A year ago, I had a particularly rough fall and decided to leave town. My two-year stint as an AmeriCorps VISTA was over, and scraping through a winter full of odd jobs seemed less promising than setting off towards some vague promise of an income in a faraway city. All was said and done, my car was packed to the brim, and suddenly it was my last night in town. It was also Halloween.
Fearing a difficult goodbye, I opted to dress as something that has always proven to make me unequivocally happy: funfetti birthday cake. I threw together a decorated white corset and a skirt and a headband full of candles and some truly terrible sparkly platform shoes that didn’t last the night, all purchased with my remaining WabiBucks. I hit a haunted house, a party, and eventually Woody’s. No one understood my costume. And that was OK. It wasn’t for them.
Heading out of town, I left a pile of “donate” items for my roommates to deal with, feeling a vague twinge of guilt when I threw the sharpie-flecked corset into the mix. I had been a part of enough clothing sorts to know that if something is covered in marker, it doesn’t usually make it to the floor. But, shamefully, I did what many people do: tied the bag and walked away, leaving the remains of my Halloween in the eventual hands of the good people I’d once worked with during my two-year stint as a VISTA at WabiSabi.
Within a few months, I made it back to Moab with an opportunity at the very same thrift store — new title, actual income and a new office. When I went to do my daily lap of the store and check out the new display of Halloween costumes, I was entirely unprepared to see my speckled rainbow corset hanging on a rack.
If it were more acceptable to speak to clothing, I’d have yelled, “What are you doing here?” and given the thing a sloppy hug. My fleeting, one-night relationship with that costume was not over after all! Here it was a year later, back on the rack, only with the indelible marks of a sad, birthday-cake-loving girl — begging me to acknowledge that yeah, things really might be different now. I kept my cool, but that silly atrocity of a costume was definitely saying, “Look! You’re still here, too.”
Fall is coming, the seasonal workers are heading out, and things have suddenly come back into focus. I’ve started to recognize more of the faces that come in and out of the thrift store. Fewer sunburnt tourists buying sun hats; more friends buying sweaters. And now, suddenly, the costumes.
In a town that so aggressively loves dressing up for any and all occasions, it feels like Halloween is for us: the ones who rough it out. Halloween is the reward for staying through October, and maybe, just maybe, through the entire winter. After my encounter with the corset, I have a new respect for this strange, candy-ridden, fairly creepy day. Halloween had saved this item of clothing, and countless others. Couldn’t these oil-stained mechanic’s coveralls be made truly terrifying if the person wearing them also had a mask and an old chainsaw? Should we save this old ripped wedding dress for a Bride of Frankenstein scenario? And what’s more — it may all just be saved again. And again. And again.
Moab honors creativity in a way that amazes me. In a time of cheaply made, new polyester get-ups that reek of plastic, having the option to donate to an organization that will proudly sell a handmade costume is an honor. We can’t always know if the creations we pass on right after Halloween will survive a year in storage. And with tourists shopping well into the fall, we can’t know for sure that they’ll stay in the community.
When I saw a part of my own costume, I had the irrational urge to take it back screaming “MINE” as I often do when I see once-loved items on the shelf or on friends. But maturity prevailed, and instead, I was left with this hackneyed but sweet thought: perhaps these costumes represent the mark we’ve each made, the way that a person’s strange creativity can linger far after they’ve decided to leave this town.
For now, we can trust that WabiSabi is still the kind of place where handmade creations, not to mention items that would be dumpster material but for a bit of imagination, don’t immediately qualify as trash. And in my experience, we can rest assured that in most cases, one is more likely to flatter, than to offend a costume-creator by wearing their superfluous regalia.
Forgive me for summing it up like this, but: I had my funfetti cake, and now you can eat it, too.
Nara Bopp-Williams is currently the program director at WabiSabi. Previous to that position, she served two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA for the organization.
ByBy Nara Bopp-Williams