By now, vacant retail spaces all over town have been transformed into Halloween costume headquarters. For $50.00, frazzled parents can pick up a pre-packaged pirate costume, and party-goers can choose from a myriad of disguises without having to hunt down any hard-to-find accessories. Inevitably, however, the convenience of a store-bought costume loses its charm when eight women show up to a soirée in the same Naughty Nurse outfit.
To avoid the embarrassment of wearing the same costume as everyone else, bypass the pre-packaged polyester and unleash some pent-up creativity. While it's not always easy to come up with unique and recognizable costume ideas, the well-read party-goer can look to their bookshelf for an arsenal of inspiration. Dressing like a literary character not only means you're less likely to have a costume-twin when Halloween rolls around, you'll also get credit for showing some imagination. The following costume ideas are sure to elicit chuckles of recognition from your friends, and jealous stares from the dozen-or-so witches and vampires at this year's party.
Truman Capote's 1958 novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's, introduced the world to the inimitable Holly Golightly. Base your costume on Audrey Hepburn's portrayal of the character to up the recognition factor, and then spend the whole evening making glib comments and convincing men to pay for your drinks. You'll need: A black dress, giant black sunglasses, obnoxious amounts of (fake) diamonds, and a long cigarette holder. Hair should be pulled up in a large bun.
Because she's been around since 1930, Nancy Drew is an excellent source of inspiration for a costume. Despite the many changes made to the teen sleuth's image over the years, any preppy clothing is recognizable as classic Nancy Drew if you include the right accessories. You'll need: A sweater set, a pleated skirt, bobby socks or knee socks (argyle is good), penny loafers or saddle shoes and an oversize magnifying glass. Hair should be worn in a high ponytail.
If you're married (and your husband has a sense of humor), try dressing up as Hester Prynne, the persecuted adulteress from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Since almost everyone was forced to read this
puritanical nightmare classic novel in high school, your friends are sure to find the costume amusing. You'll need: A long dress, a cloak, a bonnet and a red letter "A" to pin to the dress.
If these ideas don't appeal to you, other literary costume options include Lewis Carroll's Alice (a blue dress, a white apron and black mary-janes), J.M. Barrie's Wendy (an especially easy costume, considering it consists of a nightgown), Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth (medieval garb, a crown, and hands covered in blood), and F. Scott Fitzgerald's Daisy Buchanan (any 1920s flapper apparel is perfect).
The literary character with the most identifiable visage is arguably Ignatius J. Reilly, the larger-than-life antihero of John Kennedy Toole's novel, A Confederacy of Dunces. An overgrown child who believes he is the only rational creature in a world populated by obtuse morons, Reilly delivers a sustained rant about the conditions of life in 1970s New Orleans. As an added bonus, this costume allows you to spend the evening insulting everyone around you and bragging about your own mental superiority; at the end of the night you can blame it on the character. You'll need: A green hunting cap with earflaps that stick out to the side, voluminous tweed trousers, a too-tight flannel shirt, lace-up boots, a giant scarf looped around the neck and a black mustache. If you look absurd, you're doing it right.
On the other end of the spectrum is Severus Snape, J.K. Rowling's slimy potions-master. Snape provides an excellent costume option because he is described in such vivid terms. Rowling often notes that he is "bat-like" in his appearance and mannerisms, which should provide some inspiration to creative costume-hunters. You'll need: A black cape, dark clothing and a wand. Hair should be black, greasy, parted down the middle and hanging in the eyes.
If comfort is key, take advantage of the popularity of the newly-released film and dress as Max from Maurice Sendak's children's book, Where the Wild Things Are. The beauty of this costume is that it consists of little more than pajamas. If you're feeling ambitious, get some friends together to dress as the Wild Things. You'll need: A crown, a scepter and white footy pajamas. Dress up the pajamas with white claws on the feet and hands, pointy white ears, cat whiskers and a tail.
If none of these seem like the right choice, try dressing as Mark Twain's Huck Finn (overalls and a straw hat), Ian Fleming's James Bond (a classic suit and a vodka martini. I'd skip the Walther PPK), Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes (a pipe, a magnifying glass and lots of tweed), or Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby (1920s-style suit or tuxedo). They're all so iconic that you're sure to be recognized, even if your costume isn't perfect.
If you want to get into the Halloween spirit, but prefer reading the book to dressing like its characters, check out this list of books that are so scary, they'll make you want to sleep with the lights on.