Halloween Costumes… And You


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Jacob Dyer investigates the whole ‘sexy scary costume for her/nerdy guy with muscles costume for him’ part of Halloween.

Halloween, Hallowe’en, All Hallow’s Eve, Pumpkin Carving Day

Halloween, Hallowe’en, All Hallow’s Eve, Pumpkin Carving Day, whatever you want to call it, 31st October is rapidly approaching and with it comes the annual dread of finding a good costume to wear on the night. Do you go for a superhero themed t-shirt with a buttoned up white shirt over the top, or do you go the whole nine yards and turn up in a spandex ensemble that laminates your skin? Whatever way you look at it, Halloween is a holiday that’s grown far from its spiritual roots and is now all about the costumes.

As a man, I’ve always found it quite easy to select a costume and enjoy myself whilst wearing it. Most of the costumes designed for my gender cover the skin, they’re relatively practical and they’re not far from the source material. I’ve noticed over the years that women don’t have this luxury, and many of the costumes sold to female consumers are minimalistic, impracticable and made with male attention in mind.

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To investigate this trend further, I took a trip down to Fancy Dress Fanatics on Cheltenham Road. Going to fancy dress shops always excites me. There’s something quite compelling about slipping on a costume and pretending you’re someone (or something) else for a while, however, I wasn’t there to look at costumes for me, I was there to look at costumes for women.

I was there to look at costumes for women.

My friend, Amy, who works at Fancy Dress Fanatics, led me immediately to a Snow White costume when I arrived. ‘No one has ever bought this,’ she said, taking the spandex outfit off the shelf. I inspected the packaging and wondered if the whole thing was a joke. It wasn’t so much a dress, but a one-piece skin-hugging suit that showed off the wearers’ shoulders, breasts and thighs.

Strangely, sitting just mere inches from the Snow White costume laid an outfit for a man.’“Plumber’s Mate’ read the title. An obvious copy of Luigi from the Super Mario games, but renamed to escape copyright infringement. Within the packaging of a cheaper male costume, you received more fabric. It was then that I began to wonder what the Hell was going on. Are women being sold less of a costume at a higher price? Are they forced to pick up these sexual variants?

My attention was diverted briefly when I sighted an Emoji mask. ‘Yeah, we got those recently,’ Amy told me. I slipped one over my face and felt the cheap plastic squash against my nose. I was literally wearing an emblem of the twenty-first century on my face. I felt like a member of an Emoji cult, invoking the soul of the Emoji God.

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I was then shown a Thor costume. My love of comic books runs deep, and seeing one of Jack Kirby’s beautiful creations reduced to a printed jumpsuit made me feel both disappointment and sadness at the same time. ‘Does it come with a hammer, at least?’ I wondered. It didn’t. Why bother?

Supergirl, on the other hand, had a brilliant costume.

Supergirl, on the other hand, had a brilliant costume. The dress had a cape, the emblem was vivid, and there was a belt and even boot tops. A thought came to my mind: Supergirl’s costume is, for lack of a better word, ineffective. For someone fighting crime and flying around the world, a skirt isn’t just going to get a bit breezy, but it’s not going to provide much protection. However, when making a Supergirl costume, there’s no choice but to use the short skirt unless you want to deviate from the source material. Are some sexy costumes inevitable? Can women even escape them?

I found a Mr. T costume, complete with mask and chains, and something new entered my mind: is it racist to wear a padded top of the hero of the eighties when your skin colour deviates greatly from the man himself? The model on the packaging had obviously changed his skin colour with paint to make the whole thing look better, and it was then that I started wondering if that was racist. It felt racist, it still does feel racist, but I was in a shop that did away with logic and reason and sold a pair of detachable breasts so I decided to let my racial questions stew in the back of my mind and carry on. [it is racist… ed.]

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Around the corner, a latex mask of the terrorist Osama Bin Laden stared at me with empty eyes and crinkled lips. A hundred questions filled my mind, but at the top of the list was simply one word: why? Why would anyone want to wear the face of a man who orchestrated such acts of devastation? I understand the principle of ridiculing people in power to reduce their influence, but Osama is down in the depths with the mermaids, so why is he still around? Is this how we’re going to remember all terrorists from now on? Will there be an Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi latex mask in 2016?

