Ann Arbor, all dressed up
There’s nothing quite like Halloween on a college campus. In most people’s minds, Halloween is one day, Oct. 31, where all the ghouls and black cats come out to play. But in a college town, the spirit of the season goes on for weeks, if not all year round. There’s a reason we all refer to the general timeline between Oct. 15 and Nov. 5 as “Halloweek.” This is especially true of the costume culture in Ann Arbor, which serves as a healthy reminder of both the brilliance and the stupidity of everyone in their early twenties. You might see the best costume to ever walk this earth, but you will also inevitably witness a parade of sexy black cats marching to various frat parties. Who’s to say which is empirically better ― the point is, Ann Arbor is no stranger to dressing up.
In the past three years that I’ve lived in our magical city, Halloween has always been an event to anticipate eagerly. I’ll be honest: It is my favorite holiday and always has been, so it wouldn’t take much to get me excited about that special day anyway. But there’s something even more whimsical and fun about the energy of an entire city dressing up for weeks on end, the joy on the faces of everyone who lives here, from students to children to those who hand out candy and host parties. Regardless of what you’re disguised as this year, the brilliance of Halloween in Ann Arbor is worth noting, even if it’s just listening to the laughter on our streets or catching a stray glimpse of a cape as someone walks past.
This seasonal spirit is most present at special events on campus, such as the annual showing of cult film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Michigan Theater.
“‘Rocky Horror’ has just been something that we’ve been doing in our theater forever,” Ariel Wan, Director of Programs and Marketing for the State Theater said in an interview with The Daily last week. The showing of “Rocky Horror” is something myself and my friends look forward to annually, notwithstanding the excuse to go out in basically nothing and scream at a screen for two hours. It isn’t truly Halloween in Ann Arbor, or even fall for that matter, without seeing that line of leather-clad students and film geeks alike wrap all the way around the block.
“They always did it at the State Theater,” Wan continued, “you know, the State Theater used to be really divey and kind of gross, like perfect for people to throw stuff, you know?” (For anyone who has, in fact, attended a showing of the film around Halloween, they would know that this is an absolutely perfect setting for a very dirty time, in more ways than one.) “When they closed the State Theater for renovations, we were like, well, we still need to do ‘Rocky Horror,’ but we can’t do it at the State, let’s just put it up the Michigan . . . And it sold out. 1700 seats.” The sheer scale of the main theater she was referring to is a sight to behold, especially compared to the pre-renovation State’s mere 400 seats. “You can’t hear the movie at all,” Wan said, laughing. “But it doesn’t matter, because someone next to you is screaming all the lines.”
The energy around “Rocky Horror” is a perfect example of what can happen when you put one crazy event and an entire city of equally crazy people together for one night of the year.
“A lot of people are dressed up as the characters. So there’s just a lot of thongs and fishnet stockings,” Wan said. “We again sold out this year, and we encountered a few problems where there were some people not wearing shoes and shirts, and we were like, you have to at least wear shoes.” We both laughed as she explained the camera footage that State Theater’s employees watched that night, but I couldn’t help but imagine some of the things I have seen myself. This no-shoes, no-shirt, no-nothing concept really checks out. There’s nothing like seeing someone stand in line for hours in nothing but a bustier and face paint.
Wan said much of the enthusiasm around cult film showings like that of “Rocky Horror” is due to the student population on campus, notably in terms of the turnout for each event.
“Yeah, I mean, the reason why we’re able to sell out 1700 seats and still turn away like tens and tens of people is because of the students,” Wan explained. “‘Rocky Horror’ is one of those films that we don’t spend much, if any marketing dollars on promoting, it’s usually just social media and flyering . . . I was looking at the number of student tickets versus adult versus our member tickets. And students by far were, like, almost 1100 tickets or something like that. So we know they’re all still there.” It’s easy to see why events like these are so alluring to the students of Ann Arbor specifically. I mean, hey, during midterm season, who doesn’t enjoy yelling at things with 1700 other people, clad in sequins and stars and fake blood all night?
Though “Rocky Horror” is probably the best example of costume culture as it pertains to film events in the city, the movie isn’t alone in its thousand-person draw to the theater. In addition to annual events like a showing of the famously bad movie “The Room” starring Tommy Wiseau, the theater also makes sure to put on seasonal series that appeal to a larger audience. This month specifically saw audiences clamoring to both the Michigan and State Theaters to see movies like “Night of the Living Dead” and a special late-night feature of “The Blair Witch Project” in light of Halloween. Each movie is chosen from a different decade for every weekend in October: “They’re all really just really great horror movies,” Wan said, “some of it is funny, but it’s because it’s older. ‘Blair Witch’ still scares the shit out of me,” she laughed. I couldn’t agree with her more.
According to Wan, events like this are what keep theaters alive in an age of home entertainment and streaming services. “People still go to the movie theater for the experience of watching a movie with other people,” Wan said. “No screen is bigger than the screens here.”
