Thursday, October 30, 2008

The tale of the haunted costume

My Halloween dress is haunted.

Before you read this true story, make sure you're cuddled up with your blankey, a cup of soothing tea and your mommy's number on speed-dial.

This tale begins many moons ago. My friend Devon and I were 14 and committing general teenage shenanigans that led us to a cemetery. It was Halloween. Dark and drizzly. Rumors claimed if you stood in a certain spot at midnight, you would see a tombstone burst into flames. We waited.

Then -- crack. The snap of a twig behind us ignited our feet like the gunshot at a horse race. We tore through the graveyard, holding hands and holding our breath. Then -- boom. I tripped, taking Devon down with me.

At first, we were paralyzed by fear. We lay there panting in unison, holding hands and shaking. Until we noticed at the same time where we had fallen: onto two side-by-side graves of twin sisters who had been hit by a train.

Years passed. I was planning my annual Halloween party with a group of friends. Laura found the killer location: a former train station in Loveland, now a bar called the Sports Station. We would make it a ghost town gala, Wild West theme.

I met Devon at the Salvation Army to brainstorm costume ideas. We walked the entire store, blank and uninspired. Then, we turned a corner and saw two old-fashioned pink off-the-shoulder dresses, in our sizes. Hmm. We picked them up and walked further, when we bumped into a table: two floppy straw hats. Next to two blond curly wigs and two matching antique suitcases. And a bundle of rope. All half-off.

"We could be twins," Devon suggested, "Damsels in distress, who were tied to the tracks."

As if the costumes hadn't picked us.

I needed to distress my gown. Make it look old and gory. I poured a pot of coffee over it. Then a bottle of Coke. Then a bottle of wine. I felt sad about wasting wine so I bought another bottle, and after I'd downed a glass, I shared the rest of the cabernet with my dress.

It needed more, so I decided to burn it. Sitting on the couch, I took the lighter to my costume. A few holes in, five fire trucks and about a dozen police cars flew down the street and skidded to a stop in front of my house. Did I accidentally start my house on fire? Did someone smell my dress burning and call 911?

I ran outside, clutching my dress. I was safe. But the house not 10 feet behind mine was in flames.

And I couldn't find the holes I had burned in my dress.

Devon showed up to the party wearing her dress, and it looked brand new.

"It won't stain," she said in annoyance. "I have been pouring fake blood on it for a week, but everything I do absorbs right into the fabric. This dress is indestructible."

I shrugged. Before I could tell her my story, she continued.

"I think these dresses are haunted," she said. "I was trying to burn a hole in mine the other night, and the dogs started barking. I looked outside and -- you'll never believe this -- my neighbor's trash can was on fire. I was afraid they'd think I did it, so I just left my dress as it was."

Then she asked the question I had been suppressing: "Remember the graveyard when we were 14?"

Neither of us needed to elaborate.

After the party, I returned to my hotel to find a police officer in the hallway by my door. He said a neighbor had complained about loud noises in my room, and after three complaints, the hotel had to call the police. I explained that I had been gone all night, and that no one else had a room key. I said he must have the wrong room.

He left, and I entered my room, exhausted. I flipped on the light. Ashes. It looked like black ashes smeared all over the carpet. My room was overturned, all of the pens were broken in half, the towels were in a wet mountain in the bathtub. A woman's pointy boots sat in the corner next to a thick chain. And there was a big red stain on the white duvet cover, dripping onto the carpet.

I tore off my dress, shoved it into the old suit case and locked it.

And left the maid a huge tip.

I have another Halloween party tomorrow. Needless to say, I'm looking for a new costume.

Maybe you're hiding from a haunted dress, or you just haven't got around to finding a costume yet. Regardless, here are a few last-minute costumes that you can pull together with minimal effort, money and fire risk:

Poison ivy. Glue, tape or staple real or fake leaves onto an old dress, or just a scarf. Draw leafy swirls down your arms and across your chest with green and purple body paint.

