Dressing Up or Costuming: LARPers at Halloween

Exploring how a passion for wearing costumes intersects with the popular masquerade celebration

Live Action Role Playing (LARP) and celebrating Halloween have a few things in common, the most obvious one being that participants love to wear costumes. However, many LARPers feel that dressing up for Halloween is very different from donning a costume to perform a character. Heck, come October 31st, so many of us don’t even know what to wear! But aren’t all costumes interchangeably just that; costumes?

Well, not quite. There are many types that differ significantly from one another, as much as the events they are made for. Beyond the Halloween costumes we typically grow up loving, there is also cosplay, historical re-enactment clothing, theatrical costumes and special effects, just to name a few. Each type of costume is distinct in that they have a specific purpose even though there is frequent overlap between them and the events they are used for. LARP outfits are no different in that regard. 

Let’s delve a little deeper, shall we?

When LARPers put together a costume, they aren’t just dressing up; they’re actually choosing how the character they’ve created is viewed by other characters. For some, there can be greater care put into dressing their characters than in dressing themselves for daily life! So while LARPers are technically donning a costume to play, it’s undeniable that there is often more depth to it than when an adult buys a polyester pirate one-piece to attend a Halloween party. That’s not to say that one is better than the other; they simply serve different purposes!

Where things get really interesting is how many LARPers find themselves unable to pick a costume to wear for Halloween and possibly forgo dressing up altogether. We sure have dealt with that dilemma; a slew of costumes at our disposal but “nothing to wear”! Perhaps this has to do with the sense of novelty and surprise that Halloween inspires in people; costumes that are off the beaten path tend to attract the most attention, particularly if they’re well executed or relevant to pop culture. Besides, Halloween is a time to feel special and to feel excited about showing off our costumes to our friends! Wearing what “belongs” to a character we’ve played more than once can lack that appeal, especially considering that many a LARPer’s main social group consists of fellow LARPers. On the other hand, with so much time spent working on costumes year-round, the thought of planning yet another costume and spending already limited time and funds on a single night can feel like an unnecessary hassle. Furthermore, with so much care put into our costumes, it can be hard to settle for a quick fix! Especially when our friends also tend to put lots of care into their costumes. Ah, the weight of expectations, perceived and otherwise! 

With all that said, how *can* LARPers participate in Halloween without feeling quite so caught between their passion for costuming and their real life limitations? We don’t have all the answers for you but here are some ideas we hope will help:

  • Choose a strong and recognizable focal element or theme around which to build your disguise
  • Mix & match LARP clothing with modern clothes
  • Create eye-catching designs on your face/skin with makeup
  • Add inexpensive prosthetics to transform into a strange creature
  • Wear costume jewelry and accessories that reinforce your costume’s theme
  • Use costume jewelry and accessories differently from their common usage
  • Add LARP accessories to make a stereotypical costume more realistic
  • Use a LARP weapon to create a more realistic character/monster
  • Create a modern version of your character or of a LARP creature

What are your thoughts on celebrating Halloween as a LARPer? Do you have any helpful tricks for costume novelty?