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With costumes, creativity goes a long way

Men in Black, aka the Blues Brothers, are about to show up at your front door.

Don't be afraid.

Xena, that popular warrior princess, will probably be there, too.

If you're lucky, a walking submarine sandwich will come your way. Maybe even a talking crab, a witch or a floppy-eared baby bunny.

The trendiest homemade costumes this Halloween are getting their inspiration from movie and TV characters. But some of the most fanciful costumes _ and often the easiest to make _ are ones that come straight from the heart.

That's Bruce Mai's opinion.

As secretary of the St. Louis Costumers Guild, a group of amateur enthusiasts with ties to the international guild of costumemakers, he should know.

Mai says he has dressed in some of his most elaborate, guild-generated costumes for many a Halloween contest. His outfits include fur-covered, snout-pointed characters from the comic book Xanadu and a scary "Bride of the Cobra" that he designed for a woman friend.

"They never win," he says. "It's annoying."

What does win, he says, is anything "funny, or risque, depending on the venue, or recognizable, or cross-genre, like mixing titles from two movies."

Winners, he adds, generally "can't be looking too professional. I think that's what happened to us."

So Mai has changed his tune for Halloween.

After seeing prizes awarded to a guy "carrying an entire motocross bike across his body," to a gentleman wearing "scads of lights, turning on and off in sequence," and to a couple posing as a vacuum cleaner and bag, with a trailer behind them pulling a dummy "pushing" the vacuum, Mai went for a simple submarine sandwich.

With cardboard, foam, construction-paper cutouts and a little green crepe paper, he had the wearable sandwich.

When Mai added flippers and a toy periscope, he had the submarine twist. But a smile, he says, can turn the same costume into a "cheese" sandwich; lying splayed on the ground makes it sandwich spread; wielding a club makes it a club sandwich. Well, you get the idea.

Of some of his competition, Mai says, "I've seen some amazing stuff by total amateurs."

There is Dale Pessin, for instance.

As president of the St. Louis chapter of the American Sewing Guild, Pessin felt amateurish enough to go to Winston's Fabrics for help in creating her costume: Xena: Warrior Princess.

There, she picked black vinyl and faux leather for the main part of the costume, plus gold vinyl to cut into metal-like decorations overall. Total outlay: $35.

Crista Meiners recycled a witch's cape that had belonged to daughter Jacquelyn, 10, for her younger daughter, Olivia, 4. The cape had been made from inexpensive, vest-lining fabric. The application of scary face paint and a $2 witch's hat finished the look.

Meiners' replacement design for Jacquelyn, however, was grander: She bought an old dress and a man's jacket from Goodwill for $7 and made a half-man, half-woman costume by "stuffing the woman's dress into the other side of the man's jacket. There was no sewing involved whatsoever. The whole thing was held together with pins."

More makeup and a cheap felt hat cut in half made the girl look so manly from one side that she hardly had time to go trick-or-treating for all the oohs and ahs over her costume.

Then there is Kelly Page.

She's not a home sewer, certainly not a regular costumemaker. But when her son Dusty, 7, wanted to be Sebastian the Crab from the movie The Little Mermaid last year, Page bravely launched into the project.

With newspapers for patterns and cheap polyester-cotton fabric, plus white and black felt and a pair of red tights, Page made the crab work. A $2 roll of foam to stuff the body and legs of the crab "was the most expensive part."

Finally, from a book called Make Costumes! For Creative Play by Priscilla Hersberger ($11.95, North Light Books), there's an idea for a simple black "jacket" like the one Will Smith wore in Men in Black. It's made from a paper grocery bag.

Here's how you do it: Draw an oval, the size of your hand, on the outside bottom of the bag. Also draw four short lines out from the oval _ one at the top, bottom and two sides. Cut out the oval and then cut an inch or so along the short lines. Your head goes through here.

Do the same on the sides of the bag, for armholes. Then use chalk or paint to make a white shirt on front, a black tie and black jacket with lapels, plus black all the way around the bag. Worn over a long-sleeved black top and black pants, with inexpensive sunglasses and hat, you've got the look.