A carnival game. A friend once won a costume contest with this easy costume. He blew up a bunch of balloons, stapled them to an oversized piece of cardboard and wore the cardboard around his neck. He threw on a mullet wig, mustache and ratty jeans, and sold people darts to throw at him for $1. Extra bonus: Carry a goldfish in a bag to award the winner.

A mummy. Shred a white sheet or two into thin strips and wrap yourself with them. If you have time, splatter the fabric with fake blood or leftover cabernet. Avoid staining it with coffee; trust me, it stinks.

Towelie from "South Park." It can't get much easier than this. Cut a hole in the middle of a large blue beach towel and put it over your head. Paint two white stripes on your forehead and chin, and carry a pipe. Bonus points if you can get red eyes -- legally.

Susan Ross, George Costanza's fiancee from "Seinfeld," who died licking envelopes. Paint your face white, like a zombie, and drip fake blood around your mouth. Wear a long straight blond wig, black slacks, a chunky knit sweater with a button-down underneath or something preppy and carry a box of envelopes.

Someone else at the party or a coworker. One year, the three Amys in the Daily Camera newsroom all dressed like each other. Fortunately, we all had different enough styles to make this dramatic. Unfortunately, that meant I couldn't wear any make-up or comb my hair, and I had to wear a T-shirt and corduroys.

But looking back, that sure beat a $500 carpet and duvet cleaning bill from a haunted dress.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thrift store heaven

Me, a child raised only on thrifted clothes.

I remember the first time I shopped in a mall. The store that took my new-clothes virginity was Mervyns.

I will never forget the confusion I felt when I saw my first rack of never-worn clothes. Why were there so many of the same shirt? And what kind of weirdo would buy something knowing that 20 other people would be wearing the exact same thing?

Ah yes. I was a bit of a fashion Encino Girl.

You see, I was raised in a consignment store, the Sweetheart Shop, at the foothills where Loveland met Estes Park. For 11 years, I helped my mom sort, price and organize the clothes people dropped off -- which also meant I had dibs on everything, and no need to visit the mall.

In sixth grade, I made a goal: not to wear the same outfit twice. Sound uppity? Not if you're sneaking clothes in your backpack, wearing them one day and returning them to the rack the next day. Indeed, I was the best-dressed, cheapest-dressed pre-teen at Walt Clark Middle School.

Andy's Girl boots

Years after the Sweetheart Shop closed -- and changed into a hookah bar -- I still haven't changed. In fact, today I made a goal: to put together the cheapest outfit possible. Bright blue jersey dress from a church garage sale: free. Vintage red thick belt with a butterfly clasp: 50 cents from Savers. Red chandelier earrings from a thrift store: $1. Even my red boots were the floor-sample boots that I bought after Boulder designer Andy's Girl closed down, for approximately 5,000 percent off.

My thrifty nature
is part of the reason October is one of my favorite months. Sure, there's the pumpkin lattes, the world's biggest dress-up party (aka Halloween) and the chilly, sharp air -- the smell of change.

But October is also Thrift Store Heaven, when all thrift/consignment stores roll out their besties in hopes of reeling in shoppers in need of a wicked costume. For folks who dress up on a daily basis (ahem, ahem), this also translates into the closest equivalent to Vintage Fashion Month.

Which is how I ended up in a basement in Louisville, surrounded by leopard-print dresses, teal cowboy boots, short shirts and long (red) jackets sexy enough for Cake to write a song about.

I'd heard rumblings about the store, Found Underground, but had put off visiting it because, well, honestly, I had no reason to swing by downtown Louisville.

Now I have a reason.

Photo by Jonathan Castner.
It's called floor-length black velour opera coat, $23.

And that's just the beginning. As a self-proclaimed (but difficult to dispute) used-clothing expert, I say Found Underground is one of Boulder County's greatest. Nancy Cooley, of Louisville, says she opened the shop three years ago because she loves funky clothes. As proof: She worked at the Ritz clothing and costume store in Boulder for 12 years, where, in her words, "I raised my kids. Yes, I raised my kids in a store."

