The young woman stocking the spinner racks with novelty glasses was chuckling.
“Have you seen our store superheroes?” she joked. “I was eating a Starburst and started choking. Spider-Man saved me.”
She gestured with a pair of nerd glasses to two young boys — maybe 6 or 7 years old — who had apparently talked their parents into letting them go to the costume shop in costume. One was dressed as Spider-Man, the other as Hawkeye from “The Avengers.”
The boys gaped, walking around with mouths open and head turned every which way to take in all they could of Fantasy Costumes, the costume shop the length of a city block.
Fantasy Costumes, which everyone I know calls Fantasy Headquarters, is by a long length Chicago’s most famous costume shop. It’s where the local morning shows do their Halloween segments, where local clowns get their make-up, where drag shows get their wigs.
Unlike the little pop-up shops momentarily filling a fraction of Chicago’s abandoned storefronts for two months, Fantasy Costumes is a year-round affair. The painted walls as you walk the length of the store try to sell you on other times to get costumes — Mardi Gras and Purim — and they do get regular business from clowns, mall Santas and mascots. But it’s all about Halloween for Fantasy.
There are 12 to 13 employees for most of the year, the young woman at the spinner rack said.
And during Halloween season?
“More,” she said, serious for the first time.
At the make-up counter, a woman with the most ghoulishly realistic mock wound on her hand guilted me over my make-up choices. She approved of my plan of oatmeal for texture (“That’s the best.”) but seemed a little horrified when I said I would use baby powder to set the greasepaint I was buying (“You know that doesn’t work, right? It sweats off.”)
I went a little pricier than I planned to on the face paint, but I did not buy the special barrier spray when baby powder works just fine, thank you very much.
She was very nice, though. And her planned costume, “a cracked porcelain doll like you would find in your grandmother’s attic,” sounds amazing.
In the packaged costumes, there was the usual assortment of slutty nurses, schoolgirls and Wonder Women, but there was also a disturbing trend of cleavagy, leggy, micro-skirted versions of male characters. You can be a slutty Joker now, or a slutty Flash, Green Hornet or guy from “Top Gun.”
There was at least one lady version of a Simpsons characters. Someone will spend this Halloween as a slutty Duffman.
“Have you seen when there’s a line?” the young woman putting glasses on the spinner rack said. “You think it’s busy today? It’s not busy. Sometimes there’s a line all the way down the street.”
She gestured outdoors with the nerd glasses.
“It’s when we go 24 hours,” she said, poking the glasses to a hanging sign behind me saying the store turns all-night from the 24th to the 31st. “People come from all over. Some people come from Indiana.”
When she said “Indiana,” she prounounced each syllable separately for emphasis.
There’s a lot that could be overblown on Halloween — block-long lines, slutty costumes, overly serious make-up experts. And, yeah, even if you love it like I do it can get a little old.
For Spider-Man and Hawkeye, it was a shop of too many wonders to process. The little superheroes were enthralled, couldn’t take it all in.
Do you remember when you could pretend so much and so well that Halloween was sacred? Do you remember when a few stitches of fabric could turn you, actually transform you into whatever you wanted to become, the reckless monster or world-saving superhero you felt you might actually be on the inside?
Seeing the boys, so proud to walk around as Spider-Man and Hawkeye, brought that feeling back for a moment. Fantasy Costumes, which everyone I know calls Headquarters, keeps that wonderful, terrifying, unholy holy Halloween feeling alive all year long.
But there’s still no excuse for slutty Duffman.