Life lessons: What I learned from one mortifying Halloween costume

By Kate Brayden 

My first catastrophic costume experience was simultaneously the funniest and worst Halloween of my life. It was the night where myself and two best friends attempted to win a competition at an underage disco for a coveted free iPhone, but the outcome was not what we expected, to say the least. Strap yourselves in and get your seatbelts on: we’re taking the embarrassment bus to Morto-town.

Think back to the times before influencers were all the rage, before social media could tell you absolutely everything, and you may understand the clueless-ness of our mistake.

It was during my underage disco days, a simpler and more innocent era (in some ways…not others). At that time, a club called Dandelion was open on St. Stephen’s Green, and held a night for under 18’s called ‘Beatfreaks’. Yes, it was as tacky as the name implies.

Not a hint of alcohol was to be sold to us fresh-faced sixteen year olds, there was only water to dilute the shame of wearing a dodgy costume. Myself and my pals had spent weeks deciding what to wear, the social stigma of possibly wearing the wrong article haunted us naïve schoolgirls, and the options were as limited back then as they are today for women.

Nearly every outfit, though it was for underage girls, was overtly sexualised. God help you if you wanted to wear a humorous costume, and didn’t look attractive to the male species?! It didn’t matter what you were dressed as, in some way it was going to be transformed into an outfit that made you look as attractive as possible to attract a lad on the dance floor.

This was the law in the world of Catholic all-girls schools.

We arrived at my friend’s house armed with every colour facepaint known to womenkind, we had glitter, masks, roughly 10’000 spare outfits in case of any faux pas: nothing could go wrong. We prepared for everything… or so we thought.

 My sister was trying the ‘Chic Ghost’ look, except she is hugely allergic to facepaint so instead had covered her sensitive visage in white Sudocrem and resembled a marshmallow had had been toasted on a fire. I had opted for the animal card: a ‘Chic Zebra’, except I had made a mistake which came back to bite me later: white striped leggings and white underwear.

The second those exposing UV lights came on in the venue, my underwear was lit up like a Christmas tree for the whole world to see, and they weren’t even my nice underwear. They were 1950s grandmother looking for a gardening partner vibe, and I can still feel the mortification.

My friend, God bless her soul, had painted her entire arms with oil colours to try and resemble a parrot. She was unaware at the time that oil paint does not come off without a remover chemical called white spirits (not to be confused with the spooky kind), and the worst part about it was that she in no way looked like a parrot. She simply looked like she’d jumped headfirst into a paintball tournament and lost, badly. Despite our horrendous efforts to look sophisticated, we took the group photos and pretended we weren’t terrified to walk into a huge room of adolescents.

We wanted that iPhone prize, and we wanted it badly. I was sharing a Nokia with my sister, it wasn’t like nowadays where every four year old has touch screen tablets from the age they reach the crib. Apple iPhones were like gold dust: new and expensive, and I wouldn’t have to share with my sister anymore.

Looking back, I’m not sure how we would have split the iPhone between us three ways, but maths was never my strong suit at school.

As we walked down the street towards Stephen’s Green, we noticed that we hadn’t seen a single person dressed up in costume. Paranoia set in, then panic, as we reached the queue for Dandelion and all we saw was a sea of plain clothed teenagers. As we walked in the door, the lights came up on the dance floor and the entire club turned to gawk at the absolute state of us.

A ‘parrot’ with patchy red and green arms, a lit up zebra, and a walking advertisement for a skin allergy. We were covered in paint of all types, but no amount of paint could even begin to mask our humiliation. Not a single other person was dressed in a costume except us… on Halloween. Typical.

The embarrassment was too real. We ran to the bathroom for a reconnaissance mission, attempting in vain to scrape the paint off each others arms and to cover up my illuminated legs. There was nothing to be done about my unfortunate glow in the dark underwear except strategically hide behind the club’s scattered pillars and ignore the snorts of laughter from groups of overly hormonal teenaged boys.

Then it dawned on us that if no one else was dressed up… we were the only participants in the iPhone competition! The prize had to be ours, literally we were the lone contenders. We patted each other on the back for handling the disastrous situation with such dignity (only one of us shed tears… okay fine, all three of us.)

We strutted out of the bathroom to await our glorious prize, ready to gloat that we had not suffered in vain. As the MC called out the smaller prizes over the microphone, we heard a huge cheer and turned around. ‘The winner, of the brand new iPhone and overall costume champion of Dandelion is…. AVATAR!!!’

All the air left our lungs as we turned around to stare at a girl painted entirely in blue step forward to claim her new iPhone.

That’s right, only one other person in the building wore a costume and beat all three of us to claim the prize. It happened seven years ago, but I have to admit, I’m still bitter.

‘Why is this your favourite costume memory?’ I hear you ask. Good question. If you can handle the teenage social anxiety of going to a club and being the dumbest looking people in the vicinity, you can handle most things in life. It taught me many things: if you’re going to dress up, do it well enough to win an iPhone, and don’t wear oil paint on your skin that will take roughly three weeks to come off.

Don’t wear face paint that will give your entire face an inflamed allergic reaction (shout out to my sister’s poor skin, lost but not forgotten), never take photos of yourself as a teenager because trust me, the embarrassment will come back to haunt you.

My friend’s dad conveniently snapped a photo of us three loons going out the door in our ridiculous attires, and seven years later that very photo turned up in her family calendar, which got sent to dozens of people who no doubt got a great laugh out of it.

The second ‘Incident’ was in 2013: The year we painted ourselves green, dyed our hair green and wore BBQ trays on our backs in order to disguise ourselves as… the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

We didn’t just disguise ourselves.. we became them. We skipped school to spend all day painting every inch of our skin, and the prize was not only just a gift voucher and mountain of sweets, but the glory of having the greatest Halloween costumes our school had ever seen.

We studied the ninja turtles for weeks, and assigned ourselves the roles of Donatello, Michaelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo. We pulled out all the stops.

There was no way we could lose this time. We had narrowly missed the prize the year before, when we had also painted our entire bodies, and this year it was our time. Victory was ours.

The principal walked down to the assembly at the end of the school day to announce the winners, and we readied ourselves for the cheers and applause which was surely ours.

She picked up the microphone, took a deep breath, paused and said, ‘The winners, of the 2013 costume competition are… THE NINJAS!!!’

We looked around, assuming she must have made a mistake and had simply shortened our name. Low and behold, a group of girls wearing all-black walked up to claim the prize.

They did not resemble ninjas in the slightest, they had not painted their entire bodies, the effort was minimal. Surely there had been some mistake???

We even offered to have a battle in the gym between the ‘ninjas’ and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The principal predictably declined this offer and called us ‘sore losers’. The neck.

Devastatingly, we graduated from school having never won the competition in six years of painting ourselves various colours.

The bitterness has never left us, and probably never will… there’s still hints of green on my skin many years later, but maybe it’s just envy?

Look, the moral of the story is don’t take Halloween too seriously. The costume anxiety isn’t worth it, just wear whatever you want and feel comfortable and confident just being yourself.

Never dress to impress anyone else but yourself. But seriously, don’t wear white underwear to a UV party.

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