Off & on for the past 20 years around Halloween, my husband & I have held a party we call the Famous Dead Person’s Ball. There are only two rules in this afterlife: You must come as somebody at least marginally famous & at least temporarily dead. We’ve had friends come as everyone from Che Guevara to Mae West to Sid Vicious to Florence Nightingale. We’ve had fictional dead people like Lily & James Potter & the classic Red Shirt from “Star Trek” & even dead concepts like Love, Privacy, & Russian Communism. Every one or thing is fair game, just as long as you can make a case for it being famous & dead.
This year, I decided to be Newspaper. Because print is dead! And the American newspaper has been dying rapidly over the past decade. Having worked at a major online news organization since 2001, I can attest to how the Internet has put a stake in the newspaper’s heart.
For the costume, I was inspired by the very brief trend of paper dresses in the 1960s. I even found one on eBay & considered buying it, but I didn’t want to spend $70 on a dress that would last one night. Instead, I made a quickie homage to those dresses. First, I sketched out a trapeze-dress shape in muslin, stitched it together, & bound the neck & sleeve holes in black bias tape. This was the base.
Then I used Stitch Witchery to iron-on a recent Sunday paper (cost $1) plus printouts of the frontpages from newspapers that have gone out of business or gone from print to online only in the past few years, such as the Oakland Tribune, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the Cincinnati Post, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Rocky Mountain News, & the Honolulu Advertiser. I even made a jaunty cocktail hat from cardboard covered in newsprint. Lastly, I accessorized with black tights & heels, plus black lipstick to go with the b/w theme.
Wearing the dress was a challenge — it was pretty stiff! I couldn’t bend or sit all night. And when the slightest drip got on it or I brushed against a wet counter (as one does when hostessing & fussing about pouring cocktails), well, you probably know how fragile wet newspaper is! The fabric backing kept the dress intact for the night, but tears & rips started forming after an hour or two. My feet were killing me so I finally sat down by the end of the party, which tore up the paper backside. And taking off the dress ripped it further. Definitely a one-use only costume!