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Girls’ Halloween Costumes: “Sexy” or Nothing

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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).

The ubiquitous and exclusive nature of the “sexy” costume has passed the threshold of reason into what-the-heckery. Cracked.com, in their article “26 Sexy Halloween Costumes That Shouldn’t Exist,” sums up the extent to which the costume industry has gone to sexualize the strangest things. To be fair, a few guy’s costumes made the list, but the overwhelming majority of the outrageous costumes are intended for women.

These costumes run the gamut from bafflingly stupid to stupefyingly horrible. Stop and ponder for a moment who thought it was a good idea to create a “Sexy Nemo” costume (that’s right, the clownfish of Finding Nemo) or a “Sexy Big Bird” costume. The mere fact that these costumes exist—and that somebody finds them sexy—blows my mind.

Personally, I value a costume for its cleverness, creepiness, and creativity. With a bit of effort, a Halloween costume can be a witty visual pun, a terrifying spectacle, or a showcase of a technical marvel. Conversely, it takes no effort and no brains to throw on some lingerie and a pair of stilettos and call it a costume. Granted, I’m not demanding that everyone spend months constructing incredibly complex costumes, but you have to admit, it’s unbelievably cool to see the result of some dedicated craftsmanship.

At this point, you may be wondering why I’m prattling on about a fairly insignificant topic that surfaces but once a year. I suppose that it’s the underlying message of the “sexy” costume that irks me. The fact that women’s costumes are nearly homogeneously “sexy” sends the message that girls are expected to dress this way for Halloween and—worse—are expected to want to dress this way. As a girl who rarely if ever saw anything appealing in the girls’ section of the costume catalogue, I’m of the opinion that if a young woman doesn’t particularly care to dress as a princess and wants to be a robot or a superhero, I think she should be given that option.

To be clear, I couldn’t care less what other girls wear on Halloween. That’s their choice and they’re free to make it. Personally, I just want to have fun and be comfortable in whatever I wear on Halloween, and it bugs me that that’s not presented as an easy, obvious option.

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About Alyssa Grimley