The Michigan Theater is decidedly the place to go to celebrate the Halloween season in style, but where do you even start with a costume, or for fun dressing in general? Go no further than The Getup Vintage, a purple-painted secret hidden amongst the shopfronts of State Street. Sandwiched in between Totoro and Taste of India and just a stone’s throw from Urban Outfitters, the vintage store is a nugget of color and happiness on the chilly streets of Ann Arbor.
“We’re very fortunate with the foot traffic here on State Street,” co-owner of The Getup Vintage Lindsey Leyland said in an interview with The Daily. “People (will be) eating at Sava’s and something will catch their eye. You know, we’re small. That’s why we painted the front purple.” In addition to the purple, they also decorate for every season ― trust me, the Halloween window is something everyone needs to see.
The Getup has a strong history in Ann Arbor, having served the town and students in particular for almost 15 years. The store was opened in 2005 by couple Kelly and Paul McLeod in the attic of their current space, then sold to Leyland and Mitchell in 2015, who expanded downstairs. “It was like a slow and steady climb to this place, like, I knew as like a 13-year-old I wanted to have a vintage clothing store,” Leyland said. “You know, gotta put in your dues and work for a bunch of other people first and a bunch of other jobs and figure out what the best fit is. And I love Ann Arbor, all of my best friends live here. So it was like an easy place to want to settle in. Michigan is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.”
The Getup has always been a favorite of fashionistas in the city and also lends itself to costume in whatever form they may desire. For Leyland, this line between the costume and the every-day is thin, all depending on the day. “To me, costumes start with just kind of the quality of the clothing,” she explained. “Like, for me, costuming is made to look like the real thing, but not as good. You know, unless it’s like an actual theater performance where they’re like constructing the things, but like, we have a little costuming section over there . . . I guess it just depends on your personality.”
Leyland sat across the front desk from me, clad in an olive-green military jumpsuit and long ’70s-style hair. “So it really just depends on like the personality of the shopper and how adventurous they kind of are, with their wardrobe. Like this is a neutral color. But some people don’t feel comfortable in, like, jumpsuits,” she gestured to her own getup, laughing. Leyland is almost a personification of her and co-owner Kaylan Mitchell’s technicolor store, a great example of what Ann Arbor brings to the realm of adventurous dressing.
Surrounded by the racks and decorations of the store, I couldn’t help but notice all the beautiful garments from years past. Sure, some of them could be used for a costume, an ’80s cruise, ripped apart and remade into modern styles, but they are also surprisingly wearable in a contemporary wardrobe.
“I always say, you don’t have to replace your whole entire modern closet with vintage things. But like, find a sweater cut you really like or (like) a little. I feel like the ’70s clothing fits me best,” Leyland continued. “And then try a piece here and there with the stuff you already have. Like most of those ’70s dresses, you throw like a modern sweater over top of it. I mean, they’re remaking all of those styles anyway.” The place of The Getup is not to cater to Halloweeners only, who would be better suited to stores like Ragstock, which sits farther down Liberty St. The Getup is more about fostering a culture of appreciation for the clothes we wear and seeing the value in things once worn.
“Some people know what (vintage clothing) is, some people still don’t, some people are still confused by a secondhand store,” Leyland explained. “That’s why I really really try to educate about like, yes this clothing has been worn before but I wash it, repair it. Pick only the coolest stuff out of Nancy’s basement,” she said. Wearing secondhand clothing from The Getup, whether it’s for a costume or not, also gives Ann Arbor the chance to see itself from the future.
“I think it’s great when people care about (the past of their clothing), you know, not everybody cares about the history of where you’re from, or where you live and who occupied it before you and that’s kind of what we do is, you know, meet those people go through their barns, attics, basements, closets, and see what type of stuff they have . . . I love hearing people talk about, like, why they got this or why they got that.”
Seeing the letterman jackets and vintage Michigan gear dotting the walls of the store drives this sentiment home as well. It’s a beautiful thing to imagine the original owner of a garment screaming in the same Big House stands as you are, 50 years later. This also goes for any black dress you might buy at the store, which according to Leyland, comes with a free witch hat during the month of October. “Yeah, like maybe you could work this into your costume, but also, like, wear again . . . Really you just put a black dress on, a little witch makeup. And then you would hopefully wear that black dress again and it wouldn’t be like something that sits in your closet forever,” she laughed.
Between The Getup and Ann Arbor’s various theaters, those in search of costume need not look far to get their fix, especially during this time of year. The climate of a campus filled with the excitement of students and the warmth of townies is perfect for businesses like Wan’s and Leyland’s to flourish. You don’t have to dress up to be a part of the magic, but it always helps.
“It’s a place where they are embraced, you know, that they can feel very comfortable, very safe, and they’re among other people who are as excited, if not more,” Wan said. Our town is one of the only places where not wearing shoes or shirts every day is completely permissible. Despite the chill of waiting in line for “Rocky Horror” or the brash statement of walking around in a shimmering ’70s jumpsuit, the people of Ann Arbor will always make you feel warm.