(My eyebrows perk up.)
Daily Camera photo

Found Underground, at 901 Main St., is entirely recycled, from the racks to hangers. It carries all kinds of goodies, from Betsey Johnson to labelless retro to belly-dancer costumes to prom dresses, which Cooley sells on a sliding scale for lower-income high-schoolers.

The store carries quality consignment clothes at thrift-store prices. And after four to six weeks, everything that hasn't yet sold moves into a half-off room, which rivals even Salvation Army prices, but with the style and brands of Boulder's upscale consignment stores, such as Rags.

I'm talking $12 for a black formal gown from Macy's, with tags; $28 for a red vintage skirt and suit jacket; $12 for never-worn brown and pink round-toe Steve Madden heels -- the same heels I brought at the Steve Madden store for, um, add a zero.

It was the teal Justin mid-calf boots that got me. I have the twin pair of these boots, but in bright purple. I bought mine in worse condition at Urban Outfitters, as part of the Urban Renewal line, for $80. At Found Underground, the nearly immaculate teal sisters are $20.

They're not my size, but I almost bought them anyway. There are some deals that surpass reason.

Read more at 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Who needs Goth when you can be sloth?

Photo by Hollywood Calling.

Oops, I overdid it again. The girly thing.

Maybe I curled my hair too tightly, or the pink hair dye seeped into my brain. Maybe I'm ill from the scent of too much eyelash glue and nail polish. Maybe it's my Seasonal Affective Fashion Disorder, or the proximity to Halloween that is darkening my soul -- and wardrobe.

But I begrudge all things froofy right now. In fact, the only way I could muster up the desire to wear a dress this week was over my jeans, with Doc Martens and only so I could ride my motorcycle wearing it to prove that, in fact, it was possible to wear a dress while riding.

I painted my nails black. Even when I attempted to lighten my hair at Floyd's Barber Shop last week, my stylist toiled for six hours -- seriously -- but my freak-hair refused to participate in the bleaching process. We ended up going black and purple, which my hair picked up joyfully. But of course.

My friend Kristen recently asked me at a party where my pin-up had run away to. I scowled at her, in my ratty jeans and black T-shirt, and explained that I had overdone the girly-girly so much that it had sent me ricocheting in the opposite direction.

I would describe my current style as "Goth," except I'm even too lazy for all the dark make-up and exhausting tries to look like I'm not trying. I guess that makes me "Sloth."

So obviously I have no fashion advice to offer you this week, except maybe "Shower, occasionally, if you want. Whatever, I don't care."

Lucky for me (and you), I surround myself with enough life rafts to float myself through these kinds of murky phases. Like local style coach and fashion genius Rachael Shayne ( She recently shared the three secrets to finding the perfect jeans in the September issue of Women's Magazine (

As Shayne put it, navigating the trends of fabric finish alone is treacherous. Here are the three terms she says you need to remember on your next hunt for jeans: mid-rise, dark rinse and a slight flare.

Let's break it down.

1.Forget the torture device known as the size on the tag and fit your curves instead, opting for mid-rise jeans (about two finger widths below your belly button) that skim your curves and highlight your assets. Then plan to tailor the waist, length and even the flare for the perfect fit.

2. Regardless of what the denim trends are, a dark finish looks best. This is often referred to as a "rinse" color. No bleaching, blasting, whiskering or anything else that acts like a spotlight on your thighs and butt. Embellishments and other sparkles on your jeans have the same effect. So if you like decoration, make sure you're highlighting something you want everyone to notice.

3. Making sure there is some flare at the bottom of your jeans gives visual balance to hips, which is why it's so flattering. Make sure your jeans are tailored to a half an inch off the floor with your shoes on. This usually equates to having one pair of shorter, straighter leg jeans for flats and another pair of longer jeans with more flare for heels.