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Hallowe’en: Fighting the Sexy Costume Culture

At this time of year, it’s hard to avoid the ugly spectre of sexism and sexualisation that hits you smack in the face (a poltergeist, if you will). Hallowe’en has become one of the most unashamed – one of the crudest – demonstrations of the principle that boys are for engaging with and girls are for looking at.

If you want to froth at the mouth and steam at the ears a bit, hit Google; there are plenty of round-ups of particularly baffling ‘sexy’ Hallowe’en costumes – many based on children’s characters or toys. Yes, this is a sexy crayon and, in the biggest display of pure what-the-fuckery I’ve come across so far, a sexy Nemo.

But I want to step away from the Hallowe’en horror of the wrong sort for a moment, and instead offer a slightly more positive perspective, with some great costume ideas for families. Inspired by my fellow Bea-ists, the Baby Gender Diary bloggers, I want to give alternatives that are appropriate and fun for everyone. My feeling is that if little (and medium, and even bigger) ones can be part of a family approach to clever and comfy costumes, they might not grow up feeling that women have an obligation to flash as much flesh as possible.*

So, if you’re invited to a party, trick or treating or simply want to dress up for fun or to impress the kids this Hallowe’en, here are some of my favourite costume inspirations in the hope that it gets you thinking; I’d love to hear more inventive ideas from readers, too.

1. Monsters, Inc.

A perennial favourite, and coming back again as Monsters University teasers appear. It’s a great one for doing a family theme, because of the panoply of odd-looking characters that take the focus away from body shape and size and onto creativity and colourfulness. There are masses of child-size ready made costumes on ebay, and I found a great ‘make your own Boo’ tutorial if you’re crafty types.

2. Meg and Mog

One for that’s particularly good for a family of three with a toddler (don’t dress up the cat). Meg’s witch outfit is incredibly simple and practical, Mog’s stripy, rotund cat is as far from a slinky catsuit as it gets, and someone gets to be a smug-looking white owl. Doesn’t get much better than that.

3, Dr Seuss

This one is as simple or complicated as you want to make it, really. The obvious choice is The Cat in the Hat – I’m pretty sure it’s a good thing I don’t have twins, as they’d be perpetually decked out as Thing One and Thing Two – but I can see my daughter dressing up in a fuzzy suit and forcing a big Play Doh plate of green eggs and ham at everyone. And I have to admit that I’m weirdly drawn to this Lorax accessory kit

4. School Costumes and other Gender-free Classics

Wait – no, not school uniform; aside from the fact that I don’t even want to search for women’s school outfits cos I know what I find will make me angry, I think there’s the option to be a lot more creative. For example, you could each pick your favourite subject and dress up in something that represents it; hell, celebrate some learning while you’re fleecing people out of sweets. Were we to do this, I could see my husband (a graphic designer) as a paintbrush, me as a library and our daughter as a musical instrument. And if you want to go a slightly more classic Hallowe’en route, there’s always the ‘mad’ scientist.

For other gender-free ideas that you can make as simple and improvised or as complex and crafty as you like, try animals and food. Endless variation!

5. Historical Costume

If you want to get really complicated and stuck in (or spend a lot of money), delving into the past – both recent and distant – can be a great way to explore a theme and start a discussion about what clothes represent and how they’ve changed over time. It’s also a way to access whatever the school history project of the moment is (and frankly, from a costume-making point of view, you’ll be lucky if it’s the Romans).

Whatever you pick, I hope you have a happy Hallowe’en. And in case you think I’m all about the fun: don’t forget to brush your teeth.

*Of course, no-one has a problem with an adult making a conscious decision to go for a sexy look; but there is a problem when it’s the default.

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About Alexandra Roumbas Goldstein

I'm a blogger, social media manager, mum, film fan, feminist and food freak in any order you like. I will shoehorn Disney into any conversation. Follow me @mokuska.

4 comments on “Hallowe’en: Fighting the Sexy Costume Culture

  1. Jennifer S
    October 12, 2012

    *There is also a problem when children are exposed to so many sexy adult costume choices they grow up to interpret Halloween as a holiday which stands for pointless exhibitionism and attention-seeking clothing choices. Not to mention these “sexy crayon” type costumes are often inappropriate for the weather, occasion and tradition. Why this fun children’s holiday had to be co-opted as yet another societal opportunity to display women’s bodies as if they were 3D posters of underwear models is beyond my comprehension. Don’t we get enough of that already? Can’t we leave Halloween for the children?

    Great post.

    • Alex
      October 12, 2012

      Thanks Jennifer! I very much agree that it’s yet another exhausting example of misogyny being alive and well.

      (And yes – the weather! How on earth do women go out in so little in such cold?!)

  2. Bad Mom Confidential
    October 13, 2012

    Reblogged this on badmomconfidential and commented:
    I could not agree more that Halloween is about the children and not bodies. I saw a little girl dressed weirdly as a sexy cupcake. Unfortunately, it did nto turn me off cupcakes for good. It did remind me of Peggy Orenstein’s lecture called, “Cinderella Ate my Daughter!” She is a great blogger and talks extensively about the sexualization of girls in the Disney princess phenomena. Nice post, Bea.

    • Alex
      October 16, 2012

      Thanks very much! Orenstein has a lot of interesting, sensible – sometimes scary – things to say. And if you haven’t hung out at the Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies Facebook page before, I strongly recommend it – I think you’ll enjoy the discussions there. 🙂

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