By Mordechai Schmutter
Purim costumes are a lot of fun. We should wear them all the time, right?
Wait, why don’t we wear them all the time?
Well, I guess we’d get lots of sideways glances, especially at the DMV. And airports. And anywhere we have to show ID.
Also, in every picture we see of us wearing costumes, we’re smiling, so we tend to forget how itchy they are. (They add the itchiness right at the factory.)
And there are also other reasons:
They don’t actually protect you from the weather. Costumes are always flimsy, and they tie in the back with a tiny itchy string. And if Purim is too early in the year, you have to wear a coat over your costume. I understand that if you’re dressed as an Egyptian, the costume is not going to stand up to snow, but I’m dressed as a snowman. Why am I cold?
They block your identity. This can be a good thing. For example, when you’re wearing a mask, your stage fright and inhibitions go away. I sometimes dress up as a crocodile for my kids’ camp (and no, I don’t fully understand why) and I find myself doing things I would never do in my civilian identity. Mostly dancing. But no one knows who I am, so it’s not a big deal for me. There’s no booshah. So now I see why criminals wear masks. Though maybe they do those things because they’re wearing masks.
Also, with a lot of costumes, your wife is walking around town with you, wishing the costume would disguise you better so she can pretend she doesn’t know you. Especially if your inhibitions are down.
On the other hand, last year I was delivering mishlaoch manos with my son, and we got out of the car to go to the home of one of his friends—named Kaufman. There was a whole bunch of people on the Kaufmans’ front porch, so I turned to my son, who was wearing a single green sock that covered his entire body, head to toe, and I said, “OK, we’re going to have to say which of their kids it’s for. What’s Kaufman’s first name?”
And he said, “I don’t know.”
So I said, “Who do we ask for?”
And he said, “I don’t know. Kaufman.”
And I said, “They’re all named Kaufman. Not only that, but I think I have one of his brothers in my class. I can’t show up and say, ‘This is for Kaufman.’”
So he said, “But they’ll see that I’m the one giving it.”
And I said, “No they won’t; you’re in disguise.”
So he said, “I’ll say who it’s from,”
And I said, “Schmutter?”
And he said, “Yeah.”
And I said, “Great. Does the kid know your first name?”
And he said, “I don’t know; he calls me Schmutter.”
So I said, “Then what’s the plan?”
And he said, “Let’s not give him.”
Also, a lot of times you show up at someone’s house at the same time as another person, and one of you is wearing a costume that conceals your identity, so you specifically have to say something to the homeowner to signal that the two of you don’t know each other and definitely did not come together. Otherwise the person is going to give both of you a single mishloach manos and then take a picture of the two of you.
“No, this isn’t my kid. He was standing here when I got here. He’s not one of yours?”
Maybe he was standing on the porch trying to remember the name of the kid he was there to see.
They fall apart over the course of the day. A couple of years ago, I wore a gorilla mask for Purim, and I spent all day shedding hair. Do gorillas go bald?
Also, any hat that is sold as a costume accessory does not weigh anything and is specifically engineered to catch breezes, so that everyone’s hats fly off just as they’re about to cross the street holding several mishloach manos packages and the hand of a kid who can’t see out of the eyeholes on his mask. The second you go outside, you’re going to lose the hat. They’re more like indoor hats.
No costumes are made to last a whole day. For example, one year, my daughter dressed up as a banana (complete with a hat that represented the top of the banana, the point of which kept flopping over so it looked like a combination banana hat–shluff koppel). But the hat kept falling off, so by the end of the day she was just the bottom half of a banana, which was turning brown. My son, Schmutter, was a clown, and he ended the day with face paint all over his clothes, including his comically oversized tie, which we then had to wash, and we shrank it. So now it’s just a regular tie, except that it’s orange. Another son, Heshy, was dressed as a video-game character and had a moustache made of black magic marker (80% of the moustaches you see on a regular basis are really just black magic marker), but he spent the whole day picking at his nose, and by the time we got to my parents’ house for the seudah, he had a beard. Meanwhile, both he and my third son had costumes that were one-piece flimsy jumpsuits with a zipper in the back that they couldn’t get out of for pit stops. And they were drinking all day because every one of their friends put a can of soda in their mishloach manos.
They don’t always look good from the back. A lot of costumes are mask-based, so that if you dress up as, say, Donald Trump, you look like someone literally took Donald’s face off and tied a rubber band to it. And now you’re running around town with facial features that don’t quite line up with your mask, talking to people in muffled words that they can’t even lip-read, and trying to figure out how to drink soda in a car that keeps stopping and starting, without spilling it all over a costume that has extremely complicated washing instructions. Why are there complicated washing instructions on a hobo costume? Are hobos taking this to the dry cleaners? No wonder they never wash their clothes. Shouldn’t it say, “Take this to the river and pound it with rocks”?
And from behind, you can barely tell that the kid is wearing a costume at all, except that there’s a rubber band stretched behind his head, about to break. And below that is a coat. No one could tell that he’s supposed to be Donald Trump, except that his hands are about the right size. Point is, the costume only looks like anything from the front. So it’s mainly for the kid wearing it, so when he looks in the mirror, he thinks he looks like the president. It’s like a toupee situation.
