Another View of Sexualized Costumes

As more fodder for the never-ending discussion about how women are portrayed in superhero comics, I found this NY Times article on female Halloween costumes that expressed many of the same concerns and justifications.

In her thigh-highs and ruby miniskirt, Little Red Riding Hood does not appear to be en route to her grandmother’s house. And Goldilocks, in a snug bodice and platform heels, gives the impression she has been sleeping in everyone’s bed. There is a witch wearing little more than a Laker Girl uniform, a fairy who appears to shop at Victoria’s Secret and a cowgirl with a skirt the size of a tea towel.

Anyone who has watched the evolution of women’s Halloween costumes in the last several years will not be surprised that these images — culled from the websites of some of the largest Halloween costume retailers — are more strip club than storybook. Or that these and other costumes of questionable taste will be barely covering thousands of women who consider them escapist, harmless fun on Halloween.

… Dr. Nelson, a professor of sociology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, said the trend toward overtly sexualized costumes actually begins with little girls.

… many women think that showing off their bodies “is a mark of independence and security and confidence,” said Pat Gill, … a professor of gender and women’s studies

… Many women’s costumes, with their frilly baby-doll dresses and high-heeled Mary Janes, also evoke male Lolita fantasies and reinforce the larger cultural message that younger is hotter.

… Ms. Getz of said she wished there were more sexy men’s costumes on the market and that the lack of them is but further evidence of the gender double standard.

There’s more in the article, which ends by reminding the reader that Halloween takes place in the fall and in some places, it’s awfully cold to be wearing so little clothing.

Here’s a reprint of a similar piece, although from a more personal point of view.

Personally, I never considered buying a costume of this sort, because they always looked cheap and uncomfortable to me. I either cobble something together or just don’t bother. The only place I have to wear a costume is work, anyway, and that puts a restriction on choices to what’s considered “appropriate”. Instead of purchasing something, whatever happened to ideas and creativity being the most important costume elements?

12 Responses to “Another View of Sexualized Costumes”

  1. David Oakes Says:

    “Imagination” and “Creativity” went the way of “Writing a personal greeting” when the Party-Greeting Card Complex realized that people were shelling out money for Halloween second only to X-mas. “Ideas” are now an end-cap display, at 10% of suggested retail.

    The funny thing is, even for the most sexualized costumes – “Adult” stores have a big push for Halloween – it isn’t just a lack of male sexuality, but a complete absence. Ads tout “Theme Costumes” for couples, making it even more obvious:

    A Witch wearing three strategic cobwebs is paired with a Vampire in a tux, vest, and full length cape.

    A Cop in thigh high boots and barely one button in her top is arresting a Prisoner in a grey, baggy jumpsuit, with hat.

    An exaggerated Ho (and yes, that is a “costume” these days, I am ashamed to admit) belongs to an even more exaggerated Pimp, in oversized leisure suit, full length fur coat, giant afro, and floppy hat, to the point there could be anyone – or anythree – under it all.

    Even a comedic “Ball and Chain” dress the woman in a skimpy length of coil man is completely engulfed in a giant sphere. Just like in comics, women are hypersexualized while men are neutered.

  2. rhandir Says:

    That similar piece that you linked to was well done. Cool.

    I’ve been thinking that Halloween has drifted into being a modern, christian-conservative Feast of Fools. Gluttony, avarice, pranks, revenge are all part of the celebration, as well as occult themed movies, stories, artwork, and food (gummy eyes anybody?) Things totally taboo in modern white suburban pseudo-baptist midwestern america. The fact that they/we are now getting into “hawt cosplay” shouldn’t surprise anybody – the impulse to dress up and behave inappropriately has been part of halloween for a long, long time.

    I agree the lack of “nifty cosplay”, i.e. good, interesing, non-sexualized costumes for women is really, really disapointing. I mean, if you get a day to try on a different persona, or a different role, being strong, or heroic should be on the table. (Or being cute or wicked without having to be sexy at the same time.) Ditto for us guys – I mean you’d never mistake my friends for bishonen, but some of them could get some milage out of those stereotypes for a day of fun.

    Personally, I blame the handful of buyers for Target/walmart/halloweentown/etc who determine what is actually going to be sold – clearly they want to exploit this for all its worth, and they’ve lost their balance.

    One of the articles sort of suggested that men’s adult costumes seem to be about self-humiliation. (I’m thinking of a foam toilet costume I’ve seen.) If the marketers and buyers see adult costumes as being about ritual humiliation, it is troubling that this would imply that women’s mode of being humiliated in our society is about being excessivly sexy.

