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I’m the sort of person who has difficulty clothes shopping unless I know exactly what I’m looking for, and it’s hard to know what to look for unless you have a reference source. Consequently, most of my thrift shopping is focused on completing costumes. You’d think it’d appeal to more people — it’s like piecing together a set of armor — only you don’t get “Level 20 Poison Nova upon Level Up” power ups. More practically, costume shopping gives me a goal for Halloween now that I can no longer justify trick-or-treating.

Now, I wouldn’t dare to consider myself in the same vein as the professional cosplayers — I don’t have that much dedication. Or, for that matter, that much money. I have a friend who routinely spends hundreds of dollars to make costumes for anime conventions. That was on top of the significant labor required in sewing and alterations. The overall effect of a well-made costume is generally worth it, but my inability to manipulate clothes in any way besides washing and drying them means that spending money on fabric would be akin to the Incredible Hulk spending money on a Total Gym. He’d have no idea how to use it, and he’d probably end up ruining it if he tried. As a result, I generally have to make do with existing clothes that resemble the costume I’m trying to make.

For most of the costumes I’m trying to get together, I could do with a good pair of tall, equestrian-style boots — comfortable rugged footwear for a variety of space smugglers and superheroes. Unfortunately, most of the boots in the thrift stores around here have those bordering-on-weaponized block heels that indicate undeniably that they are women’s shoes. Mind you, this is as uncomfortably close to enjoying shoe shopping as I’m willing to get.

In spite of the fact that I otherwise shop primarily by browsing, most of my clothes shopping is (as I said) done with a particular purpose in mind, and I simply lack the decisiveness to decide between more than two pairs of sneakers each morning. That’s another nice thing about a costume — if you put it together, you know what goes with what unquestionably, and you can gear up while listening to ZZ Top’s “Sharp-Dressed Man” without having to pause to pick a pair of cargoes, which tends to make one feel slightly less sharp.

Aside from shoes, there’s little that makes or breaks a costume quite like the right hat. Since people’s eyes tend to be closer to their heads than their feet, a good hat is usually noticed sooner and remembered longer than a good pair of shoes. I can’t even begin to describe the childlike giddiness in the store when I finally hunted down an Indiana Jones fedora, a hat that is as widely recognizable as it is simply wide. If the hat is distinctive enough — a propeller beanie, for example, or a red, orange, and yellow knit hat with ear flaps and an enormous pompom — the wearer may have little trouble being noticed by everyone within a two-block radius. What it tells them about you when you walk down the street wearing such a hat, however, is questionable.

Thankfully, my brown suede flight jacket finally came back from the dry cleaners after a year or so (long story), which means that my costume possibilities have opened up again, not including whatever it is I might come back with from my thrift store run later today. Now I just need to find a bullwhip to wield and a fridge to climb into, and I’ll be all set for Halloween. Hopefully. I still haven’t decided which rugged-action-hero-for-which-my-build-is-completely-unsuited I want to be this year.