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My family's costume shows were renowned in my small hometown. The neighbors would call our house Halloween morning to make sure my family would show up on their steps trick-or-treating. Every year we had a different theme, and there was always singing and a mini-show in our productions. One year my sisters and I had fat red Christmas bows on our heads and a wrapped box around our middles. My brother was shrouded in evergreens, and walked the neighborhood singing "O Christmas Tree." We had a sugarplum fairy, a Father Christmas, and a snowman. Another year we were a walking Fiddler on the Roof spectacle, complete with a fiddler. We were The Lawrence Welk Show, with Bobby and Sissy dancing, a lady dressed up as a Geritol bottle, and someone blowing bubbles above our heads. My favorite was the year we did Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. My father was Snow White. Halloween was a big deal. With my own kids, we've been a bit more subdued. No themes, no productions. But this year, I'm hosting a costume party and dressing as Marie Antoinette. I have a bet with my friend Bernice, who will be Queen Elizabeth I, as to who will win best costume. So I need some serious costume makeup.

In all my running around town, I've driven by Gypsy Treasure Costumes in La Mesa probably 500 times. "We supply a lot of local actors and actresses in theatre and television," explained owner Robin Melancon, "so we carry a large line of different makeups. There's theatre makeup and face-painting supplies, which are two different products. The face paint is a water-base product; the theatre makeup is a cream base. For face painting a child, definitely use the water base because it is simple; the parent can remove the paint easily with soap and water. Professional cream-based makeup, which they use in movies, will last all day, and it's usually removed with makeup remover."

Is the professional makeup thicker?

"The makeup industry has come such a long way," Melancon replied. "Back in the '30s, makeup was thick, and actors and actresses used to hate to put all that makeup on. But now the professional cream makeup is so thin and the coverage is excellent. That makeup is used for glamour shots, and we also have people that come in to buy it for everyday use."

Melancon has put the products to a test. "Some of our face painters were questioning the difference between the cheaper paints and our paints, so we did a comparison test for them. We bought some of the cheaper makeup and brought it into the store and did a demonstration. On one side of the face we used the cheaper makeup and on the other half, the professional makeup. We did it in the face-painting paint, and we also did it with the theatrical, cream-based paint. What happened was within a half hour, the skin tone comes through the color on the cheap makeup. If you want your face to look good, you definitely want to stay with a professional brand."

Now old Eve is not a painted lady --- eye shadow, lipstick, done. I'm not sure I can apply a lot of professional makeup and have it look good. "People always say that," Melancon said. "They always say, 'Oh that is too hard for me to do.' It's not; anybody can do it. The colors are applied by sponges and brushes. And it's important to use a sable bristle brush. If you don't, you will have bristles coming off the brush onto your face and then the paint will smear as you get the bristles off." Brushes run from $2.49 up to $6.98 .

For the truly hopeless, professional help is available. "Every year we call in a professional makeup artist," Melancon continued, "and he does booking all through October, and he's done some fantastic things with prosthetics and makeup. I have seen him take a really pretty girl and turn her into an awful-looking witch."

This makeup was sounding like just the product for my costume. Time to talk brands. "In the foundations for theatre, television, and glamour shots, we carry Ben Nye [cream foundations, $6.98 ; pressed eye colors, $5.98 each]. In the water-based products, we carry Kryolan, Mehron, Ben Nye, and Snazaroo. The professional brands have a wider selection of colors," she said. "In the water-based makeup, you're limited to about 100 different colors."

She pointed out some of her best sellers. "Kryolan Face Paint [a one-inch circular container of paint for $5.49 ] is our biggest seller in the face painting products. Snazaroo Professional Waterbased Face & Body [ $7.98 for 18 ml] is a second big seller. Their metallic colors [ $9.98 ] go on very dark and vivid," she remarked, smearing her hand in silver sparkle. "Mehron's Starblend Cake Makeup [ $7.98 ] is another favorite," she continued. "Just wet a brush and paint." With a brilliant sky blue, she painted another part of her hand. "These Ben Nye Magicolor Liquid Paints [ $3.98 for one ounce] are very popular as well -- brilliant color and the container comes with a little brush."

Melancon says you can create different colors. "The water-based makeup, you can add water to get a lighter color. In the cream-based colors, you can mix colors, and they mix very well.

"Professional makeup will last the whole year or longer if the lids are on tight. Usually cheap Halloween makeup will go bad.

"We sell colors all year round," she offered. "If there is a football game in town, fans will buy Chargers colors. We sell for different sports teams, their colors."

For the unconfident painter, Melancon sells kits that include instructions, paints, powders, and brushes to create a cat, clown, skull face, and an aged face ($18.98 for a kit by Graftobian).

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