Your Costume Party Playbook

Think of the last party you attended. There was probably music, a lot of people in skinny jeans standing around talking and drinking. Perhaps there was a buffet. In other words, it was like every other party you’ve ever attended.

If you’re ready to shake things up, then consider a costume party. “They’re liberating, and make contact between people so much easier,” says Pierre Sorrant from party store Festimania in Lille. Indeed, a costume not only allows you the freedom to be a different person for a night; it shows your interests, creativity and personality a whole lot better than a button-down and Converse kicks could ever do. To help you jump-start your fiesta, we present to you our favorite themes. Pick the one that speaks to you, or use this guide to get your own creative juices flowing.

Use-Your-Imagination Themes

Part of a costume party's fun is seeing what your friends come up with. If you really want to be surprised, pick an open-ended theme. "You could throw a party around a letter -- like the first letter of your name -- or a country or region," says Thierry Reig from Lyon party store Coti Déco. A Wild West party, for example, might pull in Mexican bandits, hot peppers and Lucky Luke-style cowboys with lassos to rope in the saloon girls.

Gael Tremblay, 31, from Paris, is a banker by day and party connoisseur by night. Of the many costume parties he’s hosted/attended, he particularly remembers one métro theme fête; one guest came as the hunchback of Notre Dame, another came as a pharaoh to represent the Pyramides stop. And Tremblay? "There's a station called Rue des Boulets, so the friend I went with was the boulet -- we told everyone he was annoying and wouldn't leave my side. So we didn't technically have a costume... but at least it was funny!"

Crazy Themes

Although any costume party allows you to let loose, there are a few themes that really put your kooky side on display -- like a crazy hair party. “I went to a really funny one last year at my friend's place," says Tremblay. “He kept bottles of colored hairspray in the bathroom for punishing lazy guests. People showed up with everything from Bob Marley wigs to geek-style hair, parted down the middle and gelled flat."

Or you can show your animal side -- literally -- with a farm party. A homemade rooster costume is super simple: Buy some red and yellow felt from a fabric store and cut or glue it onto the hood of a cheap sweatshirt to create a comb and beak. Draw two big cartoon eyes and throw on some yellow shoes. With any luck, you might even attract a cute chick (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Skin-Baring Themes

For a costume party with the least amount of, well, costumes, try a pin-up theme (way classier than the better-known “pimp-and-ho” party). Girls don push-ups and high heels while guys dress like dapper gents -- i.e., retro suits and shiny shoes. The ladies are the real stars of this theme, but is that really a problem?

If you want to make things a little more gender equal, try a swimsuit party. Tremblay hosted one eight years ago that remains legendary. "Everyone was in a bathing suit or towel. We pumped the heat to its max and filled the bathtub with shaving cream!"

Decade Themes

Party-ready eras range from les années folles (Al Capone and flapper girls) to Roman antiquity, which is rife with cool costume options for guys -- you could be Cesar, a Roman senator, a gladiator...

"Our number one seller by far is ’70s costumes," says Sorrant. But that doesn't mean you can't be original. Dig through your dad's closet or a thrift store for disco or hippy looks, or, even better, choose a celeb from the era. Dress like Claude François, for instance, and put one of his romantic ballads on the playlist. When that song comes on, you'll be the hit of the party.

Take the Fear out of Halloween (Costumes)

It’s less than a week before the biggest Halloween bash in town, but you still don’t know what you’re wearing. The one thing you do know is that you won’t be repeating last year’s lameness, when you threw on a summer softball league T-shirt, grabbed a Brewers cap and scoured the house (unsuccessfully) for your mitt. That sad attempt at a costume was anything but a home run. And it certainly didn’t get you to first base with any of the French maids at the party.

This year, you vowed it was going to be different. No cowboy outfits. No pathetic trucker get-ups. And absolutely, positively, no ghost costumes. Now the clock’s ticking and you’re short of ideas. But don’t despair. Figuring you’d procrastinate (again), Men’s Life Today sought the advice of two Hollywood pros for costume suggestions that will blow the competition -- not to mention those pretty French maids -- away.

Trick No. 1: Don’t Follow the Crowd
Deborah Nadoolman Landis, an Oscar-nominated designer who created the ensembles for Animal House, The Blues Brothers and Coming to America, as well as the costumes for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, suggests going against type -- “be someone you wish you could be” -- and against the obvious.

