'Stranger Things' costume designer on dressing the kids for Halloween

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
The Stranger Things cast in full Ghostbusters garb for Halloween. (Photo: Netflix)

Ain’t no Halloween like a Hawkins Halloween, ’cause a Hawkins Halloween is in the ’80s! The second episode of Stranger Things’ second season is a nostalgia-drenched trip back in time to the epic trick-or-treat crawls of yesteryear, when rogue Pac-Mans roamed the streets and kids argued over who got to be the Venkman in their pint-sized Ghostbusters crew. Costume designer Kim Wilcox had the entirely enviable task of making Halloween outfits for the main cast, plus hundreds of extras. She raided ’80s pop culture magazines — as well as her personal memories of candy hunting during that initial wave of Ghostbusters mania — for the episode. “I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s,” says the Emmy-nominated designer, who took over the Stranger Things gig from the Season 1 team of Kimberly Adams-Galligan and Malgosia Turzanska. “I think I went as a gypsy a lot when I was a kid, but I loved people who would dress up as the Mummy and Frankenstein. But I was not a big fan of clowns! I saw someone dressed as Pennywise walking down the street in L.A. recently, and I was like, ‘Oh boy.’” We spoke with Wilcox about the origins of each major character’s costume and whether Halloween was more fun 30 years ago than it is today.

Yahoo TV: Let’s start with the boys’ Ghostbusters outfits. Did you get permission from Sony to use the official logos?
Kim Wilcox:
Yeah, it was actually part of the script for Episode 2. I think that Netflix and the people from Ghost Corps got together and decided this would be a fun element to introduce into the show. It’s very much in keeping with the time. The movies from 1984 are amazing, and Ghostbusters was one of the big ones. So it makes perfect sense for our boys to emulate those amazing scientists who have conquered the ghosts. Given what happened to them last season, it combines the geek part of who they are and the adventure part. They’re also right at that cusp of a time when you wear your trick-or-treating outfit to school. Of course, then they realize that nobody else dressed up, and it’s so embarrassing.

Would you have still gone with the Ghostbusters outfits if you hadn’t gotten clearance to use the official logo? Maybe doing an off-brand version or something?
We might have tried to do that, though I’m not sure if Legal would’ve let us. But the homage was so much fun. We thought about how these boys and their moms would have come up with these costumes. Some of the wealthier moms might have been able to go and buy a little suit to trick out, but Joyce doesn’t have the money to do that. Her family just kind of gets by with her one salary; most of their clothes come from the thrift store, or they rewear stuff they’ve had for years and years and years. We love the scene where she is hand-sewing the little Ghostbusters logo onto the costume that she’s made. You could actually buy the logo patch back then, but the rest of the costumes you’d have to make.

So you tailored each outfit to reflect the boys’ socioeconomic backgrounds?
Yeah. Will’s suit was actually built from scratch, whereas the other ones are different kinds of flight or mechanic suits that we were able to find out in the world. We picked them apart and rebuilt them, because our characters were teenagers, not grown men. Will’s is my favorite because it’s a little big on him and kind of droopy. Joyce has sewn on the Ghostbusters emblem, but you can see it’s a little bit messy, which makes sense for Joyce too. I like that about that costume.

When there’s something strange in Hawkins … who ya gonna call? (Photo: Netflix)

How about the proton packs?
Our propmaster, Lynda Reiss, and her team created all those props. They did a beautiful job! I think she put them on regular backpacks and built them out from there. That’s how you would proceed if you were a mom. The boys probably sat there and slaved away at the proton packs too. That’s what they’re really excited by.

[In an email to Yahoo Entertainment, Reiss confirms the kid-centric approach: “I wanted everything to be made of what it would have been made of had kids made it, so the proton packs are cereal boxes taped together; there’s an old pie-tin for the circle piece, as well as Mason jar lids, buttons, colored wire and rope, a vacuum cleaner hose and nozzle, and a wooden cap gun as the trigger mechanism. Everywhere we use tape, we used old school duct tape or shiny scotch tape, and then painted everything with black poster paint.”]

Were the actors already Ghostbusters fans, or was it outside of their pop culture knowledge?
I think that the Duffers gave the kids homework, so I’m positive they’d seen the movie and probably before they were assigned it as homework. [Laughs.] But who wouldn’t want to wear a Ghostbusters suit and proton pack? These kids are all very much excited about these characters. And the Duffers were definitely excited! We did a mood board with them at the beginning of the season, and they’re really into what was big at the time. They’ve been very much involved in all aspects of the costume design, because we’re creating something they see in their minds, you know?

Max (Sadie Sink) gets her Michael Myers on in this Halloween inspired costume. (Photo: Netflix)

I love the moment when they’re out trick-or-treating and Max jumps out in the Michael Myers mask from Halloween. The legend behind that mask, of course, is that John Carpenter reused a Captain Kirk death mask from Star Trek for the film. So did you use a Kirk mask as well or a Myers mask?
That’s a Lynda question. I wish I knew! [Laughs.]

[Via email, Reiss says that Max’s mask is a combination of the two: “The actual Michael Myers mask was not on sale at the time of our show in 1984, so we had to make it look like Max had done what the Halloween prop people did: Take a Shatner mask and paint it. We took a Mike Myers mask that was the style used in the first movie, and removed a bunch of paint so it had the feel of a flesh-colored mask that had been painted.”]

