Women and Halloween Costumes

Halloween is coming up and I’m not sure about you, but I’m already preparing my Halloween costume.

Holloween costumes are certainly an eye-catcher, whether it be homemade or storebought there are thousands of choices and inspirations for you to create the perfect costume this fall. Do you ever wonder what is the history of Halloween costumes? When did we go from simple homemade to Americans spending 3 billion dollars a year on store-bought? Why does it feel like women are limited to only buying “sexy” Halloween costumes?

Dressing up in costumes for Halloween became popular in America in the early 20th century, as much for kids as for adults. Most costumes were themed fashion, with pumpkins or bats adorning popular clothing styles of the time. Costumes meant to depict actual ghouls or animals followed the same pattern, fitting the structure of popular fashion with maybe a hood or a themed hat.

143628844_a8d188732e.jpgIn the 1930s, store bought costumes were becoming more common for children. A thin silkscreened shirt, shorts, and mask combo were less than $3 and could be bought at department stores like J.C. Penney and Sears. Early costumes were ghouls like ghosts or witches, but companies soon attained licenses for characters like Minnie Mouse or Spiderman, making character costumes easier to buy than create at home.

Modern Halloween costumes gained ground with adults in the 70s, a turbulent time when everyone was reassessing core values. People wanted to push the boundaries of normality by wearing more provoking costumes. The sexual revolution brought skirt hems shorter, both in fashion and on Halloween. This trend continues to this day, when having half your butt out out is considered fashionable.

The hypersexualization of women exists all throughout the year but manifests most visibly around Halloween. Some argue that the costumes are for women taking control and representing their own bodies, and there is nothing wrong with that. When a woman makes the choice of wearing something she feels confident in then we should support her. The problem is women, and young girls, are limited in choosing Halloween costumes. According to one retailer, 90% of store bought costume choices for women fall under the “sexy” category. Advertisements only depict thin, fit young women; ostracizing women of all other body types. This can’t instill a lot of confidence in women who don’t fit that “standard”. The sexy options are far more prominent than the more modest options in the stores.   

If you  are feeling frustrated over society’s versions of what a female costume looks like, don’t worry there is a solution. The age of the internet and social networking has found a way to support women who feel limited in their Halloween costume choices. Homemade costumes and inspiration from  digital platforms like Pinterest and Youtube inspire women to make their own costumes and to share their process online.DIY videos and blogs make being the star of the party easier than ever. Hopefully, homemade costumes will make a comeback and usher in an age of creative and talented costumes.

Have you figured out what your Halloween costume is this year? Are you dressing up as your favorite real-life or fictional woman hero? Let us see the costume! Tweet us at @WMofC

Need some ideas? Check out this list from Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls.

Eimi Thompson
Eimi is a Women’s Museum of California intern from San Diego State University
Be a part of preserving women’s history, support the Women’s Museum today



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