On Broadway Street, just off Kendall Square, the harsh lines of high-rise hotels cut into the sky and cast dark shadows onto the street below. It’s October, but the ground is so cold I can feel it through my tennis shoes. The sidewalk is deserted save Erin and me. I don’t blame others for abandoning this place—the simultaneous sense of claustrophobia and emptiness here is palpable, scary even.
Eight minutes later, I am relieved to see an enormous square building, circumscribed by a thick stripe of pink paint, emerging from a row of brick offices. I break into a ridiculous smile, and I’m not even embarrassed. I have arrived at the famed Garment District.
Once inside the store, my cold-deadened senses come alive. Warmth! Lights! Neon! Chaos! All of it hits me at once. I’m Alice, lost in a wonderland of eccentricity. The walls are so pink I taste bubblegum. There’s a traffic sign blazing above my head with “WALK” and “DON’T WALK” illuminated simultaneously. A shiny mannequin, outfitted as a German beer girl, gazes down at me from the landing of the stairs.
An employee interrupts my reverie. She hands us store guides—little pink slips of paper explaining what we’ll find on each level—and takes our coats. I’m realizing that this place is actually very useful for finding Halloween costumes. Erin has already run over to the colored tutus, which hang in a rainbow on their circular rack. I agree with her: They are so “Toddlers and Tiaras.”
It’s when our eyes move to the floor-to-ceiling cornucopia of hats that we comprehend the endless possibilities The Garment District affords. With just one 15-dollar piece of headwear, we could become cops, firefighters, sailors, or soldiers. We could become anything.
But we’ve only seen a corner of the store, which spans two expansive floors. We decide to check it out. Downstairs is mostly packaged costumes, accessories, wigs, and masks, a dizzying array of colors—cobalt blue, electric green, neon orange. When we head upstairs past the mannequin, she is still watching me. It’s all too easy to get lost, the various walls and alcoves popping up out of nowhere. We can’t remember if the devil horns we found were on the top or bottom floor, in the left or right corner. I feel woozy.
Upstairs, the store’s vintage clothing section is to our left, and as much as I would like to shop for oversized, pilly men’s sweaters right now, I must focus on the goal: Halloween. This is simple enough—classic costumes hang everywhere. We’re surrounded by authentic-looking ’70s flare pants, ruffled pirate shirts, and gladiator chest armor. There are quirkier displays too. On a rack labeled “Clowns and Religious,” Adam and Eve costumes hang stoically next to polka-dotted petticoats.
My ridiculous smile returns when I see this section. Really, I say to myself, there is something enchanting about The Garment District. It’s an undeniably weird and crazy place, a place in which I feel too conventional. It’s a place where Jesus robes and red noses go together. Compared to other Halloween stores, The Garment District is less trick and more treat, concerned with the strangeness and delight of costumes.
I begin to notice that many of the other wandering shoppers are smiling too. Maybe what’s entertaining isn’t just the store’s oddities but also the notion of assuming another persona for a night. Halloween is the only time during the year when it’s acceptable to forget who we were, who we are, and who we will one day become. On Halloween, the world becomes our oyster: We can be scary, slutty, funny, beautiful, or ugly. The Garment District knows that abandoning our own self-conscious identities is Halloween’s true magic.
Back on the ground floor, Erin and I decide that though the neon tulle skirts are appealing to us, going the firefighter route might be ultimately cuter and less fussy this year. After nearly an hour losing ourselves in the store, we head to the registers invigorated, holding reflective plastic fireman helmets and yellow suspenders.
We whisk away our purchases in bubblegum pink plastic bags and head back to the T station. Somehow, the walk through post-apocalyptic Cambridge seems much livelier now. The shadows are not so dark, the gray pavement not so cold beneath my feet.