Q Any ideas on dressing up for Halloween without plastic costumes and chemical makeup?
A Brainstorming your Halloween costume in advance, are you? How impressive! I usually snag something from my closet the night before and frantically dream up some way to reinvent it. Don't knock it. Changing a few accessories took me from proletarian freedom fighter one year to Toronto public librarian the next - reducing, reusing and recycling all in one lazy swoop.
A much more popular custom, however, seems to involve sinking a little cash into crappy drugstore costumes destined for landfill. And toxic vinyl is the fabric of the month. Young kids gravitate to those moulded vinyl superhero masks, well, like Lex Luthor to kryponite. And for big kids, shiny vinyl seems to be a prerequisite in the sexy nurse/Catwoman category.
Besides being eerily polluting to manufacture, vinyl, aka PVC, is often stabilized with lead or cadmium, and the pliable type has hormone-disrupting, liver-damaging phthalates that can offgas - not the kind of thing you want to be inhaling on All Hallows' Eve, or any other night of the year. And you definitely don't want to be sucking on the stuff via vinyl fangs.
Sorry to say, it's virtually impossible to find ready-made costumes sewn with eco fabrics like certified organic cotton, fast-growing bamboo or recycled fleece, so your next-best bet is anything that isn't vinyl. Even polyester is better (it's also the most common costume fibre), though it's still petroleum-based, irritating to the chemically sensitive and far from angelic.
Natural fibres like cotton would be ideal, though you'll have to look the other way on all the pesticides used to grow the stuff. Even silk would be good. Magiccabin.com is a great online source for natural-fibre kids' garb like silk genie/mermaid/fairy outfits, cotton witch and Robin Hood costumes and wooden shields and pirate hooks.
But there are greener destinies than sinking your cash into a brand new prefab costume that you'll only wear once before the dust mites move in (unless you're really into playing dress-up). Troll the aisles (Halloween is just chock full of punny potential, isn't it?) of your local Value Village or second-hand shop for retro hats, gowns and jackets to concoct a cool getup, like, say, a deranged 80s prom queen, 70s disco fiend or 60s love machine. And those are just the basics. A little imagination can take you a long way.
Got a bambino to bundle up? For a broad selection of gently used baby costumes, click onto sites like Craigslist.com or Kijiji.ca. They're rammed with adorable lion, tiger and bear-type onesies that were worn for a few hours at most, for only $8 to $20. They also have plenty of big-kid costumes, too. Just avoid the posers selling new outfits on these sites.
If you're really ambitious and crafty, you can always pull out the old sewing machine like my mom used to and make your own. Nearseanaturals.com sells a wide array of organic fabrics, though you'll have to hurry to get them in time to sew for Halloween. Places like Fabricland have tons of costume patterns for all ages, or you can find free ones online.
Got cash but no time to spare? Keep in mind that renting a costume falls under the second R of environmentalism: reuse. Malabar on McCaul is the best place to fulfill your fantasies without busting your butt.
Not that costumes are the only villains on Halloween. Don't forget all the cheap accessories that sell for a buck or two. Politicians south of the border are making noise about some candy baskets and a Frankenstein cup found to have lead levels up to 65 times higher than federal standards. Some Halloween jewellery has also been found to be dangerously high in lead. Best to steer clear.
All those vivid face paints they market come October might be labelled non-toxic, but they're loaded with all the bad stuff that's in big-people's makeup, like estrogen-mimicking parabens and petroleum-based ingredients, and if you're talking nail polish, formaldehyde and neurotoxic toluene. Pay a visit to a good-sized health store like the Big Carrot or Whole Foods, with a large natural beauty care section, to find greener substitutes.
Or just google "homemade Halloween makeup" to find lots of Web pages stacked with recipes. Budget101.com even has killer ideas for everything from faking blood, guts and scars to four recipes for face paint - all with ingredients from your kitchen cupboards.
What about decorations? A crystal ball for sale in a Toronto store came with the label " Warning: This product contains chemicals, including lead, known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling." Freaky, for sure, but at least these guys warn you!
As a rule, try to stay away from all the disposable junk sold at this time of year and get creative with homemade decorations (maybe a dead-leaf bouquet, a gourd-and-twig centrepiece, some sheet ghosts).
If you're taking little ones trick-or-treating, make sure they carry reusable trick-or-treat bags, put rechargeable batteries in their flashlights and replace some of the junky candy in their sacks with organic versions available from health stores. You might just get through Halloween without terrorizing the planet.