When What to wear becomes a question of epic proportions

Of all the holidays in the Jewish year, Purim has always been my least favorite. After the “fasties,” that is, when I alternately felt miserable and hungry (Yom Kippur) or guilty for not fasting (all the others).

But when it comes to the happy holidays, Purim runs far behind Sukkot, Passover and Chanukah. It’s even after Shavuot, which probably stopped being exciting around the time when wearing paper-flower hairbands stopped being socially acceptable.

What is it about Purim that I don’t like? It seems like after Chanukah, this is everyone’s favorite day of the Jewish year. Drunken debauchery, cookies and, most of all, costumes. I can hear my best friend, Candice, in my head right now, saying, “Dude, you are crazy. You would dare to insult the Second Coming of Halloween? What is your problem?”

Of course, Candice is a pro at creating costumes and revels in any excuse to come up with one. I stopped keeping track of the details once her getups started involving electrical tape and orange spray paint.

And therein lies my problem with Purim: I am certifiably terrible at coming up with ideas for what to wear.

As a kid, I usually went traditional: One year I was Esther, one year Vashti. I remember going as a “Renaissance woman” in one of the bridesmaid dresses from my parents’ wedding (I’m sure they appreciated that). But once my mother stopped picking out my clothes, I discovered the naked truth: that when it came to dressing up, I had precious little imagination.

At 24, I’m at the age where wearing Purim costumes is still acceptable — even expected — with bonus points if they’re of the nurse/she-devil variety. But soon, costumes will be déclassé for my generation, and I’ll have missed the boat to be something truly cool.

Determined not to lose out on one of my last chances to get dolled up, I decided to ask my friends what would be a good costume for me to wear this year.

I started by emailing the Costume Queen. “I think you could make a very cute green Powerpuff Girl,” Candice responded. “You’d also be able to pull off Dora the Explorer. You could be Velma from Scooby-Doo.”

My friend Jenn channeled her 5-year-old daughter before responding in a rush: “A butterfly, a ballerina, a kitty!”

Nate and Pam went the Jewish route. Nate: “You could be milk and honey.” Pam: “Be Esther. Or a hamentaschen. Or you could be a tzedakah box!”

Mike said he’d get back to me. Later, he had a revelation: “You could have a Joe Buck Purim costume.”

As in, Fox sportscaster Joe Buck?

“He’s called many a Red Sox playoff game,” Mike said. While invoking my favorite baseball team does pique my interest, I’m just not sure if I can pull off Buck’s blondness and, um, maleness.

I said I’d think about it. In the interest of helping me out, Mike added the following: Annie Oakley, Daisy Buchanan or a “gender-mixed Gatsby.”

Gender-mixed Gatsby? Might play in San Francisco.

They were all good suggestions, but with Purim just a few days away, I needed to put something together, fast. So I turned to my ever-wise brother, Eitan.

“I really don’t do Purim. It’s never been my thing,” he said. “I usually just grab whatever I can from a closet — put together a random-concept costume.”

Great, bro — but I have a closet full of solid-color sweaters. Unless I want to be a desperate housewife, what else can I do?

“How about Ilsa from ‘Casablanca,’ the classic femme fatale? It’s recognizable. It’s classic. It brings to mind a great movie. And everyone will know exactly who you are. And it involves a fedora.”

Hmm … it was definitely tempting. Having scouted out a thrift store earlier in the week, I knew there was no dearth of cheap trench coats in San Francisco. And who can argue with a fedora?

So it was decided — I’d be Ilsa. I’m safe for another year. And maybe next Purim, when I’m 25, it’ll finally be OK just to go as plain old me.

And if not, there’s always Joe Buck.

Rachel Freedenberg lives in Burlingame and is a copy editor at j. She can be reached at [email protected].