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Disguises send out mixed messages. Does this woman[1] for example want to be loved, feared, or respected? Does insanity run like a juiced squirrel up the trunk of her family tree? Perhaps she just likes red!

Ah, to disguise oneself! One of life's little pleasures. If someone doesn't like who they are, they can just turn around, click their heels three times, and become anybody! Movie stars, presidents, queens, kings, and rabbits, all within the reach of any lad or lass who can shuffle in off the street, throw down a little cash on the counter of their local costume shop, and with a gleam in their eye and confidence in their voice say, "Remake me, motherplugger!"

Disguises (a.k.a. costumes, masks, and cosmetics) have a long history and a longer psychological profile. They come out when you least expect it, and they wander the streets riding on top of children when you most expect it (a.k.a. Halloween). Disguises parade, flirt, and intoxicate themselves at carnivale, Mardi Gras, and costume parties. And disguises always emerge triumphant, bless their hearts, before going back to live in their box or closet[2] to patiently await their next mischievous and free-spirited adventure.

The first disguises

Disguises come in all sizes, of course, but this was not always the case. The first disguise was, in fact, quite small. When an early cave man (or was it ... Adam?) made a fake shoulder beard to hide the scar he got from a "it's not you, it's me" run-in with that Mastodon his wife had explicitly forbade him from seeing, little did he know he was starting a trend that would span the ages.

Fortunately for him, when his wife (or was it ... Eve?) saw her hubby's fake shoulder beard, instead of becoming suspicious she instantly wanted one too. Unfortunately for him, hers had to be blond, made from Sable, and impossible to tell from her real shoulder hair. Then she threw a fit until she got one. And a hair extension to go along with that. And do the dishes while you're at it!

The cave man had no choice but to comply, for the love of a good Mastadon is nothing compared to an angry wife. And so the wife got her shoulder beard, paraded around proudly, and, by sticking her nose up at her friends, spread the trend. And so it was that an angry mastodon, a horndog cave man (or really, was it ... Adam?) and a demanding wife combined their meager mental resources to invent and popularize disguises.[3]

Where disguises hide

Today there are so many of them that disguises hide in the strangest places and then pop out like a Jack-in-the-box (sometimes exactly like a Jack-in-the-box, if the disguise is a Jack-in-the-box disguise). For example, you'll be peacefully walking down an average street in DisneyWorld, minding your own business humming "It's a Small World After All", and suddenly some minimum-wage high school dropout jumps out at you in a Donald Duck uniform. After last night's dinner takes its leave, and you manage to calm down and stop your heart from racing, for no good reason you can think of on God's green Earth something starts talking at you from behind the disguise. Is it male? Female? Is it robotic? Just what is inhabiting that Duck suit anyway?

Or you go into the local grocery to pick up lentils and some Rice Dream, leisurely looking over the new flavors (ummm, Carob Mint Carrot!), minding your own business, humming "Hoedown Throwdown" when suddenly a tremendously tall balloon M&M™ grabs your wrist, stuffs candy into your mouth, and looks at you with eyes the size of your aunt's backside and a smile you can drive a smart car through. After that morning's eggs exit sunny-side-up, and you manage to wipe the sweat from your brow and calm the adrenaline rush to a crawl, for no good reason under the blue sky above this thing starts telling you about a today-only special value. You are suddenly convinced the earth is populated by demons from hell, and that the priest who molested you[4] was right after all. RonaldSlap.gifThis could get really unnerving after a few disguises seek you out, and then pity the next poor disguise that catches you on a bad day. And what started out as a simple shoulder-beard has evolved into unspeakable horrors walking around talking to strangers. How did it come to this?

Types of disguises

Peek-a-boo! You can't tell who I am!!

Masks for partying

Carnivale! You can blame carnivales for the popularity of disguises. Throughout the ages, and in every civilized land mass, when men and women and women and men want to bump up against each other without the bumper knowing who the bumpee is (or vice-versa for fun-without-the-flowers) they put on false faces. With these grotesque or beautiful or outlandish pretend noses, chins, and whatever else most people tend to keep on their face. People can talk to or grab onto someone or something else with no fear of being seen as the psychological and physical wreck they are. No wonder this became popular and a trend that has lasted for millennia. Some people like disguises so much that they never take them off!

Masks for robbing

Before long, people of dubious character and keen-to-middling minds saw the potential of using disguises in the manly art of robbing from the rich and giving to themselves and their girlfriends.[5] This first emerged long long ago, when Romans would dress up as Greeks to rob the Turks. In many countries, highwaymen would put on masks and stop people who had the gall to try to get past them with their stuff. And then in the 19th Century, crooks in America came up with a criminal scheme which upped the ante.

Across the wild west, where men were men and Indians were target practice, bank tellers swore on their mother's bullet-riddled graves that a low-life scum of a man, Jesse James, had robbed them. These allegations spread, much to the chagrin of Mr. James, who never hurt a soul or stole a nickel in his life. What he did do was have the unfortunate experience of posing for a mask designer when he was 18, a job which paid him a pair of tweezers and a cold possum sandwich. Half a century later they pulled off the same scheme with Al Capone, a Sears catalogue distributor who had no idea what the fuss was about until he was thrown in prison for tax evasion.

Soon more people and critters had their personae copied, as easy as mass-producing a piece of cheap plastic with a rubber band strung around the back. How many times did Princess Leia or Richard Nixon grab an old lady's purse? Or Casper the Friendly Ghost knock over the local 7-11? Too many times to count, that's for sure.[6] Even people like Bigfoot and Dracula, pillars of their communities, couldn't stop crooks from borrowing their likenesses – unwittingly infamous victims forevermore shamelessly copied, slandered, and made to feel put upon – two more innocents experiencing the pain and loneliness of Mistaken-Identity-Related Disassociative Syndrome (MIRDS).