“I have a feeling this is going to be the year of the zombie,” she says. And for that very reason, she advises that men not be zombies -- or anyone from the Twilight movies. In this year of darkness, she says, “Embrace the light. Women want heroes -- be Prince Charming.”

Trick No. 2: Mix Genres
Remember those flip books for kids where you’d mix and match sections to create a different character with every turn? Landis suggests embracing that concept when pondering a costume. “Don’t be Indiana Jones. Be an alien Indiana Jones,” she posits. If you really want to get clever, you can even create a backstory for your character.

Trick No. 3: Use the News
James Lapidus, a costume designer who worked on the recently wrapped serial 24 and who’s now with the Showtime hit Dexter, proposes perusing the headlines for ideas. From disgraced Sen. Larry Craig to Donald Trump, Adam Lambert to Siegfried and Roy, the cleverest ideas, says Lapidus, come from people in the news.

As in years past, says Lapidus, TV characters provide ample costume opportunities, from reality stars such as Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino to mid-century adman Don Draper. Other iconic characters/events that can be inspiration for your Halloween get-up include the BP oil spill and the Na’avi from Avatar.

One caveat if you go this route: Whatever you do, don’t create a costume so monstrous you can’t move. “I remember one guy who showed up at a party as an iPod,” recalls Lapidus. “It was so cumbersome, he couldn’t even get to the drinks.”

Trick No. 4: Put in the Time
Pop-up Halloween stores make Lapidus’ skin crawl. “Everybody goes to these cheap costume shops,” he says. “If you can’t sew, find a friend who can.” Even if your friends can’t sew, you can put together a great costume with some creative sourcing. Both Landis and Lapidus suggest scouring thrift stores for your costume scores. “Do a Google image search and bring the photo with you,” recommends Landis. She also advises reaching out to local theater companies, which might have leftover costumes from recent productions. And if you don’t find what you want there -- and you have a bulky budget -- you can always check out a costume rental company.

Regardless of where you source your Halloween outfit this year, says Lapidus, once you get into costume, get into character, too. “Become somebody else. That total escape can be really wonderful.”

Photo Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/egorr

Make the best YouTube videos!

It’s one of Andy Warhol’s most popular quotes: “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” Nowadays it’s much easier to become famous -- and not just for a quarter of an hour. Because there is YouTube.

People all over the world drop by the YouTube website, watching two billion videos a day. And there are plenty of new clips to watch: Every second, users upload 24 hours worth of new stuff.

The best news: You don’t need to be a professional actor or singer to find fame via YouTube. With their online video, “Wo bist du, mein Sonnenlischt”, the German boy band Grup Tekkan stormed the charts up to 12th place (and their music was anything but awesome).

Want to be popular like a German boy group? Here’s how.

The Topic
Anything is doable. Whether you want to make music videos, chronicle your poodle washing dishes, or just make jokes -- try it. “The easiest videos work best,” says Matthias Sdun, filmmaker at the production company freeeye.tv in Hamburg. For first timers, Sdun recommends taking a shot at comedy -- any kind. “Primarily, YouTube still is an entertainment platform. Therefore, arouse emotions,” he says.

Skeptical? Check out “Die Außenseiter,” the YouTube channel -- in which two teenagers talk gibberish and perform skits -- are watched by hundreds of thousands. 

The Storyboard
Beginners need not be concerned about a concept. But if you want your opus to have a professional sheen, try mocking up a storyboard, sketching one scene at a time. While YouTube videos are short (the site only accepts video files up to 2GB in size and 10 minutes length), any scripted piece would benefit from following the same formula as a full-length motion picture. “Since Aristotle, classic screenplays consist of three parts. Keep that in mind since it guarantees easy structures,” says former TV moderator (of Pro7-magazines taff and Bizz fame) Dominik Bachmair, who currently works as a media trainer and manager. 

Part one serves to inspire the audience’s curiosity. Therefore start with some surprise that raises an interesting question. In the following middle section, lay out the important facts. And in part three, answer all questions and, urges Bachmair: “Finish your video with the best image and phrase -- everybody will remember this last scene.”

The Equipment
You can use a simple web cam (already integrated into many new computers) -- but poor quality video can make those hard to watch. For better quality and a superior viewing experience, splurge for a real camcorder. Just make sure said camera includes an audio jack for external microphones: If the distance from the camera to your performer exceeds half a meter, the camcorder’s boom microphone will fail to capture quality sound. Wireless microphones offer excellent value if you’re willing to splurge: They typically cost 150 Euro or more. “Don’t be stingy,” says Sdun. “The quality of a video is primarily influenced by quality of sound.”

