Behind-the-scenes with Quarantween

I couldn’t cope with iso­la­tion. Then I began tak­ing cos­tume sug­ges­tions online

5 minute read
Blue Steel in quarantine. (Photo by Jillian Markowitz.)
Blue Steel in quarantine. (Photo by Jillian Markowitz.)

On March 12, in a COVID-related fit of despair, I posted this Facebook status: “Name a Halloween costume and I’ll do my best to dress up like it using only the materials in my home.” My friends commented with an array of suggestions, from “sexy refrigerator” to “Joan of Arc.” The first costume I did was Kylo Ren. I dotted a couple of Adam Driver moles near my nose and cheek with eyeliner, drew a scar across my face with lip liner, snapped a close selfie, and posted it beside a picture of Kylo Ren. And just like that, I was out of my own head.

The game I needed

Mid-March was the beginning of serious physical-distancing measures in Philly, and the uncertainty and fear permeating the news weighed me down. My family was scattered across the country, including my brother and his wife, who were returning from a trip to the Ozarks and going back to work at a hospital slammed with COVID-19 patients. I was falling into a familiar depression in unfamiliar circumstances. As a kid, I entertained myself a lot, and I knew I needed a new game if I was going to pull myself out of this funk. Dressing up fit the bill.

I did about eight costumes within two hours, and kept going for the next few days. Many of the early costumes are like, bad. Really bad. I’m hoping they never resurface. Like the Andy Reid costume I did, in which I’m using my cat’s catnip banana as the mustache. There’s also a Smurfette costume that’s just an Eeyore onesie.

Quarantween spreads

The responses were surprisingly enthusiastic. At one point, a friend sent me money on Venmo with a thank you for keeping her entertained. Then, another friend reached out to tell me that my costumes were too much fun to get lost in a random comment thread on my Facebook wall.

Not ALL the suggestions were thirst traps. (Photo by Jillian Markowitz.)
Not ALL the suggestions were thirst traps. (Photo by Jillian Markowitz.)

This was hard to believe. I was just doing my two favorite things: dressing up and taking selfies (yes, I’m insufferable). But since I was having such an absurd amount of fun, I decided to start an Instagram: Quarantween Costumes. I did not expect anyone to care. My goal was to keep making content that could brighten the days of a few of my friends in these hard times.

I thought volunteering to dress up on the requests of quarantined, frustrated Internet users might become a bit scandalous. I fully expected to field a fair amount of thirst-trap suggestions. But the costumes that have gotten the most responses are disgusting monsters (see Krumm and Tusk) and middle-aged men (see Rocky, Pee Wee Herman, and Abraham Lincoln).

Suddenly, I had DMs from comedians I have looked up to since I started doing stand-up four years ago telling me that my costumes are a high point in their days. Though this mostly made me sad for how lame their days must be, I decided to take my newfound duties very seriously. After completing another follower’s request, I learned that he was recovering from COVID-19 and that my executing his costume idea had made him feel better in that moment.

Behind the scenes

When I get a request, I throw it into a list of notes in my phone. Right now, I have about 43 costumes in the queue, which feels manageable. The first thing I do when I roll out of bed is pick a costume. If it’s a challenging one, like Yoshi or Krumm, I’ll do a quick search of Halloween costumes for the characters to get ideas. Then, I look around my room and see what I can use. Most costumes take about 15 minutes, and I have never done one that took more than half an hour (unless you count time spent with curlers in my hair).

I don’t have to have a full costume that I can go to a party in; I just need the right angle for a picture. My Hawaiian shirt for Weird Al is actually a sundress draped over my shoulders. Any time you see me in a button-down, it is my dad’s tuxedo shirt (which I have in my apartment for a complicated reason, and which he now jokes he will never take back due to my body odor).

Not ALL the suggestions were thirst traps. (Photo by Jillian Markowitz.)
Not ALL the suggestions were thirst traps. (Photo by Jillian Markowitz.)

A few folks have asked how I have all of this stuff. While I can be a bit of a pack rat, I’m mostly just reusing the same clothes, or repurposing household items. If I need a shirt logo that I don’t have, I usually draw it on a piece of paper and haphazardly tape it on. The walrus tusks for the Tusk costume were actually the legs of a tiny plastic IKEA lamp on my desk. To look like Abraham Lincoln, I drew wrinkles on my face with an eyebrow pencil (that was the only one I could actually tell was decent when I finished—the rest of them, I have no idea).

Occasionally, if I don’t own a certain color, I will use the marker overlay on my phone to get a match. Since I had to use a white t-shirt for a makeshift Dr. Evil bald cap, I used the market overlay to make it blend in with my skin tone a bit better. I don’t know if that’s cheating. I just want to be honest with you. Since you’ve read this far and all.

Feeling lucky

I started doing costumes for a selfish reason: to get myself out of a funk. I felt helpless knowing people were suffering and that there was nothing I could do for them. But now, the fact that I can bring people happiness just by playing dress-up makes me feel incredibly lucky. Having some small role in making others feel a bit better has been a tremendous source of sanity and strength, and I am so grateful for the support and engagement I’m seeing every day.

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