I love Halloween. Even as a grown-up, Halloween forever is a highlight of my calendar. I like the autumn chill in the air and the magical spirit of the days. Most amusing for me is how effective the simple sheet ghost costume is. I’ve worn the sheet ghost costume for three Halloweens, now, and am amazed at the horror and dread such a simple costume imposes — young and old, black and white, man and woman — the sheet ghost endures as a classic Halloween costume motif.
For me, it was simply a result of not having any good ideas in 2013, and wanting to go out costumed when I took my kids out. Simple white sheet, a pair of scissors, and voila. Sheet ghost. But I wasn’t prepared for the level of horror that costume created for onlookers, but it was a pleasant surprise.
I think part of it is because I’m tall, so when you don something like a sheet or a robe, it creates this unbroken silhouette that emphasizes the height. There is also the visibility of it — because it’s a big white sheet billowing out there, somebody can see you coming long before they quite know what you are. Also, the simplicity of the costume — just some roughly scissored-out eyeholes and it’s done.
There’s something creepy in that, too. I think that’s why people get the willies from those vintage Halloween photos. The ramshackle nature of the costume — contrasted with the more produced type of costumes you can buy — it makes it creepier, too. Further, because I was waiting curbside for my kids to trick-or-treat, I think some people thought I was a decoration, at least until I started to move, and then really freaked people out.
I think it’s a combination of the immediate identification of it — GHOST — with the uncertainty of who (or what) is underneath the shroud, along with some primal identification of the shrouded figure as a spectral entity that goes deep into the consciousness of people. A little kid in a sheet ghost costume is cute — but when a big person’s in a sheet ghost costume, it’s not cute; it’s CREEPY AS HELL!
All I know is that people were absolutely terrified by it, with almost comical looks of dread and nervous conversations about the nature of the wearer of the shroud.
I remember a little boy (about nine years old) boldly saying to me (his dad nearby) “I KNOW you’re not a real ghost; I can see your boots.” and his dad, playing along, said “Ghosts can have boots.” and the boy’s face turned as white as the sheet I was wearing.
I’ve kept the same sheet, through thick and thin, have laundered it each year, enjoying as it slowly gets more ragged in my sojourns through the city streets. I’ve ranged through rain and sleet in it, and the weather only makes it better, frankly. On a plus side, by the way, it is actually very comfortable beneath the shroud — it’s like walking with a tent over your head.
The only downside is visibility. It’s a definite pain the ass in terms of visibility. You have to be very careful as you navigate the city streets, not to run into anything (or anyone) or to trip yourself up while walking. But once you get used to it, it works really well.
After the initial debut, I picked up some chains and also made a noose — much of that was a result of wanting to keep the shroud from slipping. I used the chains last year, and this year, I wore the noose and carried the chains. The chains in particular (simple plastic costume chains) add a particular degree of dread for onlookers.
This year was no different from the previous years (although the weather was better, for sure) and my sheet ghost again filled people with palpable dread.
Some vampire women were on their front lawn with candy bowls, talking, and they saw me peek from around the corner, scouting ahead of my kids, and they were like “Oh. My. God. That is so creepy. Look at that. I don’t like that one bit.” and others said “Look. It’s a ghost! See? He’s got CHAINS!” And they were afraid to pass me. A group of teen girls saw me and shuddered from across the street, pointing and taking pictures with their phones and moaning in horror, until their alpha girl friend walked up and introduced herself, said “My friends are scared to death of you, but you’re alright. See? We’re friends!” and they still dreaded to walk past.
One Spanish woman, waiting for somebody, kept nervously giggling every time she saw me, and pointed me out to her boyfriend as they walked, said “That is so scary!” All I had to do was just turn to glance around (and, if you ever don a sheet ghost costume, rest assured that you will have to always glance around), and people would shrink back.
Anyway, if you want a simple and terribly effective Halloween costume, the old-school sheet ghost has proven itself to be terribly effective, and you don’t even have to make a sound. You walk around you billow menacingly, the people’s imaginations do the rest. I recommend you go old-school for your next Halloween, and watch the humble sheet ghost work its sinister magic!
And I’m curious if anybody tries it in their own areas, how effective it is as a costume. Note: I think it works best outside — can’t imagine being a sheet ghost at an indoor Halloween party; that would be uncomfortable and even more of a pain in the ass. But if you’re outside on Halloween, give it a go, and let me know how it works for you.