There are lots of great costumes in the background of those trick-or-treating scenes as well. I love the guy in the Pac-Man outfit, for example.
We also had a crayon walk through the background. Somebody did that when I was a kid, so we put it in the episode. And Pac-Man is in there. We pretty much had free rein, so we went back and looked at mid-’80s catalogues and magazines like Tiger Beat. I also had middle- and high school yearbooks from that time, and they have great pictures of what we were dressing up as for Halloween. It was fun for my crew, because they got to be more crafty than usual in order to make a very Hawkins-esque everyday costume.

Check out the homemade Pac-Man costume in the top right corner of the frame. (Photo: Netflix)

Did the extras get to choose which costumes they wanted to wear?
No, we chose in every case. We picked a costume that made sense with the face of each person. So we’d say, “Oh, this person looks like they could be a cowboy.” For the adults, we wanted a Cyndi Lauper, so we found someone and decked her out all in red.

The party that Steve and Nancy attend is also a very costume-dense scene.
In that case, we looked back at the movies of the time and picked what was the most exciting and which made sense for the character’s personality. Some of them were also inspired by the Duffers. They’d say, “We think this guy should be a Cobra Kai, and maybe Billy [Dacre Montgomery] should be the Terminator.” 1984 was also a great year for pop culture, so we have Michael Jackson and Madonna in there, and Siouxsie Sioux makes an appearance. It was really fun to go back and take a look at what was the music that was popular at the time.

Was that an official Cobra Kai outfit in the vein of the Ghostbusters logo?
Oh no — we built that. We didn’t build the whole thing. I think we got a black [robe] and then we made our own cobra design. It’s an homage to Cobra Kai, but it’s not actually Cobra Kai. We thought about what would you do if you had to do this at home. And since we’re a costume person, sometimes we do it a little too well, and then we’d have to come back and mess it up so it looked a little less finished and professional.

For Steve and Nancy, Halloween is literally Risky Business. (Photo: Netflix)

Was the idea to dress Steve and Nancy up as Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay from Risky Business also something that originated in the script?
Yeah, Risky Business was something the Duffers had thought about for a while. They knew they wanted them to dress as a couple, and we really liked the idea that putting glasses and a popped collar on Steve gave him a supercool look. And it made sense for Nancy, because that particular Rebecca De Mornay costume is kind of innocent-looking; she’s not an innocent character [in Risky Business], but she looks innocent in that scene. And Nancy also changes after this night, because it’s the night that she and Steve kind of unravel. She’s trying to keep up an [innocent] front and be like, “Everything’s OK,” but everything’s not OK. This is the last time we see her as the Nancy we know and love from Season 1.

Goodhearted Bob is in no way a bloodsucker. (Photo: Netflix)

Did Sean Astin come up with the idea of Bob dressing as a vampire?
I think vampire may have been something else that was scripted, but we thought about it for a while. We thought that Bob is the kind of guy who every year gets dressed up for Halloween and puts all this time and effort into it. He’s normally the kind of guy who comes to work dressed up and doesn’t care that nobody else is dressed up, but in this case, he’s actually gone home and changed, because he’s going to have this wonderful evening with Joyce. Maybe he would have preferred that Joyce had dressed up too, but that’s not really who she is, since she’s been through this traumatic experience. Bob has gone out of his way to be this very silly, adorable vampire for Joyce and the kids on Halloween. Sean Astin is a delightful human being to work with, and he had so much fun in the fitting and on set. Once a Goonie comes to work with you, it doesn’t get better than that, right?

Eleven cosplays as E.T. (Photo: Netflix)

Was Eleven’s ghost costume a Charlie Brown reference?
I think it was E.T. But it’s also a reference to the fact that she is a ghost, because people think she’s dead. So it makes perfect sense that she thinks she might be able to put on this costume and go out into the world, and no one would ever know she’s there. We had fun with that costume.

What sort of fitting is required for a bedsheet?
You stand still so we can mark where your eyes go! [Laughs] Then we cut them and see if you can walk around without hurting yourself. You don’t want to trip on the sheet, and we don’t want to see too much of you. When you dress kids up in Halloween costumes, everyone gets a little bit goofy, and that always makes for a good fitting.

Having re-created ’80s Halloween fashions for this episode, do you think Halloween costumes were better back then versus now?
What’s nice about Halloween in the ’80s, at least the Halloween we’re talking about in Hawkins, Ind., is that there’s an innocence about it. I miss the time when you use a pillowcase as your candy bag instead of going out and buying a plastic pumpkin, you know? Or you would just take your mom’s tablecloth, wrap it around your waist, pilfer her scarves and beads, and make some costume out of that. I remember going to the dime store, and you’d get these costumes in a box that would be Casper the Friendly Ghost or the Wolf Man. I liked that better. Halloween has become even more commercialized now, and it’s gotten strangely sexualized, especially for younger girls. It’s fun to go back to the simple basics and do more of the homemade stuff.

Will you be excited to see kids dressing up as Stranger Things characters in Halloweens to come?
Oh yeah! Honestly, the costume that Kimberly Adams created for Season 1, Eleven’s pink dress, is probably going to be the most iconic thing for a while. But yeah, I hope there are some punk Elevens out there, and a few Dustins. It’s really nice when people love your show enough to imitate what you do.

Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix.

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:

• ‘Stranger Things’ Season 2 Chapter One recap: Return that frown to the upside down
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