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
Los Angeles Costume Swap. Halloween, for her, has become a year-round
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.
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.”
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,
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
“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
“Yeah. It's the same thing.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.