Make Your Masquerade: From Scary to Seductive to High Tech, A Guide to DIY Halloween Costuming Around Town

Halloween's mystique has always been the ability to create your own fantasy. Playing dress-up during the witching hour is at once both sexy and sinister, a chance to indulge in peculiarities by our own hand. Habitually teasing the twisted line of macabre and camp, costumes are the best extension of imagination when made on intimate accord and these days we're more equipped than ever to do it ourselves.

"You'd be surprised what kinds of tricks you can pull out of your hat just by thinking outside of the box," quips Cassanda Anselmi, better referenced by her prop, costume and make-up production guise, Castle Spooktacular. "Some of the best costumes aren't necessarily the most elaborate and as long as you have a pattern, you can pretty much do anything."

Thrift stores are her starting grounds, noting, "There's a lot ready to be destroyed and repurposed. When I'm looking for something like leather or fur, I've cut it out of thrift store jackets."

Those up for the digging can find Unique Thrift on the east and west sides of town, and in the Waterloo Arts District, This Way Out, Star Pop and Blue Arrow Records stake claim to a mixed bag of offbeat goods.

"At thrift stores, you can find a trench coat for a vampire slayer costume," says Matthew Seel of Cleveland haunted house fx company Death Clock Studios. "The original concept jacket for our dark carnival ringmaster was a thrifted Civil War coat that we added tails to and stitched it all together. Then we made our own boots by taking a pair of dress shoes and attaching vinyl and buckles."

When sculpting horror-inspired skin augmentations, Seel swears by latex he picks up at the Lakewood outlet The Monster Makers. For added effect, Seel recommends Engles, a uniform outlet in Lorain that offers secondhand medical wear.

To enhance the mad scientist look, Cosmic Collectables has a stock of glassware that includes vials and beakers. Their menagerie of knickknacks is often a treasure trove of accompaniments to transform into kooky Wes Anderson characters or vintage Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas sleaze. Catty corner to the storefront is Deja Vu, a bohemian counterpart to Cosmic's whimsy made up of almost entirely estate sale finds.

Even for the more demure vintage shopper, tattered and torn can add to the illusion. Cynthia Deering's Ohio City Shop, Deering Vintage, was a final destination last year for those looking to arrive to the zombie apocalypse in 1950s ball gowns, she says of her in-store Halloween trends. "A couple dresses were ripped but they didn't care — they liked them better that way."

The neighboring Ohio City boutique Elegansia offers Hollywood glamour of yesteryear and fur-brimmed coats that recall rock and roll groupie-chic. Chelsea's, Sweet Lorain and Flower Child are full of wall-to-wall quirks waiting to be mined — just leave enough time as not to become overwhelmed.

Such stops bode well for piecing together attire for bygone-era invoking events like the Beachland Ballroom's annual Halloween cover show (Nov. 1), the funk-induced, sweat-soaked dance party of the Secret Soul Club at the 5 O'Clock Lounge (Oct. 31) or a punk-filled evening at the annual WCSB 91.1 Masquerade Ball (Nov. 1) inside the Cleveland Public Theatre

More decadence affairs can be found as Aloft's swank Lago hosts The Night Circus (Oct. 31) complete with juggling and flame throwers, and LGBT hotspot Bounce will throw the spectacularly-named Fangtasia (Oct. 31).

"It's that popularity of The Great Gatsby too, we're still feeling that at parties," muses Deering.

Of course, hacking the past into the modern age is no original fashion concept. Those attending the celebrated, long-running Cleveland Bazaar's newest foray, the Halloween Curiosity Shop at the Dittrick Museum of Medical History, won't be hard-pressed to find jewelry steeped in steampunk influence. The 19th century novelty may come out more around Halloween, but its appeal is growing increasingly wider — much like cosplay.

"I decided I was going to try my first cosplay," says Ben Horvat of technology-laced fashion collective Diffractive Design while stationed at Case Western Reserve University's makerspace, think[box]. "I'm getting Plexiglas sheets laser cut right now."

He's meticulously assembling a piece of mock armor to become a character from the video game League of Legacy at the school's 4,500-square foot innovation center. After creating a pattern — always Horvat's first step, whether hand drawn or from a local fabric shop such as Stitch Cleveland — he'll cut the shape out of E.V.A. foam commonly found in exercise mats and create a three dimension model of the piece.

As fablabs like think[box] and the Cleveland Public Library's TechCentral MakerSpace emerge, fashion technology is being put into the hands of both the novice and the master. For the slightly more advanced, Northeast Ohio-based TinyCircuits offers Arduinos that can use open source to add interactive elements to costuming. Combined with affordable access to LED lights and electroluminescent wire (EL wire) found at neighborhood craft and electronic stores, blazing cyberpunk elements and subtle incandescence become a realistic feature.

"You have to have a good idea first and foremost," says Horvat. "Think, do you want it to react a certain way? Do you want it to glow? Do you want it to move?"

Such questions are no longer as far out of reach. Online resources such as SparkFun and Adafruit offer kits that complement locally purchased materials, explains Margarita Benitez, whose wearable musical interface S.A.R.A. was recently shown at Ingenuity Fest and Digital Fashion Week Singapore. Tutorials at Make magazine and Instructables teach you how to put them to use.

"With a site like Aniomagic, you can order LEDs and tell the website the direction and speed you'd like the lights to follow and it will program it right in," says Benitez. "For example, it can blink along to sound so if you add it to any costume it can dance to the beat when you go out. You can shape them into a heart that beats to the music."

It's the same basic idea of fusing lo-tech, simple pieces with technology, she explains, that can light up cheeky costumes like a fiber optic whip tethered to a handmade cat suit or LEDs sewn throughout a tutu from lifestyle hub The Mission Boutique.

"Take an LED and a watch battery and you can bling any costume with it," laughs Robert McTrusty of Makers Alliance. "I've seen a guy put multi-color LEDs all over a lab coat to make himself into a walking television set."

McTrusty will take his skills to task at the first Night Makers Ball (Nov. 1) hosted by Scene at the Lake Erie Building, brightening up costumes throughout the night.

"You don't have to be an expert, you don't have to be an engineer," says McTrusty. "Technology has made it so easy for anyone to do this."

Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.