It's the one day of the year that fashion can be tossed to the wind. I know this intellectually. But I still can't help looking at the people I know and wondering what has possessed them.
A hard-working colleague looks like a skid-row bum. An unobtrusive mother-in-law is dressed like a witch. A normally conservatively dressed sister looks like a prostitute. A liberal-minded boss is the image of Stalin.
Personally, I'm confused about choosing a costume for Halloween, so I call Dr. Roderic Gorney, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA. Maybe he can sort it out.
"Well," Gorney begins, "there's pretty good evidence that everything people do is reflective of trends in their personality." Just as people choose their spouses, cars and pets for personal reasons, he explains, their choice of Halloween costumes "also is in some way guided by forces in their personality that may be outside their awareness.'
Contrary to popular belief, he says, there can be a lot more to a costume than the obvious fun factor. Dressing up as someone or something else allows people to express an otherwise hidden side of themselves. A normally demure, gentle man may show up on Halloween as Attila the Hun. A usually sophisticated, soft-spoken woman may arrive as Roseanne Barr.
"It's common to find very peaceful people who might dress up as a monster, who are inhibiting violent sides," he says.
That could explain one of this year's costume categories by employees of the district attorney's office: "A Nightmare on Telephone Road."
For the time being, I decide not to ask Gorney's opinion of the Barbarian Woman outfit, complete with a mock bear's teeth necklace, that is hanging in my closet. Instead, I head over to the local costume shop to find out if anyone else can offer insight into these deep psychological issues.
Walking up and down the aisles among the monk, pirate, French maid, Ninja and executioner's costumes is Tina Clark, a mother of three, originally from Texas and now living in Santa Paula.
"I'm going as Scarlett O'Hara," Clark says in a soft, Southern drawl. "Scarlett is a lady, not just a woman. A part of me wants to be that too. Of course, I'd like for my husband to go as Rhett."
Clark recalls costumes she has seen over the years that lead her to believe that Gorney is correct in his assessment. One year, she says, a friend who was adamant about not wanting children came to a party dressed as a giant baby in diapers. "For someone who said she didn't want anything to do with kids, that struck me as interesting."
Sue Taylor, browsing the aisles while on a break from her job at Ventura City Hall, isn't certain how to interpret some of her co-workers' choice of costumes. "All the people who work in community development will dress as Coneheads, whatever that means," she says.
But Gorney, when I tell him these things, doesn't seem overly concerned. He tells me it's possible to read psychological motives where there may not be any. He also tells me it's all right to just dress up and have fun.
Whew. I feel much better.
If my husband really does decide to go trick-or-treating as Hugh Hefner, I think I can handle it now.
* THE PREMISE
Ventura County is teeming with the fashionable and not so fashionable. There are trend makers and trend breakers. There are those with style--personal and off the rack--and those making fashion statements that are better left unsaid. Twice a month, we'll be taking a look at fashion in Ventura County's trends, styles and ideas and asking you what you think. If you have a fashion problem, sighting or suggestion or if you know a fashion success or a fashion victim, let us know. We want to hear from you.