Once again Halloween rolled around and once again it was a week before a party that I started thinking about a costume. I had a little time in central London so wandered around a ‘vintage’ store for some inspiration. I wanted a costume that would work with my teeny weeny Afro. Initially I was thinking Moss from the IT crowd.
As I looked at the dubious vintage items (a bugbear of mine is ‘vintage’ stores that are overpriced and have crappy, samey clothing), I started to feel inspired. I quite wanted to go for an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia costume but didn’t want to buy a new wig- maybe I’ll go as Ango Goblogian if I stumble across the right secondhand wig another time.
I had just seen the new Joker movie and wondered whether there was mileage in that as a concept. I’ve seen on Instagram (good targeted advertising I guess) that they sell hair wax that’s capable of producing vibrant temporary colour on Afro hair and doesn’t look crispy and awful.
Note: I’ve been meaning to write about the experience of cutting my hair but haven’t got around to it. I definitely surprised myself with how strongly my feelings about my gender were tied up with my long hair. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that I felt much more drawn than usual to dressing as a male character.
Anyway, when I went charity shopping a couple of days later, it was the character of the Joker that appealed to me the most. I spotted a red jacket and went to look at some reference images. What would the odds be that I could find a red suit, green shirt and yellow waistcoat all in my size in five days? Would I become desperate enough to violate my ethics and buy something new?
I visited the secondhand shops near my work and came away feeling a little apprehensive. I made the decision to just buy any item I could find that suited my needs- more on this later. As I returned to my office after lunch, I recalled that nearby Chiswick High Street has a fantastic selection of charity shops. Since I had some containers and could pop into the Source as well, I hopped on my bike and went over that very afternoon.
Chiswick sorted me out beautifully. The first thing I spotted in the Shelter store was a bright red jacket for £15. I tried it on and it fit. I decided not to buy it immediately just in case I came across something better.
The next shop came up trumps with a pair of red trousers- I had to ask the volunteer to take them off a mannequin for me. Not perfect but definitely good enough for my needs, especially since they were £6.50. I bought them straightaway so the lady wouldn’t put them back on the mannequin.
The thing I was most worried about was the waistcoat. I’d hardly seen any waitscoats at all on my search, and is a yellow waistcoat an item anyone would want aside for for costume purposes? But the Barnado’s shop contained a golden floral one. Again I didn’t buy it straightaway. It wasn’t quite perfect and I had a couple more shops to visit.
I wandered down to the shop at the end of the road, where my eye was immediately caught by a green silk shirt. It was more olive than I wanted, but a beautiful silk shirt from Whistles seemed too good an offer to pass up at £20- it’s something that can definitely slip into my work wardrobe when spooky season is over and done.
I quickly walked back up the street to collect the waistcoat and jacket, which was a great match for my new pants. It seemed silly to waste time looking any further. I was irrationally terrified that other shoppers would have snapped my items up, but I needn’t have worried.
The only big misstep I made was with the very first item I bought; another red jacket. For the first time, I investigated a weird junk shop that’s opposite my office. There’s no indication of what it is on the outside, just some rails of clothing. I went in and there are hundreds of poorly sorted items and no lighting. It’s so strange. There were people wandering about using their phones as torches. I wish I knew the story behind it.
I found a red men’s jacket in there and hastily bought it for £15. In the gloom of the shop, it had looked okay if a little big. As soon as I tried it on in a proper changing room, I realised that it wouldn’t do. I looked like a little kid in their dad’s suit. When I bought the second jacket, I donated the first one at the same time. No sense bringing it home to take up space when I have absolutely no use for it. I hope that Shelter will be able to make some money back from it at least.
Overall it felt really serendipitous that I was able to get everything I needed within only a couple of hours. Normally my cardinal rule of secondhand shopping is not to go looking for something specific. But this time, it worked for me. As my friend Cayleigh pointed out, perhaps even the men’s red jacket was part of the magic of that day of shopping. There may be some reason that it needed to find its way to the Shelter store in Chiswick.
In the end I paid £49.50 (not including the stupid second jacket) for my costume, which I know is far from cheap. The silk shirt I know will go into my normal wardrobe. And, in fact, I felt really fabulous in the red suit. I wonder if there’s a viable market for renting a single costume only suitable for a size 10 woman. Actually, two costumes since I still have my Wonder Woman dress from last year. I feel grateful that I am fortunate enough to be able to pay a premium to live according to my principles.
The one thing I bought new was the hair wax for £11. I had to use around 1/3 of the pot to get decent colour on my hair. I quite liked the definition that it gave my curls, though it did make my hair quite hard.
Yes I did go out for dinner dressed as the Joker. And yes my two companions were wearing normal clothes.
It was so much fun to dress up in a completely different way to normal. I’ve never worn a trouser-suit before and actually I was living for it. In fact, I don’t think I’ve worn a suit as an adult full stop. I will 100% be looking for any excuse to wear my red suit again. The biggest surprise was probably how hot I was! I suddenly have a new respect for men in three-piece suits on the tube.