Alivia Hunter Is a Pro at Finding Perfect Halloween Costumes. But She's Even Better at Recycling Them

Alivia Hunter
Alivia Hunter
Drew Barillas

Halloween has come and gone, but the costumes remain. If all goes

according to Alivia Hunter's plan, this year's zombies and ninjas and

red devils will re-emerge next year on different bodies. A go-getting

former social media marketing consultant, the 42-year-old Hunter runs

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Los Angeles Costume Swap. Halloween, for her, has become a year-round

preoccupation.

Last year, laid up in the hospital recuperating

after a car accident, Hunter was casting about online for somewhere to

volunteer or otherwise devote her considerable energy. She came upon the

nonprofit sustainability organization Green Halloween.

A more

ideal match could not have been made. Hunter is the type of person who,

one year, decided to give out books to trick-or-treaters instead of

candy. She owned about 300 books at the time and figured she'd get rid

of every single title she could bear to part with. "Books?" people

teased her. "Kids are going to egg your house." Well, kids didn't.

Instead, they lined up for more. "Can I have two books?" one kid asked.

"Honey," Hunter replied, "you can have three just for asking that question."

Green

Halloween recruited her to organize its costume swap event. Two hundred

people showed up to the first one, in Mar Vista. It was, she says,

"total chaos."

Nevertheless, the rules are simple: Bring a

costume. Hang it on the rack. Take a different costume from the rack.

All costumes are inspected for cleanliness prior to swapping. Anything

repaired with duct tape is an automatic no -- unless it's a duct-tape

costume.

No money is exchanged, and the honor system prevails.

Hunter encourages people to be fair. They adhere to a one-for-one swap

for the most part. But if someone arrives with an elaborate belly-dancer

costume, say, she'll let him have both a vampire and a medieval knight.

Some

costumes are inherently worth more than others. For instance, last year

Hunter ordered brass bells from China for her steampunk outfit. They

had to be brass, and they had to be from China, or the costume just

wouldn't work. She won't swap an ensemble like that for any old bedsheet

ghost. But a fancy pirate get-up -- peasant shirt, billowy skirt, "with a

scarf at minimum" -- would be an appropriate exchange. She urges people

to "use common sense."

Costumes are basically about stepping into

the shoes of other people. Or their wedding dresses, uniforms, tuxedos,

or ugly sweaters from bygone decades. "Maybe you've gained weight, or

lost weight, and you have clothes you're not wearing anymore," Hunter

says. "Maybe you're pregnant. You may not be able to fit into your prom

dress anymore, but somebody else probably will."

Not that special

clothes are required. "I can pretty much put together a costume from

anything," she says, proudly. Even trash. At the swap, one guy, an

architect, was at a loss. Hunter suggested "trashion" -- a costume made

of trash. Salvage blueprints from your rubbish bin, she instructed, or

empty mailing tubes, and stick them on your head. "I don't know if he

did it," she says.

"You're not just helping people swap. You're

helping them create a character," she adds. "You're literally creating a

new person. Next thing you know, you're talking in a funny accent or

with a drawl. You pick up a sash, rip up a pair of pants. Bam! You're a

pirate. Or you get a corset, a skirt and a shawl. Bam! You're a Gypsy."

Hunter

is a nonstop talker, except when in costume mode. In that case, she

lets the other person guide the conversation. She listens to the words

they use. "Neighborhood" means family friendly -- no slutwear. "West

Hollywood" means sexy. Under no circumstances does she outright assign

costumes. "You want them to really, truly make it.

"Have you thought about being a mummy?" she'll suggest.

"I

kind of wanted to be a ballerina," the person may counter. They will

usually counter. They may not realize it, but people know in the back of

their minds what they want to be, she notes. Her job is to bring the

idea out.

"It's kind of like, who's that guy who said he's not

creating a sculpture with the rock. He's just freeing it from inside the

rock?"

Michelangelo?

"Yeah. It's the same thing."

Her

friend Penny, for example, brought in a suffragette costume, a creamy

white vintage dress with a smart hat. Someone instantly grabbed it.

Penny walked away with a witch costume: purple-striped black dress,

pointy hat. Hunter saw Penny staring at the dress for a long time. "She

wanted to be that witch."

Last year, someone brought in a lacy,

ankle-grazing gown from the 1930s. It was stunning. "All you needed were

pearls," she recalls. "I would've done a schoolmarm look with that. Get

a wide-brimmed hat, a dainty, painted cane. You know, prissy. It was

probably worn by someone conservative."

This year, she planned

four swap events total. One, in Chinatown, was canceled. "It was such a

new concept, people didn't quite get it," she speculates.

Some 250

attendees, however, swarmed the fourth and final swap in Mar Vista.

Hawaiian surfer dudes traded their leis for rockabilly Elvis shirts.

Punk-rocker girls transformed into prim and proper Victorian damsels in

distress. Mermaids traded in their fish tails for cheerleader skirts.

Tin Man and Spider-Man and SuperMan and Iron Man and Peter Pan traded

back and forth and back again -- the kids who brought those in kept

changing their minds.

Someone arrived with an armload of masks.

Someone else offered up a Santa Claus suit. "The sheer quantity was

fantastic," Hunter gushes.

One woman brought in a gorgeous Spider

Queen dress. "Is she the one who got the Santa Claus? She may have been.

No, I take that back. She left with a Medieval Queen."

Miraculously,

not one fight erupted. The Halloween swap went so swimmingly, Hunter is

contemplating a Valentine's Day swap, in which participants trade

anything red or with a heart on it.

"Are you sure we can keep the costumes?" kids asked.

"Yes," she told them. "Bring them back and swap them out for another one next Halloween."

Most

of the leftovers were donated to a shelter. The rest, Hunter saved. But

she couldn't resist snagging a Dorothy costume for herself, something

"completely and utterly different" from the sultry vampires she's been

in the past. She wore it to a party, washed it, then threw it back into

the pile for next year.

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