Please allow me to introduce you to a superstar with the most elaborate Halloween costume wardrobe you could possibly imagine.
Axl Rose. Beyoncé. Prince. Michael Scott. She’s been all of these characters and dozens more, participating in photo shoots and appearing to much fanfare on social media every day during the month of October for the last two years.
Oh wait. Did I forget to mention she’s only 20 months old?
That’s the best part.
Bridget — affectionately nicknamed Nugget or Nug by her parents — is the daughter of my high school friend Jennifer Compton. Jennifer is an optometrist by day. But those of us who didn’t know this side of her quickly learned on October 1, 2016, that Jennifer moonlights as a baby Halloween costume enthusiast. She set out last year to post a photo a day in October of her 8-month-old daughter, meticulously dressed in 31 different costumes complete with appropriate props and scenes. Just for the fun of it.
Jennifer’s favorite costumes out of all 62 are, from left, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, elderly lady at the local grocery store, a banana and Dog the Bounty Hunter. “Just because of how darn cute/happy/funny she looks. … These were also some of the easiest, most natural ones we took. She seemed to be having a good time and I think it shows.”
And boy were they good. As I followed Jennifer and Bridget on Facebook and Instagram (@thenuggleisreal), each post was more creative than the one before it. So many great characters. So many great ideas. Jennifer said last year she wouldn’t do it again, but when I saw Bridget’s photo while scrolling Instagram on October 1 dressed like Audrey Hepburn in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, my delight may or may not have been audible (I cannot confirm or deny).
As I’ve tuned in daily to see who Bridget is going to be next, it began to occur to me how meticulously planned all of this must be. I’ve spent the last month at P&P talking about content planning, and this seemed to be the perfect case study. So I reached out to Jennifer to ask her a few questions about how she executes this incredibly creative and adorable campaign.
What did I learn? You can plan the heck out of a great idea — and with a toddler, a good amount of that is necessary — but it’s also important to let your creative juices flow in the moment. To embrace the adrenaline rush of a fun project.
Jennifer does both. Below are excerpts from my questions to her. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did, and learn a little from it as you plan to scratch your own creative itch. And please, for the love of Mike, check out @thenuggleisreal on Instagram. You will not regret it.
Q: Walk me through how you first decided to do this, and why.
Jennifer: To be honest, I really don’t remember why I originally started this. My mom was always the one who loved Halloween and dressing up. We always dressed up as kids, but I don’t remember really even getting into Halloween as an adult. I think my original intent was to let my mom have Halloween with her granddaughter and that be their thing, but I realized that there were so many cute costumes/ideas I had that I wanted to do with her too. I also know that Bridget is going to be my only baby, so we really do try to enjoy her and our time with her. And she’s an incredibly happy and funny kid, so that helps.
And as I type this, I realize that I have never filled my mother in on this plan or relinquished control of the Halloween costume picking-out. I need to fix that.
I didn’t intend to do it again, because I knew she’d be mobile this year and much more independent (which she is), making it that much more difficult to get photos. I also felt like we set the bar pretty high last year, and I didn’t want to disappoint others or myself. However, I got the idea for Beyoncé, the picture made me happy, and after that it was a done deal. I was all in. This project, as goofy as it is, also scratches a creative itch for me. I spend most of my days saying, “Which one is better, one or two?” I love my job, but it wasn’t the most creative career choice. I feel the most like me when I embrace that part of my personality.
Q: When do you begin planning what costumes you want to use?
Jennifer: I have mom brain, so I have to keep lists. I have a running list on my phone of random costume ideas. There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to any of it. But if it sounds promising, I add it to the list. And yes, I start well in advance. And although my plan is to have all photos finished by October so that we can just enjoy the month before the holiday busy season begins, I never quite make that deadline. I started this summer deciding which costumes we’d do and seeing what I already had that I could use for costumes and what I’d need to order. I try to reuse parts from one costume to make another. Feels less wasteful (and expensive) that way.
Q: How do you choose your costume ideas? I notice that a lot of them are pop culture/music related, any particular reason?
Jennifer: There’s no plan here. If something randomly pops in my head or catches my interest, I add it to the list. My husband and I usually find the pop culture ones to be the most entertaining, so you’ll see a lot of that. SNL is a definite source of inspiration. Occasionally, if I need some “fillers,” I’ll Pinterest a costume or purchase one on Amazon.
