Thinking of clever Halloween costumes has proven to be quite difficult for many people. A lot of us want to be something that is original and creative, yet still recognizable. Even though it seems quite simple to comprehend, apparently it is nearly impossible to do this without being offensive. It seems especially difficult to do this for the people who set examples in our society, whether that’s politicians, celebrities or other people in the public eye. It seems every year around Halloween, it gets brought to everyone’s attention that a public figure has worn some blatantly offensive costume to a Halloween party they went to within the past ten years. To most of us, it seems like wearing costume attire that is misogynistic, racist, transphobic or just disrespectful is an extremely bad idea for more reasons than one. Disrespectful costumes negatively affect those they are mocking and end up doing more harm than good. Somehow this still appears to be a recurring issue for those who can’t quite grasp the concept. So for those of you who are guilty of this, here is your guide for Halloween and how you can dress up while being respectful (and not a complete idiot).
When coming up with your costume, try and avoid costumes that are directly stealing from or mocking different cultures. This act is often referred to as cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the practices, customs, or aesthetics of one social or ethnic group by members of another (typically dominant) community or society.” The first costume that comes to mind here is dressing up as Native American, involving headdresses and feathers as part of your get-up. Another popular costume includes those mocking Hispanic culture with the extensive use of sombreros and racist stereotypes.
Of course we can’t forget Justin Trudeau’s favorite type of disrespectful costume: blackface. For those who are unaware, blackface is referred to as the act of darkening one’s skin with theatrical makeup to appear as a different race (most commonly black). This was an extremely popular practice in 19th century theater. Since people of color couldn’t act in theater themselves, it was common for white actors to play those roles. To try and mimic these characters’ appearances, they would use makeup to blacken their skin and hair. Blackface is deeply problematic for many reasons and has the potential to invoke serious historical trauma. For non-Black people to “dress up” as Black is tone deaf. It should go unsaid that since the act of blackface is extremely offensive, and it should not be used in any sort of costume. It is necessary to think about the people that you could possibly be offending by mocking their culture with a costume. If you would not want to wear this costume in front of someone who belongs to the culture you are mocking, should you be wearing it?
Another get-up to avoid for Halloween is any costume that involves mocking transgender people. The most popular ones specifically involve making a joke of transgender women. It should be noted that dressing up in drag on Halloween is different from mocking trans women for a costume. Dressing up in drag on Halloween may be a popular way to experiment with your own gender. With that being said, on the website “BrandsOnSale,” under the very fittingly titled Offensive Costumes section, there is a costume listed under the name “Adult Lady Boy.” The costume is a silver dress with spaghetti straps and what is described as “fabric male genitalia at the front of the dress.” This utterly transphobic mess retails for a whopping $89.99 and believe it or not, is completely out of stock. It shouldn’t have to be explained to anyone that using this costume is actively mocking members of the trans community. Apparently this is not as obvious as it seems because of how normalized the mocking of transgender men and women is. The term “ladyboy” is used as a term to describe trans sex workers, most commonly in the Philippines. When it is used in this context of describing someone, the term “lady boy” is derogatory towards someone who is identifying as a woman, but may look “like a man” to some. This costume, or ones that are similar to it, should definitely not be considered.
One more ensemble that should be avoided is any one that is making fun of sexual assault or harrassment. Few people consider sexual violence a joke, but unfortunately many use this type of assault as a punch line. Sexual violence is a very serious topic that should not be considered for a costume. A popular example of this is a costume titled “the flasher.” This costume is usually a pale flesh colored jumpsuit with typically male genitalia which is covered up by a long brown trench coat. Now, it should not have to be explicitly said, but this costume is extremely offensive. Like many other costumes that have been mentioned, this costume is possibly seen as mocking towards survivors of sexual violence. Not only could it be seen as mocking, but it could also be triggering to survivors. Reenacting this situation of someone being flashed can be destructive to those around the one sporting this attire. It is also making folks around bear witness to a sexual act that they may not consent to.
Costumes are a fun way to connect with one another based on shared interests and can be potential conversation starters, but seeing your culture or a group you identify with reduced to a joking costume is extremely detrimental to those who belong to those groups. It’s understandable that some people’s goals with their costume are to be provocative and dark, but at the end of the day, making cultures feel seen and appreciated as opposed to appropriated is far more important than making a few of your buddies laugh. It should be simple to think of a costume that is authentic and receives positive reactions while avoiding being openly offensive. If it is more difficult than that, simply don’t dress up. Halloween is the one day a year when you can be someone else. Don’t use it as a day to be a racist fool.