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Go on, live a little: dress up as hand sanitiser this Halloween

Ah, Halloween, that magical time of year, when accountants and dentists get to turn the tables and become their own worst nightmares, instead of everybody else’s.

But what costumes are they – or any of us – choosing now, when life is, well, already scary enough?

The Plague Doctor, one of the most popular costumes this Halloween season at Rose Chong Costumes, in Melbourne.

The Plague Doctor, one of the most popular costumes this Halloween season at Rose Chong Costumes, in Melbourne.Credit:Justin McManus/The Age

Not one in the shape of the coronavirus molecule, in Australia, although it’s experienced some popularity overseas.

“Not yet,” says Hannah Cuthbertson, manager of Melbourne’s iconic Rose Chong Costumes. “Like, in years past, when swine flue and bird flu happened, definitely, people were requesting that sort of thing. I guess because this has been so full on, I think people aren’t ready to joke about it, just yet.”

The virus is still driving many of this year’s hot costumes, though. A medieval “plague doctor” outfit – complete with a bird-beak-shaped mask, to approximate that worn by doctors who treated bubonic plague victims – is one of the most popular choices so far this Halloween, says Cuthbertson.

Marie Antoinette has also been a big hit. The beheaded last queen of France is always popular, says Cuthbertson, “because people like to do it with the slit neck, but it’s actually really good [now], for social distancing, wearing the big crinoline.”

Elsewhere, people are letting their funny bone lead the way, in determining costume choice.

“Aussies, when the chips are down, tend to rely and fall back on their humour to get them through a horrible situation,” says Andrea Beattie, editor of Hallozween magazine, noting that among her 6500-member Facebook community, people plan on dressing up as a hand sanitiser bottle, a mass of toilet rolls, and “the holidays they couldn’t go on this year”.

“One guy is going as a Hawaiian tourist, and he’s also going to cover himself in flames, like Scott Morrison, when he went to Hawaii during the bushfires,” says Beattie.

Others are taking inspiration from the hit shows of this year – like the Emmy award-sweeping Schitt’s Creek and Tiger King.

“Particularly Moira from The Crowening, there’ll be a lot of ‘Caw, caw!’ this year,” says Beattie, referring to the episode of Schitt’s Creek when actor Catherine O’Hara’s character plays a half-crow, half-human in an indie movie.

Of course, with masks mandatory in Melbourne, where the city is still in a second lockdown, this Halloween will be like no other. And while rules vary from state to state, the usual trick-or-treating and big parties that mark Halloween won’t be happening.

But it seems some people are hungrier than ever for the dress-ups. Big W says it’s had a 46 per cent increase in national sales of costumes this Halloween season compared to last year’s sales. (A massive seller is a range of costumes depicting characters from the 1993 film Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, which has just been re-released.)

In Sydney, Mark Tucker, who runs an annual Halloween event, has this year created his biggest ever haunted house adjacent to his home in Erskine Park, spending $20,000 to build it, in contrast to his normal $2000 spend.

“I thought, ‘How can we turn this around and make it a bit funnier, if you like, and not so serious?’” says Tucker, of his “Phobias and Fears” haunted house, which tells the story of Dr Evil, who has created a vaccine to stop COVID-19, but inadvertently causes a zombie apocalypse instead.

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The house, a fully-enclosed set including animatronics and people dressed as zombies, clowns and ghouls, is a COVID-safe attraction, registered with the NSW government. Its last day is on October 31.

Tucker won’t break even – “Oh, no, not even close” – but felt it was more important than ever for his community to have an event that brings them together.

Also bringing next-level commitment to Halloween this year is costume maker Rose Chong, who has made bespoke face masks to match many of the costumes she has on offer.

“You know when you have to go out in winter, and you have to put a coat on, and it just ruins the whole thing [costume]?” says Cuthbertson, of Chong’s creations. “You need to have a mask to match the costume.”

One particularly fetching one is a bright teal confection that goes with another costume that has been proving popular: Nurse Ratched, the villainous central character of new Netflix series Ratched.

Still, others are using Halloween as the impetus to pay tribute to those who have made this troubling year just a little bit sweeter.

“A couple of people in the Facebook group say they’re going as the person that’s had the biggest positive influence in their life, which is their postie,” says Beattie. “In Victoria, there’s been so much online shopping. We’re on a first-name basis with our delivery man.”

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