Many costumes are inaccurate. People love dressing up like historical figures such as Mordechai HaTzaddik, which sounds like a good idea until they realize that they have no idea what he actually looked like. Sure, all the coloring books feel that he wore a shtreimel, but what kind of animal do you make a shtreimel out of if you live in Persia? Lizards? How do we communicate to people that we’re dressed as Mordechai and not just another rabbi who for some reason is wearing an iguana shtreimel?
That was a huge question that I had growing up. But nowadays, according to an ad I saw, you can actually buy a bright-red Mordechai HaTzaddik costume, and also a Dovid Hamelech costume, and the two are totally identical except that their names are written on their respective capes. (Also, there are capes.) They did that on purpose, so no one would mix them up, even though they lived hundreds of years apart. Although if there’s one thing we know about Mordechai’s costume, it’s that Haman’s daughter couldn’t tell it was him, which is really strange if it said “Mordechai HaTzaddik” on his costume in huge letters.
There are also Imahos costumes nowadays—you can be two of the four Imahos. There’s no Sara or Leah, but you can dress up as Rivka, for example. The way people know you’re Rivka is that it says “Rivka Imeinu” on your shirt, even though the only way Rivka would ever own a shirt that said “Imeinu” on it is if Yaakov and Eisav went in together to buy it for her, and it’s highly unlikely that that happened. The outfit also has pictures of camels on it, which I suppose is OK, even though there’s really only one story in the Torah in which she interacted with camels, and I doubt she was so obsessed with them that her children would have them embroidered on her dress. L’havdil, I also saw a Goldilocks costume with the three bears embroidered on it by someone who clearly didn’t understand the Goldilocks story.
There’s also a costume of Rochel Imeinu, which of course says “Rochel Imeinu” on it, even though she didn’t actually have a second child until the day she was nifteres. And to rub that in, her dress doesn’t have camels on it, even though she also interacted with camels. Nor does it have sheep. It has a picture of Kever Rochel. I can’t say that I know what Rochel Imeinu wore in her day-to-day life, but I’m about 90% sure it wasn’t a shirt with a picture of the place she was going to be buried someday. If she knew where she was going to be buried, it kind of raises questions on the whole story.
There are also three different kohen gadol costumes available, and the main thing that you would notice, if you’d compare them side by side, is that two of them are definitely wearing the choshen sideways. And it’s the same two that aren’t wearing an eifod.
And it’s not just Biblical costumes. For some reason, all pirate costumes assume that pirates never changed their clothes. Is it because they didn’t think to bring a second outfit on the boat? What about all the boats they looted? They never decided to plunder a change of clothing?
I actually looked up pirates, and if you want to be historically accurate, you would have the kid not bathe for a month beforehand. And give him a hook hand, so he can scratch his lice more easily.
And why do all pirate costumes have eye patches? You can see a whole family of kids dressed up as pirates—because their mother got mishloach manos baskets that look like treasure chests so she wanted to make it look like all her kids have gone into piracy at a young age, even though that would be a great commentary on her parenting tactics—and every single kid has an eye patch. Every one. What are the chances? No pirates had two eyes? It’s like they’re all running around with scissors over there. I guess that’s what happens if you spend all day swinging swords around on a swaying ship being steered by a guy with a hook hand.
And do any kids know what cowboys actually did?
“I don’t know; something with cows.”
Many costumes are offensive. Nowadays, you can’t wear anything that is racially offensive. Even if you don’t mean to offend.
“Look! I’m a Chinese person!”
You think Chinese people wear robes all the time? How do those not get caught on their bicycles?
Or sometimes people put on a huge hat and a poncho and say that they’re Mexican. I’ve seen many Mexicans in my life—stocking shelves in supermarkets, working on my house—and not one of them has shown up in a poncho.
So the new rule is that you can’t wear offensive ethnic costumes. You can offend a specific person, like Obama, for instance. You can’t dress up as an Arab terrorist; you have to dress up as a specific Arab terrorist. You have to do research.
“I’m not just an Arab. I’m Ayatollah Jones from 613 Dirt Street, Saudi Arabia. You know him? Then don’t get offended. This is how he dresses. Sometimes.”
Some costumes don’t make sense. And I’m not just talking about the genre of “animals with zippers.” For example, there’s something called a “sefer Torah costume,” in which your kid can dress up as a sefer Torah that for some reason doesn’t have any upper atzei chaim but does have a pointy velvet hat. It’s a good thing to wear if you want to spend all day having people ask you, “Are you wearing a sefer Torah mantle?”
And last year, I saw someone dressed as ketchup. I dress up as ketchup all the time.
“Is that ketchup on your shirt?”
“Yeah, I’m dressed as ketchup.”
There are certain costumes you can’t even find at all. Costumes I’ve never seen:
- Candy man
- Kohen hedyot
But if you think about it, we all wear costumes every day. Some day in the future, some kid will run around on Purim wearing exactly what you’re wearing today and go, “Look! I’m an accountant from the olden days!”
And then someone will get offended.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.