Q: Where do you find your costumes, sets and props? What was the most unique/interesting prop that you found yourself purchasing?
Jennifer: Like I said earlier, I try to reuse things as much as possible. I do not like waste and it makes me feel much better if I can transform a part of one costume into another one. I had a vest left over from a suit that I had ordered for last year’s Michael Scott/The Office costume. It was the inspiration for Dog the Bounty Hunter. Dog the Bounty Hunter’s pleather pants (who knew anyone even made those in toddler sizes?) were then cut off to become the tall leather boots for the Julia Roberts Pretty Woman costume. The wig I had ordered for the Victoria’s Secret Angel costume was then cut into a glorious mullet for Dog the Bounty Hunter. Cutting a mullet was much more challenging than I had thought, by the way. So, most of the items get reused and transformed into another costume. Some of the costumes that do not get transformed, I will sell. I’ve had some luck selling them on the Facebook marketplace and at our local Kiddy Kats consignment sale.
I’m not sure of the most interesting prop. I will say that I was slightly embarrassed when I bought all the “golden years” products that we put as props in the shopping cart for the old lady picture outside of Food Fair (a local grocery in Somerset). Not that I feel young in any way, shape or form in my late 30s, but I did find myself not making eye contact with the clerk checking me out when I bought fiber, Centrum Silver, Quaker Oats, Ben-Gay, hemorrhoid cream, etc.
Q: Do you take photos and make social media posts daily, or do you schedule them in advance?
Jennifer: We spend most weekends in September and October taking as many photos as we can. Although we post one a day, over half of them are already completed by October 1. We are like most other married couples with young children — busy, running all over the place and just making it through the week hoping not to have forgotten anything we were responsible for. Brett and I usually talk at bedtime and figure out which picture we want to post the next day. … If we have favorites or pictures that we think are going to be crowd pleasers, we do tend to try to hold them toward the end of the month. I feel like people are expecting there to be a grand finale-type October 31 post. There’s definitely not, but sometimes I feel like the expectation is there. However, then I just remind myself that it’s all in good fun and there really is something for everyone. My stepdaughter also likes to be involved in some of the pictures, so I try to scatter those out throughout the month so that she feels important throughout the project as well.
Q: How does Bridget handle all of this? Do you have tricks for keeping her engaged and cooperative?
Jennifer: She’s incredibly tolerant of my goofy ideas. I don’t have any other babies to compare to, but she’ll wear anything. She likes glasses. She doesn’t love wigs, but if distracted, she’ll forget they’re there. The big challenge this year was getting her to stand still long enough to get a photo in focus. In many of the photos, she’ll have a prop or something in her hands. This definitely helps and keeps her from taking off pieces of her costume. She has many entertaining facial expressions, but her smile is our favorite. Her sister, Maime, is excellent at getting her to smile. She’s been a wonderful help. Other than that, there’s a lot of music playing (Bridget very much likes Johnny Cash and Pitbull), dancing, playing Puppy Dog Pals and PJ Masks theme songs to get her attention. Anything goes. Thankfully no one usually witnesses these photo sessions!
Q: What lessons have you learned doing this? About yourself or the process?
Jennifer: I have learned that I’m probably going to need to give our postman and UPS driver a bigger holiday gift after all the Amazon packages they’ve delivered here over the past two years. They probably hate me. I’ve learned that although I am a perfectionist, to just let go and have fun with it. I can’t control everything, but usually the end result ends up being better than what I had concocted in my brain because it has the touch of my daughter and husband as well. And I am a much happier and truer version of myself when I have a creative project to immerse myself in.
Q: Do you have any advice for anyone considering taking on a project like this?
Jennifer: Hobby Lobby 40-percent-off coupons — use ‘em! I’ve joked with others that your child will need a fund for future therapy copays after all this.
Q: Do you think you’ll do it again next year? Why or why not?
Jennifer: I don’t know. I think a lot of it depends on how these toddler years progress, and if I have enough ideas for the future. I’d love to just because it’s fun putting something non-political or dividing on social media. I like anything that makes you smile or laugh or gives a momentary distraction from a bad day/week/month/year. So much of the feedback I get from people is that it does just this. So although it’s silly and not particularly meaningful, that’s good enough for me.
Thank you, Jennifer and Bridget, for making people smile with this project. Happy Halloween, y’all!