How to Use the Camera
When it comes to handling your cam, just remember three rules: Don’t zoom; avoid shaking (if possible use a tripod); and don’t turn the cam away from the “set.”

Also, beginners should stick to three main shots: “wide shots” for lots of action; “medium shots” (chest to head) for character interaction and close-ups for intimate moments. Sticking to these shot guidelines are especially important for YouTube, since most videos are watched on small screens.

The Post-production
You’ll find good post-production software for less than 100 Euro. For example, try “Magics Video Deluxe” (there’s a free test version). Beginners can cut movies with freeware, too: Movie Maker (Windows) or iMovie (Apple) are often already installed. And how to cut your movie? “Avant-garde cuts hard,” states Sdun. “Only laymen use fadeouts or dissolve effects.”

The Publicity Campaign
Once you’ve uploaded your video to YouTube, you must call attention to it! Integrate it into your Facebook or VZ-network account or send its link as a Twitter notice to your friends. But the most effective way, advises Sdun, is to use the “video response” function in YouTube: Look for videos with a similar topic and a huge audience. Then write a comment and attach your video link -- the entire audience will get the message.

And with that, your 15 minutes begins (though we’re sure you can go into overtime).

Triumph With Your Own Beach Olympics

The Summer Olympics may come only once every four years, but the (tiki) torch lighting of your own Beach Olympics can happen any time -- as long as you’ve got sand, water, a volleyball net, a plastic flying disc and that age-old desire to pummel your buddies in contests of strength and stamina.

“Competing in events and being out on the beach brings out the inner athlete in everyone,” says Michelle Knight, co-owner of Adventures by the Sea, a Monterey, Calif.-based adventure-planning outfit.

Organizing tip No. 1: Limit your olympiad to a couple of hours at most so energy won’t drop and tempers won’t rise. Tip No. 2: Plan the individual events carefully.

“Choose games that will really appeal to everyone and match your group’s fitness level,” says Cynthia Shon, president of Bay Area, Calif.-based Corporate Games, an organization that helps companies foster team building among employees. “Remember that running around on sand is not easy.”

The events below -- picked by our dream team of athletic contest-organizing experts -- should ease your burden. And heck, most of these will work in a grassy park if there’s no beach around. What to use for gold medals is up to you.

Beach Volleyball
This is the one must-do contest in any Beach Olympics. Anyone who’s ever taken gym class already knows how to play. And thanks to the sand, taking a heroic dive for the ball will make you look like a stud without scraping or bruising. Traditional volleyball rules work great, but if you’ve got eight or more people, Kevin Vander Vliet, owner of Team Building California suggests this variation: Create four teams and set up four nets connecting at 90-degree angles in the center. (So the nets form an X.) If the ball’s served to you, you can hit it across to any of the other three teams. Normal rules for serves and point scoring apply. “It’s a lot of fun because if you have one team that’s really good, the others can gang up to beat them,” says Vander Vliet.
Official rules: Volleyball.com/rules.aspx

Sand Ultimate
This is another easy-to-organize, fun-to-play favorite. But when you’re on sand, the going is too slow for people to be sprinting all around the playing area, like in typical Ultimate. So Shon applies slightly different rules. “We mark off assigned boxes where one person from each team stays. That way there’s less running but people are still diving for the frisbee,” she says.
Official rules: UltimateHandbook.com

Flying Disc Golf
It’s adaptable to the terrain of just about any beach and easy to set up. If you’re using teams, then play by “scramble” rules like in real golf. Here’s how it goes: Everyone tees off. Choose whose throw on your team was the best, and then you and all your teammates take your second shot from where that disc landed. Repeat until reaching the end of the hole. “There’s great team interaction. There are always some people who have rarely, if ever, thrown a frisbee, and the other team members really get into teaching and helping them,” says Knight.
Official rules: Pdga.com/rules

Tug of War
This one needs little explaining. You can buy a thick rope made especially for the sport at FlagHouse.com. If you’re really ambitious, you can dig a shallow “pit of shame” for the losers to fall into.

Balloon Launch
A surprise favorite among the experts, chosen because it involves strength, aim and luck -- and requires the kind of open space a beach provides. You’ll need a three-person balloon launcher. (There’s one available at Amazon.com.) Then, instead of the hassle of filling up balloons, use foam balls (available at sporting goods stores) and soak them in water before you shoot. Points can be scored based on distance or for hitting specific targets.

