Dealing with confusion in a costume store

Costume stores can be really overwhelming and difficult for some people. Here are some reasons, and some things that can help.

Sensory overload:

  • The most obvious problem is sensory overload
  • Costume stores tend to be loud and have a lot of strange sounds
  • Sometimes costume stores have spooky music or scream tracks, which can be scary as well as physically unpleasant
  • They also usually have bad lighting and often have strobe lights
  • Costume stores also usually crowded with loud people
  • They also might smell weird, especially if there are a lot of masks and makeup

Things that can help with sensory overload in a costume store:

  • Go at an unpopular time of day so it won’t be crowded
  • (And if the lights are a big problem, going during the day might be better than going at night)
  • Carry a stim toy to help manage overload
  • If you get overloaded and disoriented, holding onto something solid like a shelf for a few seconds can help to reorient yourself
  • Wear headphones or earbuds to block out the sounds or make them more tolerable
  • You might need to take a lot of breaks to be able to tolerate the store long enough to successfully buy something. That’s ok
  • If you’re helping someone else get a costume, it’s worth saying explicitly that it’s ok for them to take breaks if they need to
  • If you think they might need a break, it can be good to say that they look overwhelmed and ask if they want to go outside for a minute (but also take no for an answer. Sometimes we’re overloaded *and* want to keep going)

Unfamiliarity

  • Costume stores are temporary, and they change from year to year
  • So you aren’t familiar with the layout, which can be disorienting if you depend on memorization to navigate stores
  • Also, most people don’t buy costumes very often
  • (and aren’t necessarily familiar with what is sold in a costume store, even they buy costumes every year)
  • This can be disorienting if you rely heavily on routine to navigate stores and make purchasing decisions efficiently

Things that can help with unfamiliarity:

  • Think beforehand about what’s available in a costume store (eg: they usually have several different kinds of costumes in bags. They also have masks and wigs and hats. They also have facepaint and accessories.)
  • If you’re helping someone else, talk to them about the different kinds of things that costume stores have before you go
  • Sometimes you can look online to find the layout of the store
  • It might help to walk through the store once or twice together just to see what is there, without trying to make decisions right away
  • (Orienting is hard. Making unfamiliar decisions is hard. Doing both at once can be *really* hard).
  • If you’re planning to help someone else (especially if it’s a child) it can help to visit the costume store first yourself so that you know what is in the store and where the various things are
    (It’s easier to help someone else orient if you are already oriented)
  • You can look online to see which costumes are likely to be available this year
  • (You can also buy costumes online, but that runs the risk of ending up with something that’s not tolerable to wear.)
  • It might be better to buy costumes in a familiar store such as Target rather than an unfamiliar costume store. (That can also help with sensory overload since ordinary stores are less likely to have strobe lights, scream tracks, and extreme crowding)

Difficulty narrowing things down

  • There are a lot of options for costumes. It can be difficult to narrow down options
  • It can be especially difficult to narrow things down if you’re not sure what you want, but you know that you don’t like most of what you’re seeing
  • Or if you are having trouble processing what you’re seeing because of unfamiliarity, overload, or disorientation.

Some things that help with narrowing down options for someone else (I don’t really know any effective way to do this for yourself; there probably is one but I don’t know it):

An example of narrowing things down using categories:

  • You: Do you want to dress as a person or a thing?
  • Them: A person
  • You: A TV/movie character, a job, or something else?
  • Them: TV character
  • You: A superhero, or something else?
  • Them: Batman

Another example:

  • You: Do you want to look at the bag costumes, the makeup, or something else?
  • Them: Makeup
  • (then you walk together to the accessories area and they still look confused)
  • You: Do you want help narrowing it down, or do you just want to think about it?
  • Them: Think about it.
  • Them: I want cat makeup.
  • You: Do you also want a hat?
  • Them: No, a tail.

General advice for helping other people:

  • Don’t panic. It might be hard for someone to pick a costume no matter what you do
  • Helping means that you support them in ways that they welcome and find helpful
  • That doesn’t necessarily mean that buying a costume will be easy or comfortable for them
  • Things can be ok even if they’re hard or uncomfortable
  • If they don’t want to buy a costume in a costume store, that’s ok. If they want to do it even though it’s hard, that’s also ok.

It’s also possible to wear a costume without having to go to a costume store. Some other possibilities might be easier for some people.

For those of you reading this: What has helped you select costumes in an overwhelming store? What have you found effective in helping other people? Which things do you wish you knew a solution to?