The bottom line: all crime can be traced back to disguises,[7] just as all disguises ultimately lead back to crime.[8]

Other ways to hide your true personality

Even public figures can successfully costume themselves. Here beloved quarterback Michael Vick is tackled by PETA president Ingrid Newkirk (right) disguised as a skinhead.

Now we're getting into psychology, where men are again men and boys are things to play with when the urge takes control.[9] Throughout history, every person has learned to disguise themselves without putting on a physical mask. Because if they continue to have the energy, enthusiasm, curiosity, and playfulness they had as children, society has laws to handle that. There are rare exceptions. Take comedian Groucho Marx (pictured above) for example. He still had all those things, and encouraged others to have them too. He just never stopped faking anything long enough to let you catch him at it. He'd just light his cigar, pretend to blow-dry his fake eyebrows, and ... Ding Ding Ding. Eyebrows! You said the secret word and win a hundred dollars ... go about his merry way pushing the envelope in front of him.

Then on the other extreme, how about Saudi Arabia women? They live in sacks but can still entice you and send out silent screams for help with only their eyes and an inch or two of that hot[10] Saudi-babe forehead. And the guy living in that box on the corner Transformers.gifwho keeps asking you for spare change? He's obviously a doctor, a lawyer, or[11] a game show host. Then we come to the neighbor girl who says she has no interest in sleeping with you (Liar!)[12] but has so far neglected to sign the restraining order.[13] They're all wearing disguises.

You can't turn around without running into one. Oh, pardon me, was that my foot I was stepping on?

Pirates, princesses, etc.

Halloween! Yay! Bobbing for apples. Eating all the candy in your sister's bag and telling her the boogeyman ate it.[14] Giving the children candy razor blades embedded in candy apples and seeing the police freak out more than the parents. (Yay!) And doing all this and more while hiding in a costume? Have I died and gone to Heaven?[15]

Maybe. Everyone certainly loves Halloween, and most people wouldn't miss the big parties for the world. But imagine, in a yearly attempt to scare the bejesus out of everyone else's children, the first thing parents do is dress their own young ones in disguises and send them out to roam the streets. They teach their children how to hide their identities to get someone else's stuff. No problem down the road there.

So Bobby and Sally become pirates, princesses, skeletons and other things, cutting down the size of their costumes every year until Bobby's going out with just a toy gun and a plastic bazooka strapped to his waist and Sally's walking around like your favorite tiny dancer. All well and good, a disguise has to come gobble them up sometime. Because for little Bobby to become corporate Robert he first has to buy into the whole suit, tie, and briefcase thing. As does little Sally, who spends her youth playing with dolls, kittens, and bunnies, only to emerge from her warm cocoon as Madame LuLu, the neighborhood provider of all things feminine. So where does daddy's little soldier end and Battlefield-Bodybag-Bob begin? When does the apple of her father's eye wave good-bye and Domestically Abused Sally strut onto the scene? Never you mind! What's a little dress-up and bobbing for apples now when they'll be bobbing for hedge funds and an adult seat at the Country Club later.

Spoiler Alert. If you get stuck in some of those hard-to-remove costumes when you're an adult,[16] easy to do when entire industries are dedicated to keeping you zipped up in there,[17] a good way to swat that fly is to practice Groucho Marxism:

While improvising, satirizing, and mesmerizing, say the secret word and win a hundred dollars!

HowTo:Pretend You're Someone Else

To hide their real opinions and inherent cowardness, politicians put on so many false-fronts that once they get within spitting distance of some real power they literally forget HowTo:Take the mask off. Hilarity ensues.

Put something in front of your face. Don't take it off.


  1. Or is it ... Eve?
  2. or, in the case of cosmetics, their favorite shirt collar or sink
  3. The incident also gave birth to the expression "three heads and two tusks are better than one", which was later shortened for brevity.
  4. Talk about realistic disguises!
  5. Sometimes they cut their wives in on the deal, but for the most part the little lady was kept in the dark, thinking her husband still clerked in housewares while the mistress or his pay-to-play girls reaped the rewards.
  6. Except for that time Casper actually did become corporeal for a few days, went on a much-publicized crime spree, and pinned one of his gathering-of-friends-for-the-afterlife exploits on O.J. Simpson.
  7. Actually a profound real-world insight.[original bullshit]
  8. Mostly marijuana possession.
  9. Women are women too, but hardwired to sometimes deal with touchy-feely, so men and boys tend to avoid them. Most of the time. Except for those pesky needs.
  10. Something like 130 degrees there.
  11. an Indian chief
  12. Her tantrums, chemical repellents, and crocodile tears are just her way of avoiding her true feelings.
  13. She signed it six months ago.
  14. The same boogeyman who snuck into her bed that one night.
  15. Could be called a "blessing in disguise", a term misapplied when something goes horribly wrong and some well-meaning optimist finds "the silver lining" in it (just before acquiring a totally realistic black-eye and broken-nose disguise).
  16. The ones who don't bob for the most enjoyable apples their entire lives!
  17. Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone!
Happily married for three years, Tony and Rainbow met at Mardi Gras. They've never seen each other – literally or metaphorically – without their disguises: The key to many successful relationships.[1]

Bottom-of-the-foot note

  1. That, and her badly-calibrated eyewear.