Scare Quotes and Regency Dresses: Literary Costumes for Halloween

Halloween is one of the few holidays where you can take your introverted reading habit and turn it into a public spectacle. So, get those brows up in the air, squeeze in that monocle, and start puffing on your bubble pipe: here are some literary costume ideas.

FROM MIRIAM COOK (Marketing Assistant)

The Headless Horseman
From the classic Washington Irving story. Perhaps equestrian gear, no head, and a hobby horse (if you can find one).

Sherlock Holmes
Deerstalker cap, pipe, and magnifying glass. Maybe a long tweed coat if you have it.

Frodo Baggins
Trousers, waistcoat, cloak, hairy feet, walking stick, and a ring on a chain around your neck. A girl at my high school dressed up as Frodo one year and it was awesome.

Gregor Samsa
Dress as a giant cockroach. Maybe wear an old-fashioned hat.

Hester Prynne
Wear a dark dress and a red letter “A” on the front.


Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth Bennet

  • A dress with an empire waist, preferably of regency inspiration: Choose a neutral color, light brown, cream, light blue or seafoam green. A floral pattern will also do nicely. Be sure it is a long, flowing dress. Use a sash or ribbon to cinch an empire waist if necessary.
  • A bonnet or ribbon for one’s hair
  • A comfortable pair of slippers (i.e. flats)
  • A good book would be a must. If possible use an older edition.
  • As for hair, ringlets are the way to go.
  • Light, neutral make-up

Mr. Darcy

  • A high-collared shirt and a knotted tie—brownie points if you work a cravat
  • A jacket with tails
  • As far as pants go, short breeches with stockings would be ideal (dress shoes on the feet). Long dress pants tucked into taller boots would also work nicely.
  • If you really want to commit, sideburns are the way to go.
  • Then all you need is your proud stance and haughty attitude.
  • A walking stick would not hurt either.

FROM ELLEN DUFFER (Editorial Intern)

If I had four friends, I would force them to join me in dressing up as the five Lisbon sisters from Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. A prerequisite for participation would be having blond hair and a pair of jeans. If this applies to you and you want to be something other than a Disney Princess or Barbie for Halloween, pick your favorite melancholic sister and procure the following items.

This is the awkward, nerdy one. Carry around some science books (the heavier the better), wear a button-up shirt tucked into some jeans, and, if possible, acquire a couple of seahorses. Make sure your demeanor is generally quiet.

The vain one, Mary waxes her upper lip to remove a slight mustache. I suggest shading in some hair for the full effect. She wears various styles of clothing throughout the book, including brightly colored sweaters, jeans with heart-shaped embroidery on the back pocket, and homemade dresses of lace and frills. Crimson lipstick is essential, but can be accompanied by loads of other adolescent-applied makeup. A Dead Mary costume would also be carrying a picture of the Virgin Mary.

Rosary, noose. Middle-child syndrome. Call yourself “Bonaventure” and carry around any musical instrument that you’re willing to discard by the end of the evening after making an excuse about why you were no good at it.

Because Lux secretly takes up smoking, hide a pack of cigarettes in your pocket and hope that no one finds it. Wear tight jeans, a revealing top, and too much lipstick. Try to make friends with men who own motorcycles.

Find a vintage wedding gown from the 1920s. Then, proceed to cut it short and spill food and drink on it. Cecilia wears this dress daily, presumably without allowing her mother to wash it. Blood stains at the edges of the sleeves would also be appropriate. Bandage your wrists, but wear stacks of bracelets.

Or, alternatively, you could wear orange and go as the peach from Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.

FROM AKSHAY AHUJA (Production Manager)

As demonstrated by one of my favorite Monty Python sketches, you can’t go wrong by going as Oscar Wilde. Some sort of flamboyant velvet suit (this is a good item to have around anyway) with a flower in the buttonhole. Memorize a few witticisms. It probably helps to be tall. The impressive head of hair can come naturally, or can be supplied by a wig.

To go further with Wilde, a professor of mine once described his elaborate Dorian Gray costume, where he attached a picture frame to his body, through which one could see his ordinary, smiling face. On the back of his head, he created a mask that contained a hideous, aged version of himself. A bit elaborate, but very impressive, even if it made drinking at the party (through the picture frame) rather difficult.

FROM JESSICA ARNOLD (Digital Publication Assistant)

Easy Word-Nerd Costumes

This dirt-cheap costume was born out of dire need, with a Halloween costume party to go to and nothing but desk supplies to work with. In desperation, I stuck a Post-It note to my shoe and called myself a footnote. Most people at the party accused me of coming costume-less, as will probably happen to anyone else who tries this trick. But you can then point to the paper stuck to your shoe and say that this wasn’t an accident—this was a clever writing pun.

Scare Quotes
For the slightly more ambitious (but still in a hurry), scare quotes are a great choice. I cut letters and quotation marks out of an orange sheet of paper and taped “BOO” to a shirt, but if you’re really in a rush, printing “BOO” out in large print on a piece of paper and hanging that around your neck would certainly be just as effective. It’s a good conversation starter (and a chance to explain to the world what scare quotes actually are—most people who ask you about your costume will just think you’ve made a half-hearted attempt to get in the Halloween scare-spirit).

Dangling Prepositions
A great choice for anyone who feels passionately about this common grammar complaint. Write up a few of your favorite prepositions (e.g. with, up, to, on, for, by) and use some thread to dangle them from your arms, ears, shirt, ankles, eyebrows—wherever you like. This one is also a great discussion piece.

Serial/Oxford Comma
If, like me, you care a great deal about your serial commas, you might want to consider this costume. There are several ways to go about transforming yourself into this fabulous piece of punctuation. An easy choice would be to cut a comma out of a cereal box and hang it around your neck. But, if you happen to have an Oxford shirt or sweatshirt lying around, you could tape a comma to that as well. Or you could print out an enormous comma with the Oxford seal on it and hang that around your neck. You can then spend your Halloween (if you’re me) singing the serial comma’s praises to anyone who will listen or, alternatively, explaining why it’s unnecessary and inelegant and generally uncalled for.

If you’re going with a group of people, may I suggest a copyeditor’s hobgoblins theme. Combine the scare quotes, dangling prepositions, and serial/Oxford comma for an easy group costume that will earn you puzzled looks wherever you go.