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I regret my “Naughty Native” Halloween costume

Five years ago, I was 23 and didn’t have enough good sense to get myself out of the mall without a pair of impulse-purchased gold lamé stiletto boots or a hundred-dollar straw hat. Freed from the front-door check of a parent and lacking any limitations on my spending, I could live out my sartorial dreams. The knee-high boots I’d wanted at 13 were no problem, and in my new home of Seattle, no one looked twice at hoodie, lace and high-top combos. For my second Halloween in my new city, I bought a costume that haunts my memory like the worst kind of ghoul.

I’m not much for costumes, but a party invitation sent me to the basement of a vintage clothing store that, come October, looks like a pack of My Little Ponies vomited on the racks. I got so overwhelmed by polyurethane, taffeta, fake fur and prints of all persuasions that it was impossible to focus on any costume long enough to identify it as “Playful Panda” or “Marie Antoinette.” There was a half-wall devoted to the Wild West and the Native people as they have been imagined there, brave, fierce and tragic. Fringed and beaded polyester “buckskin” Pocahontas or Sacajawea costumes — the difference wasn’t clear, though the women lived a continent apart — mingled with fringed “leather” Buffalo Bill jackets for the men. Cowboy hats and rainbow-dyed faux-feather headdresses hung alongside soundless miniature drums, plastic tomahawks and knives, toy guns and holsters, cotton moccasins, and plastic breastplates and necklaces. There were chaps of all kinds. These lifeless duds lumped caricatures of indigenous peoples and colonizers together in peaceful coexistence, a state of pure make-believe.

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