What to Wear on Halloween

strong female characters

I remember when Halloween was just a trip to the thrift store and some face paint. You get dressed up, your mom approximates some whiskers on your cheeks. You go out with your little friends. And then, more importantly, you end up with a plastic pumpkin bucket full of fun, fun sizes of chocolate and candy. As girls become women, however, the candy takes a backseat to the costume—and costumes ain’t what they used to be. Sure, you can still dress as the cartoon characters, animals, and superheroes of your youth; you just have to precede said costume title with the word “sexy.”

It doesn’t really matter how ridiculous the result is, either, as demonstrated by this collection. Sexy cats sit on costume shelves alongside sexy Big Birds and sexy hamburgers. The main thing is, it needs to be short, tight, or low-cut—preferably all three. For many women, Halloween is an opportunity to show off your body without shame. It’s like a one-time-a-year free pass for even the normally reserved and modest: no one will call you a slut in the morning.

More power to every woman who wants to jump on the sexy costume trend, but I think there are many women who are more like me: uncomfortable with the objectification that the once inclusive, innocent holiday increasingly promotes. It’s okay to be annoyed that this pressure to be sexy exists exclusively for women. Men’s costumes tend to be funny, ironic, gory, scary—no sexy Freddy Kreugers for them. So why are we women inundated with the Sexy Costume trend?

For those who are asking themselves the same question, I’ve come up with a few ideas for costumes that are fun, topical, empowering, attractive, but not demeaning. (Disclaimer: I’m no Halloween costume-choosing expert, so feel free to add your own to this list.)

A politician with a sense of humor

Hillary Clinton, Texts from Hillary-style.

To apply: Sweep your hair behind your ears (or invest in a short blond wig), put on shades, wear a black pantsuit with a large brooch pin, hold your phone in front of you at all times.


An Olympic gold medalist

Missy Franklin or Gabby Douglas

To apply: Slick your hair back tight in a ponytail or bun. (If you’re Missy, might be good to apply enough gel that your hair looks wet all night.) Wear a black bathing suit or red, white and blue leotard. Put fake gold medals around your neck (choose the appropriate number per athlete). Feel free to add tights or a towel to cover up. (If you’re going as McKayla Maroney, add perpetual scowl and folded arms.)


A kickass superheroine

Catwoman or Black Widow. Yes, they’re both super-sexy, but they’re also powerful and take-charge. And what do you want to bet that somewhere out there are “sexy” versions of their film costumes (read: shorter)?

To apply: Tight leather-ish black bodysuit, boots, gun belt, attitude. For Catwoman, add black eye mask and ears. For Black Widow, add a red wig.


A female fantasy protagonist

Katniss Everdeen or Hermione Granger

To apply: For Katniss, find gray, earth-toned winter clothes—a parka, sweater, khakis, and boots. Sling a quiver of arrows over your back and carry a bow around. Put your hair in a long side braid. For Hermione, just pick up a long, dark Hogwarts-emblazoned robe at your local costume store, replete with starched collar shirt and red and gold tie. Carry a wand. And if you’re doing old-school Hermione, make sure your hair is big and frizzy.

A Strong Female Character

There’s plenty of others to choose from, some of which I’ve discussed on this blog: Olivia Benson from “Law & Order: SVU,” Zooey Deschanel, Brave, Buffy (who I dressed up as in tenth grade using only a leather jacket, a hair claw, and a wooden stake). Don’t ever feel limited by what’s on the costume store shelves—the possibilities are truly endless. In fact, don't even be limited by your gender! Dress as a male character you like. You get bonus points for defying gender expectations and upsetting the patriarchy.

As for what NOT to wear: My only advice is, don’t do the ethnic costume thing. Besides exposing a lot of leg, Halloween also has the tendency to expose a lot of racism, poignantly argued by this Ohio University campaign. If you’re going as a historical or notable figure of a different ethnicity or nationality, that’s fine—just be aware of the overall impact of your costume (is it respectful or caricature?) and NEVER, NEVER paint your skin a different color.

If all else fails, follow Oscar from “The Office”’s example: dress as yourself and tell everyone you’re a "rational consumer." Given the cost of some Halloween costumes, that might end up being the best choice.