Wednesday, October 28, 2009


It's that time of year again, Halloween. As we have traveled through time closer and closer to the 31st of October news has focused again and again on that shocking, startling and never before exposed scandal... inappropriate costumes for little girls.

Now, as this clip from Mean Girls so artfully presents, there's a certain cultural fetishization of Halloween, the anonymity of donning a costume allows people to explore certain aspects of their character they don't feel they might in their normal clothes. Therefore, many women make the choice to wear sexy costumes and let it all hang out for that one night when they are culturally allowed to put on a mask and go out and celebrate. Like Mardi Gras, Carnival or Masquerade Balls, Halloween is a shared liminal space where people can play a part and part of that is expressing sexuality that is otherwise hidden, but the question at hand is... are nine year old girls expressing themselves or simply buying in to what is presented to them?
I've always been the sort that would adjust and amend any costume I got pre-made from the store. One my my very favorite Halloween costumes was the result of going with my best friend to the thrift store where we both picked out fantastic and utterly cheap clothes that we turned into rather fantastic Victorian style ghost costumes, with lace and greasepaint galore. We were 11 or 12 and while it didn't get me any dates at the middle-school dance, I absolutely loved the entire process of getting the costume together. There's a lot of fun and a lot of self-expression that goes into picking out a Halloween costume for child or an adult.
The scandal of "Slut-o-ween", is that Halloween is a 4.3 Billion Dollar holiday where pre-made costumes are more common than others, and quite reasonably for the millions of people without the time or inclination to make their own costume. But the choices for women are often overwhelmingly "Sexy _____" the blank representing any noun in the encyclopedia. Over the years the same principle of "Sexy _____" has trickled down throughout the costume market to little girls, who want to emulate older women and older girls, who are also their, mothers, sisters, and aspirational role models of all stripes.

The pressures are only compounded when you look at the costumes of celebrities, and even child stars like Noah Cyrus, Miley Cyrus's little sister, who at 9 has been splashed all over the news because of her "inappropriate" witch/vampire costume.Did her parents let her out of the house like this? Obviously they did and have before, can we talk until we are blue in the face about this one girl's possible exploitation for publicity? Sure, but let's not. Let's instead take a look at what drives the production of sexy costumes for little girls?

1) Girls want them, and they are easily available.

Why might this be? Might it be that they are considered scandalous and seem cool? They make it to the newsstands and news reports EVERY Halloween as though this is the first time something questionable has ever been marketed to the under-10 set? (A Scary NEW Trend, NY Daily News... really?) The free publicity that these costumes get from the news of the scandal rocking the good name of Halloween only add to their bad-girl mystique, and while turning a blind eye to them is silly, this yearly outrage obviously drives sales.

2) Parents purchase them for their daughters and allow them to wear them out in public.

I don't think there's an easy answer to the "my daughter wants to wear this risque outfit" issue. On one hand, as a parents you're totally aghast that your little moppet wants to wear something that might make a stripper blush out to Trick-or-Treat with her friends. But it's not as simple as "that's inappropriate and I'm not going to let you wear it out," for many parents. One wants to allow their child self-expression and as girls get older they want to emulate older girls and women, and you might consider "if I let her wear this now, maybe she won't be as fascinated by it when she's older, it'll become something she did when she was a little kid."

On one hand, its obvious that for most kids and parents, this is a discussion that can be done reasonably, the child isn't accustomed to getting everything they want all the time and some sort of compromise can be reached that satisfies both the child's desire for a particular look and the parent's particular standards of aesthetics and propriety. From everything I've seen, read and experienced, it helps to go costume shopping prepared so that both parent and child know what the ground rules are when picking out a costume.

Here's my list of requirements for any costume I buy or make for myself or my kids, it's based on my years as a costume designer, event planner and wearer/buyer of Halloween costumes:
  1. Can one move in it?
  2. Will it be appropriate for the weather?
  3. Is the fabric comfortable enough that I won't claw off my skin?
  4. Will I be visible in the dark? (Especially important for Trick or Treating)
  5. Am I going to be comfortable with what this outfit covers or uncovers? (also think about how it's going to act when you move? will the hemline rise if you walk?)
  6. Is this something I'd want to wear more than once?
The answers to these questions are different for each person and each situation, but if you go in having some sense of what you need from a costume and what you want from a costume you'll end up with one more appropriate for you or for your child than you might if you go in without any ideas. Not every costume is one that you end up wanting to remember forever, and there are still options out there for people who don't want to wear something raunchy for All Hallow's Eve, but make sure that you're not settling for something you don't like just because it's available, and if you do want to dress up in a sexy manner... at least put some thought into it.

Happy Halloween!



    Another good rule of thumb, if they are old enough to dress like a whore they are too old for trick or treating. As long as they like to trick or treat that should keep them at bay.

  2. I think the best solution is to go to Goodwill to shop for a costume, not the Halloween store. Real clothes will look more authentic 99% of the time. Those pre-fab costumes always look and feel cheaply made. You can usually buy the pieces for a costume for the same price, if not less, than the cost for a pre-fab costume. And if you go to Goodwill, your child will be less tempted to go for the slutwear, because it's not as prevalent.