For ardent enthusiasts of the holiday — and we’re talking adults here — the answer to that question is often “as much as it takes.” They will also, as it turns out, put up with quite a bit of discomfort.
The National Retail Federation estimates that a record 179 million Americans will partake in some sort of Halloween festivities this year, up from 171 million last year. What’s more, they’ll spend a record $9.1 billion on the holiday, with $3.4 billion going toward costumes. Kansas City is no exception when it comes to this trend.
They were the Mad Hatter and The White Queen from Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” one year and Medusa and an anaconda snake another year.
“That involved a lot of body paint (by a special effects artist) and special contact lenses to make snake eyes,” recalls Ron Hill.
Another year, Hill dressed as Lord Voldemort from “Harry Potter,” which included a facial prosthetic that put a bit of damper on his night. The glue and latex, he says, smelled horrible.
The couple would commission a seamstress who worked for the Kansas City Repertory Theater to sew their costumes and hired a body painter and team of make-up artists to take care of the rest.
Dressing up, Hill surmises, gives people an opportunity to see what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.
“And it allows you to be a voyeur when people don’t know who you are. It’s a fun social experiment,” he says. “Hilloween was a place for people to come who wanted to put a lot of effort into the costume. We’d have a contest and the top three were always amazing. People would sometimes be very upset if they didn’t win.”
Chan Ulledahl, a special effects make-up artist at Worlds of Fun, says Halloween is the last chance of the year to cut loose before the stressful holidays come around.
“Christmas is beautiful, Thanksgiving is all about food, and Halloween you get to turn into something you otherwise can’t be,” she says. “We say, ‘Halloween is for kids and they’re so cute, blah blah blah. …’ But really this is an adult holiday.
“You get to be improper before you have to be proper. You can be risque or whatever you want. You can go out in a bustier, and everyone thinks you’re beautiful. On Nov. 1, forget it. You can’t do that anymore.”
Ulledahl expects to turn down a lot of last-minute requests for her services this week.
“People don’t want masks anymore,” she says. “They’re cumbersome, you can’t breathe, you have to take them off, then there’s nothing.”
Then again, that can happen even without a mask.
One year, the Hills spent six hours having makeup artists apply facial prosthetics, cosmetics and wigs to transform them into Hollywood-quality versions of apes from “Planet of the Apes.” They realized only later that they couldn’t hear, talk, eat or drink during Hilloween. Not that anyone wanted to talk to them anyway.
“I kept telling people who I was, and they would say ‘I know who you are, but you’re freaking me out,’ ” recalls Ron Hill. My wife didn’t like that at all. I think we learned a good lesson that year.”
Hill estimates they spent about $800 in those two ape costumes.
Robbie McGowan, catering manager at Pierpont’s at Union Station, used to throw themed Halloween parties in his downtown loft. He’d hire movers to put all of his furniture into a moving van in his parking lot to make room for the hundreds of guests who would show up, and he’d decorate the place with elaborate props to match the theme.
He and two buddies always wore coordinating costumes. When the theme was travel, they had a seamstress sew airline stewardess uniforms from a vintage Chanel pattern, to which they added wigs, false eyelashes and ladylike makeup.
That same seamstress replicated the clothes that Barbie and her friends were wearing on the side of a Barbie doll box another year. His guests, he says, went all out, too.
“When you give them a theme, they go for it,” says McGowan. “They love it. It gives them a guide. People started planning the next day for their costume for the next year.”
Busy time of year
Ulledahl is already getting a lot of requests for her services. Pennywise, the clown from the horror flick ‘It,’ is very popular this year. People also want to know if she can ‘do gore.’
“That’s not a problem,” she says. “I have three or four bottles of blood medium. People ask how gory can you go? Well ho