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Girls’ Halloween Costumes: “Sexy” or Nothing

It’s that time of year again. Grocery store aisles are crammed with bags of candy, pumpkin patches are cropping up on street corners, and, of course, costumes have appeared in the Halloween super-stores. And once again, my familiar frustration with the holiday flares up.

Don’t get me wrong—I love Halloween. The sugary confections, creepy stories, and cheesy movies are always welcome. It’s one specific aspect of the holiday that never ceases to irk me: the women’s Halloween costumes.

As I’m sure any casual observer of the holiday has noticed, Halloween has inexplicably evolved (or devolved) into an excuse for girls to dress provocatively for a night. To the deafening chorus of “Your point being?” emanating from my male audience, I’d like to point out the age of the female consumers at whom the costume industry begins pushing these racy styles.

I distinctly remember being a pre-teen and wanting to dress as a ghost or a ninja and seeing nothing but rows of belly-baring outfits in the teen section of the costume catalogue. Let me tell you, as a fairly shy, introverted young girl, walking around my neighborhood half-clothed on a chilly October night did not appeal to me in the slightest (to say nothing of how my parents would react to my immodesty).

This line of costume was unattractive to me both for its impracticality and for the fact that it was out of the bounds of my personal taste: I don’t know about other girls, but when I was younger I had no desire to dress “sexily” on Halloween. From my point of view, those revealing costumes were “adult,” and as a kid I had no desire to be anything but a kid. To me, Halloween meant dressing up as something cool or creepy. I soon discovered that as a young girl, this simple desire was not so easily fulfilled.

I almost feel that I could ignore the ubiquitous trashy costumes were it not for the raging double-standard inherent in them. I came across the dichotomy between male and female Halloween costumes at an early age.

“It’s not fair,” I’d complain to my parents as I leafed through the glossy pages of the Party City catalogue that came in the mail each year. “All the guys’ costumes look normal—why don’t the girls’?”

The side-by-side comparisons of the male and female versions of a costume made the distinction between the two blatantly obvious. A boy’s pirate costume, for instance, included knee-length coattails, weathered-looking boots, and an impressive feathered hat. The girl’s costume, on the other hand, was comprised of a red miniskirt, a tiny corset, and high heels.

My young mind conceived a great injustice: boys were allowed to be whatever they wanted to be, but girls were left with no option but the sexed-up versions of the boys’ costumes. I think what bothered me the most is that I wasn’t given the option of being the “real thing.” As a kid who dreamed of becoming a pirate, I was incensed. If I chose to dress up as a pirate, by God, I wanted to look like the real thing, not like a waitress at a seafood joint.

It’s not the promiscuity implied by the costumes that bothers me (although I personally don’t wish to dress that way). What bothers me is the fact that it’s gotten to the point where, out of the multitude of women’s costumes, there are only a handful that don’t involve bare midriffs, short skirts, or plunging necklines. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that if I ever wished to dress as anything besides a slutty pirate or nurse, I would have to either purchase a boy’s costume or make my own (I have done both).

About Alyssa Grimley