you own your own biker jacket.) If a recent viewing of Kill Your Darlings, starring the post–Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe (his wizard costume is everywhere apparent at Halloween stores, but his Allen Ginsberg is nowhere in sight) spurs a desire for a Beat generation getup, Uniqlo can supply the obligatory black turtleneck for $79.90, you can get the black leggings anywhere, and Capezio, the company that likely shod all those Kerouac girlfriends back in the day, has the necessary ballet shoes for $19.50. And should anyone have the least doubt that you lean to the left of Adlai Stevenson, Miriam Merenfeld has a silver dogtag peace symbol pendant for $125.
But despite the imperatives of feminism and the fact that this is, after all, the twenty-first century, perhaps you are one of the legions of women who are hell-bent on using October 31 as an excuse to walk the streets like a literal streetwalker. To which I shrug and say, okay, well then at least purchase a beautiful L’Agent by Agent Provocateur polka-dot flocked tulle basque for $150, or a rhinestone-inflected teddy for $78 from Victoria’s Secret. For boudoir verisimilitude, add a pair of Mamie Van Doren–worthy marabou-trimmed mules by Jacques Levine, in business making these slippers without irony for the past 77 years. Throw a trench coat over the whole business—you never know who you’ll encounter in the elevator—then get out there and watch the parade.