Halloween is a great time to dress up and be whoever you want to be. But there are limitations on what is appropriate and inappropriate when it comes to what you should and should not wear. Many of us have been guilty of wearing some of these problematic costumes and while that
cannot be reversed, we can make the conscious decision to avoid these costume choices in the future. While these costumes may not seem offensive at first, it is important to keep in mind that the person wearing the costume is not the one harmed by the possible offensive content.
So how do we identify a problematic costume?
Well we can start by using what is referred to as “the grandmother test” where you ask yourself if your grandmother would approve of seeing your costume if posted on social media. The answer to this question should almost always be yes. Halloween costumes do not need to be offensive to be fun and creative.
Now to be clear, this article is not in regards to the labeled “slutty” costumes. This article is about the costumes that are made to humiliate or make fun of a group of people, or tragic events.
In elementary school, my school had an annual Halloween parade, where every student would dress up on Halloween and we would show off our costumes to each other and our families. My school had a primarily white population, with almost no diversity, so racial based costumes should have not been a problem. I have distinct memories of my classmates going as different racially based stereotypes. I remember different students wearing fat suits and quite a few others wearing clothing that I did not think much of at the time, but in retrospect, were very tasteless.
There are costumes that we all know should be unacceptable at this point; well, we should know, at least. These include black-face and other racial based costumes such as a sumo wrestler, and characters from Mulan, which I have seen a lot of.
Alongside these costumes, there are many others that may not seem offensive at first, but can negatively affect the people these costumes represent. Unless you belong to the group being represented, do not wear them. For example, if you are not Black, you should not be dressing up as a Black person such as Rosa Parks.
The idea of a straitjacket as a Halloween costume can seem harmless at first, but the glorification of mental illnesses and disorders can be dangerous. People have made costumes playing mental hospital patients with straitjackets, and a few years ago a costume company came under fire for making a costume entitled “Anna Rexia” “The incredibly poor-taste outfit included a skeleton dress with a measuring tape belt to ‘cinch the waist.’” (Good Housekeeping) Nothing in relation to any mental disorder is something that should be laughed at or used as a costume when there are people suffering from them.
Another popular costume theme that can be problematic are those that reference tragedy or groups that took many lives. In my research for this article, I found dozens of people dressed up at the twin towers, some featuring stick people “falling” from the costume. On the other hand of the same event, there are costumes depicting “terrorists” that range from a simple coat and a turban, to one’s with fake bomb units strapped to the
A very popular costume or dress up idea, that many of us may not think of as offensive, but is indeed harmful, are cross-dressing for humor costumes. There is a difference between a genderbent superhero and a college guy wearing a dress to receive laughs. These costumes mock the transgender community, and can be very offensive.
Either way worn, these costumes are not funny and should not be worn by anyone. There are also many people that find it funny to dress up as either a school shooter, or a school shooting victim. Especially as a student in the day and era where this is a regular problem we face, we should not in good conscience even consider these costumes. In my research I also found many Hitler themed costumes, and some entitled “Holocaust Victim.” Again, it should not have to be said, but these costumes should not be worn.
Other examples of problematic costumes can be body shaming costumes, which can feature the blow up costumes that I see every year on Halloween. Mariachi costumes and other cultural stereotypical costumes are also very offensive unless you are a part of that culture and understand the cultural significance. One of these cultures that always seems to be used in Halloween costumes is that of Indigenous People. Bottom line, do
not use these costumes, since there are plenty of unproblematic costumes that one can wear for Halloween.
Sources: Good Housekeeping