Costume couture goes into high gear at Highball Halloween

What's happens when you take Halloween, mix in a bit of Mardi Gras, a dash of Day of the Dead -- and a whole lot of high couture?  You get  Highball Halloween --one of the country's coolest and most fashionable costume parties.

For six years now, Highball Halloween has elevated the standard-form Halloween party of Party City costumes and spiked punch with plastic spiders to the single most elaborate Halloween event in the country. Held on High Street, the main strip of the Short North Arts District just north of downtown Columbus, the event draws in upwards of 25,000 people.


The centerpiece of Highball Halloween is the couture costume fashion show.

"To our knowledge this is the only one that really builds on the reputation of having an amazing fashion show," says John Angelo, founder and producer of Highball Halloween.

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If you're thinking Columbus isn't exactly a fashion capital, think again. The city is home to the headquarters of some of the biggest retail brands in the U.S. including the Limited, Victoria's Secret, Express, Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, and DSW, just to name a few. These might not be the high-fashion couture houses of Paris and Milan, but these ready-to-wear retailers rake in billions of dollars annually and collectively employ hundreds of thousands of people in the fashion industry across the country, including countless fashion designers and visual artists.

The concept for the event was born out of Columbus's fashion industry roots as a way to celebrate the fashion culture and design talent in the city. Instead of being a "scary" Halloween party where people come dressed as zombies and vampires with lots of gory makeup, they wanted this to be a bit different – working with the designers, costumers, and makeup artists in the area for one truly fantastic signature fall event.

"We wanted to make it a brand-builder not of just drunken debauchery but [something that says], 'Yes, this makes sense, this is what an arts district should do with a Halloween event,'" says Angelo.

Ten teams featuring a mix of designers and costumers work on putting on a runway show, the highlight of which is the couture Halloween costume. The couture costumes are judged for cash prizes and bragging rights.

This year is the sixth year for Highball Halloween, and it marks the first year the event is extending into two days from Friday October 25 to Saturday October 26. The first night starts at 6 p.m. and features the Costume Couture Fashion Showdown on a 65-foot runway. The second night starts at 7 p.m. with a public street party and cash prizes in a number of costume categories. There is also a 5k Costume Zoom nighttime run, a Kids' Day Festival and Costume Contest with children's activities from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday (including face painting and sugar skull decorating in the Mexican Dia de los Muertos tradition), a Dogtober Howl-O-Ween dog costume contest, live music and DJs, live muralists, a variety of stage shows hosted by the fabulous Nina West, a professional fashion shoot, plus plenty of food and drink (like the Highball highball and spiked hot apple cider). And plenty of after parties at all of the nearby bars and nightclubs in the Short North district.

To help prepare your own look for Highball Halloween, Angelo shares the following tips:

1) Leave the zombie and vampires at home.

"The spirit of Highball is not scary but fantasy," says Angelo. "It's about transforming into great characters. There's such a great vibe of people loving to see what others have done. In addition to the couture show, we want to inspire the public as well…if [you're] going to pull out all the stops and take [Halloween] further, this is where to do it."

2) Find your outer glow.

"We really embrace anything that glows," says Angelo. This is an outdoor nighttime event.  UV-reactive paint, lasers, LED lights – shine bright like a diamond, or at least like you're in a nightclub!

3) Zombies. Seriously. Don't.

"This is not really the gory, scary Halloween. It can work if you have to go there but there's so much more territory to explore! Who do you want to be?"

4) It's late October in the Midwest. Plan accordingly.

Fall in the Midwest can mean highs in the 80s and lows in the 30s, sometimes (too often) in the same week. (In six years Angelo has seen the temperature for Highball in the 70s and in the 30s.) Plan on not really being able to plan, but take the extremes into account. It's more likely going to be cold than warm so bring long johns and fingerless gloves. Aside from the late-night after parties, this whole event takes place outdoors: be prepared.