    I don’t know if I buy that interpretation as why some women like hawt cosplay – thats most likely about breaking rules of propriety (or breaking roles) like the rest of halloween – but it’s reasonable to assume that the handful of marketers and buyers that run distribution would think this way. (I also have a hunch that this is the only way some conservative christian guys can ever persuade their spouses to dress up for sexy roleplay without being called a pervert.)

  3. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Johanna, I have to point out that Google Ad Sense is anything but. I’m reading this post next to a ad that says “Sexy Costumes” and shows a woman in a French Maid outfit. I don’t fault you wanting to make a little money to pay for bandwith, I just wish you had better control over content. I notice that many, if not most, ads Google picks are the opposite of your opinions.

    P.S. You didn’t even mention the new Wizard cover.

  4. Rob S. Says:

    Y’know, probably the best costume I ever had used a lot of the halloween pimpwear. I added some floppy bunny ears to the hat, got some white rabbit hands and feet, and then started hot-gluing sugar cereal to the buttons and trim of the pimp outfit. I was the Trix Rabbit! I had a cereal-based sales patter and everything.

  5. James Schee Says:

    Odd, this is very similiar to a discussion a friend and I were having last week. She’s like me and works a lot of hours so doesn’t have time to make her costume, but wants to go to a costume party with her boyfriend.

    She was really excited after seeing what looked like a Rainbow Bright(a favorite from her childhood) costume, until she went to get it and discovered it was very much in the icky mode.

    Of course then she decided to just be Supergirl, and was glad when I said to be sure it was the classic Supergirl and not the bare midriff version.

  6. Ragnell Says:

    Looks like I’ll be crossdressing this Halloween.

  7. Johanna Says:

    David, great point about the paired costumes. And I was astounded when I saw pimp ‘n’ ho costumes promoted for kids in an ad flyer a few years back.

    Rhandir, yeah, I’m having flashbacks to my grad school reading on reversal festivals and how they provided excuses to break the rules in very rigid societies.

    Ed, I know, I know — seems the only picture ads anyone wants to run on a comic site involve schoolgirl outfits or furries. And I didn’t mention Wizard because I don’t see it any more. I don’t miss it at all. :) But what were you referring to?

    Rob, see, THAT’s what I meant about ideas! Clever!

  8. Lyle Says:

    David, some of those paired costumes get really blatant. I remember seeing a neanderthal paring, the cave woman’s costume was a bikini with tattered cloth over it while the cave man was a Fred Flinstone-ish muumuu.

    Rhandir, I’ve a couple friends who sometimes sport that sort of skimpy costume for Halloween. They do seem to have fun with it, but yeah it’s a matter of wearing something or playing a role they normally wouldn’t.

    On a semi-related tangent, my office neighbor and I spent lunch googling and comparing recipes for fake blood. She’s buying a white dress at a thrift shop and going as Carrie, but wanted to find a fake blood recipe that wouldn’t have the host hating her for leaving red stains all over the apartment.

    My favorite original costume I’ve heard of was a couple guys who covered themselves in black, attached a brightly-colored piece of cardboard to their back and were iPod billboards.

  9. Rachel N. Says:

    This is raunch culture at work. For more about where this “so-called liberated deference to male attention spans” came from, I recommend giving “Female Chauvinist Pigs” a read. It was very enlightening.

  10. Melissa Says:


    Just wanted to let you know I linked to your blog in my column on today. Thanks!

    If you want to take a look, here’s the link.



  11. Aquaria Says:

    If I’d had a daughter, I would have taken her out for Halloween with me dressed up as Hester Prynne, and her dressed up as little Pearl.

    My former sister-in-law and her husband were the all-time creativity champs at Halloween costumes, though. One year, they went as Fiji head hunters. They wore grass skirts and freaky amulets and weird contraptions on their heads. The SIL was a beautician, and the husband cheerfully let her give him hair extensions on his beard, to give him that creepy, long-beard voodoo look. They carried bloodied heads on spears. Have no fear: She cadged some wigheads from her work, painted them, and stuck them on broomsticks.

    The next year, they went as Mr. and Mrs. Scratch ‘n’ Sniff. They wore full body stockings and–yep!–covered themselves in Scratch ‘n’ Sniff cards. Totally hilarious!

  12. This Is Just Wrong: Sexy Sesame Street Costumes » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] I’m mostly posting this to scare KC, since he and I hate Elmo. (“Elmo loves you” sounds vaguely like a threat to me.) But let’s look at the costume a bit more. First off, since when did “sexy” become code for “girl version of costume”? Take anything, chop it off into a miniskirt, and voila! It’s trampy Halloween time! […]




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