Relay Race
This is the grueling grand finale -- much of what’s in it will be based on your imagination, as well as the terrain, size and crowdedness of the beach.

As part of the relay, you can have a kayak race, a fill-the-bucket-with-water event using only your hands, a three-legged race in the water, a beach chair obstacle course or a combat crawl through the sand (maybe under a fishnet).

Vander Vliet recommends you include elements that involve brains over brawn as part of the relay, like a jigsaw puzzle that the team has to complete before advancing (very “Survivor”-esque, no?). “Putting in mental elements is an equalizer if one team is better physically than the other,” he says.

One team challenge that combines both the physical and mental aspects is a paper plate minefield. Blindfold one person per team, and have his teammates verbally guide him around the plates, from one end of the minefield to the other. If he steps on one, he starts over. The options are limitless.
Official rules: Wikipedia.org



Useful TV Shows to Make You a Better Man

Still struggling to find your masculine mojo? Or maybe you’re just looking to torque up your sense of style, witty banter or modern-music street cred. If you’re looking to be a better man (and we assume that’s why you’re here!), it might not hurt to take a peek at your telly for some “TV Guy-dance.” (Oh, yes, we did!)

That’s right, many of the best role models can be found right in your living room! Here are a few useful TV shows we recommend you monitor closely to help you get your man on.

1. Suit up in style.
You don’t have to show up for work looking like the guy who’s there to water the plants anymore. Check out “Mad Men”’s Don Draper and the rest of the retro dudes who’ve set fashion back 40 years -- and gotten a whole lot of women being a lot more nostalgic as a result of their backward-thinking fashion statements. Think: seer-sucker suits, slicked-back hair and super-skinny ties making everything old new and hot again. So if you want to cut a stylish look in the future, take a step back into the ’60s, son.

2. Get in tune with the coolest new bands.

Before “Scrubs” flatlined this season, it held the distinct honor of being the venue for the coolest tunes on the tube. Rock, pop and indie artists used to fight for the right to have their stuff wind up in the ending montages that summed up each episode’s themes. Artists who scrubbed in included Lazlo Blane, The Shins and the Butthole Surfers.

But since this useful TV show went belly up in March, the best place to get a diagnosis of the best new beats is (sigh) the girly “Grey’s Anatomy.” Always featuring new -- and surprising -- cool acts, each episode is themed and named after a song. (The show was instrumental in launching the careers of Snow Patrol and The Fray.)

Also, if you can repeat this information to any girl (we have scientific data that proves they worship this show), they’ll find you sensitive and open-minded.

3. Learn how to treat a woman … by watching football!

It turns out that some of the most sensitive and supportive men play or coach football. Surprised? Don’t be -- this is a TV show we’re talking about.

The men and boys on “Friday Night Lights” are largely solid citizens (when they’re not juicing or boozing, that is). But when they’re standing up, they’re standup guys.

The high school coach makes sure his players follow his game plan as he dutifully respects and works for his loving wife -- who also happens to be the principal. And this season, the star quarterback is willing to follow the golden rules when he steps out of bounds and knocks up a cheerleader. He wants to take care of the girl and the baby and be a dad.

In every case, when the guys are under the gun, they take care of their women with all-star style. Follow their playbook, and you’ll score with any woman.

4. Get your black belt in banter.

Want to be the funniest guy in the room without having to take off your pants … again? Then watch the better-man-friendly “30 Rock.” Pilfer a healthy dose of dialogue from this useful TV show, inject it into your real-life shtick, and you’ll never lack for wit again.

Take this exchange between Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) and boss man Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) as a quality case study of classic comebacks. Her question: “Why are you wearing a tuxedo?” His answer? “It’s after 6. What am I, a farmer?”

Looking for more versatile quips? Try these other classic “Rock” classics:

  • “I want to go to there.”

    Faux overstatement, phrased to mimic preschool-type desire for something. Works great to express instant overpowering infatuation with a lady.
  • “What the what?!?”

    To express dumbfoundedness in a way that conveys hip, ironic wit to the elite class (while simultaneously mocking the vulgar and illiterate classes).
  • “Oh … sarcasm!”

    A sarcastic way of acknowledging lame sarcasm expressed by others.
  • “Well played, [insert your foil’s name here]. Well played.”

    A tongue-in-cheek, pseudo-classic-gentlemanly way of acknowledging victory to a foe relating to an issue that ultimately lacks importance. Hyperbolic.