Around the corner, a latex mask of the terrorist Osama Bin Laden stared at me with empty eyes…

Briefly, I tried on a wig and felt what it’d be like to have long hair. As I was admiring my tremendous brunette locks, I asked the manager how popular wigs are. It turns out that wigs and fake moustaches sell in equal high number. As a man whose facial hair grows at a glacial pace of one millimetre every hundred years, I pondered if men are buying faux facial hair to appease that side of themselves that’s never quite hairy enough.

Bristol is well known for its pirate heritage and I’m currently reading ‘Treasure Island’, so seeing cutlasses and eye patches lining an entire wall of the shop pleased me greatly. It made me happier still to see that there was no sexualised pirate costume for women. There were wigs, necklaces and pieces of jewellery, but nothing in the way of a complete costume. Maybe the pirate theme has it right. Maybe there shouldn’t be complete costumes, but rather accessories that come together to make a costume. Maybe I just like pirates too much, and I’m bias.

As I turned my head to the right, I found the biggest example of sexism within costumes that I could find. It was actually poetic in its display and I momentarily thought it had been arranged, but alas, the long flowing doctors coat had been placed next to the seductive nurse’s costume without a hint of irony. Right there, in front of my eyes, was the division between male and female costumes. The plus signs on the nipples, the frilly dress, and the tiny hat, everything provided for the woman looked utterly ridiculous when put next to the man. Is it any wonder that women sometimes feel a little left out of STEM fields when this is what they’re given on Halloween? At the same time, where’s the sultry male doctor costume? Why can’t men wear something to show off their curves? Maybe one of those bed gowns with no back?

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I found, right near the female doctor costume, an accessory that no one asked for. A strap of pink bullets hung on the shelves, abandoned by the customers and shunned by the female populace. What, I thought, must’ve gone through the makers minds. Did they think that because the colour pink had gone into production that they’d cracked the female market?

Did they think that because the colour pink had gone into production that they’d cracked the female market?

Thankfully, I found a male and female police officer costume that looked roughly the same. The woman’s skirt met her knees and the man had no weapon of oppression in his hands. My returning feelings of hopefulness plummeted when I found a costume simply entitled, ‘Saloon Madame’. Now, I’m not writing this from a judgemental place, but I can’t fathom why any woman out there would want to dress up as one of the painted ladies of the West. I understand that people can dress how they want, but why would anyone choose, out of all the costumes in the world, to dress as a women who’d provide services to lonely sunburnt men in the dustbowl? It didn’t make sense to me. It still doesn’t. Many of the women employed by saloons were tricked refugees or widows who would then succumb to a multitude of sexually transmitted diseases. I don’t understand why costume manufacturers are creating costumes that bring up a sordid past when they could be celebrating strong women in history, like Anna Fisher or Simone Segouin. Maybe costumes like the Saloon Madame or the Sexy Nurse are a tool to demoralise girls. Maybe costume manufacturers believe that if women so much as get a whiff of their true potential, they’ll rise up. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was, at that point, trudging around the shop hoping to find something that’d rekindle the aforementioned feelings of hope for female costumes. You’ll be pleased to know that the fires of optimism rose again when I found not just one cool costume for women but two. Behold, Viking Lady and Spartan Girl. No, that’s not the new duo from DC Comics, but rather two costumes that aren’t overly sexual and actually pay homage to the talents women have. ‘Finally,’ I thought, ‘warrior women’.

Behind me laid another juxtaposition of gender roles. Two different animal costumes stood before me: one for men, and one for women. The parrot costume, aimed at women, had a frilly neon skirt and figure hugging top, whilst the man was provided with a rabbit costume made up of a single fur overall. This whole experience was becoming an up and down rollercoaster of stereotypes and I wasn’t getting off any time soon.

I found a, ‘sexy lady bug’ costume. I took a picture of it, just so I had proof. I stood in one spot for few minutes, wondering what a sexy ladybug costume could possibly mean. Who is it for? Who’s wearing it? What man, or woman, would be aroused by it? I imagined a scenario in my mind between a twenty-something man and a twenty-something woman where the man pleaded with the woman to dress in something sexy. ‘I just, I want you to dress as a ladybug,’ my imaginary man begged. ‘I have a intense romantic love of ladybugs.’ I put the costume back on the shelf and kept on walking.

‘I have a intense romantic love of ladybugs.’

I managed to catch up with the manager, Fran, and ask her about the sexy costume phenomenon. She told me that, ‘it’s a case of supply and demand. Women want seductive costumes and they’ll wear them.’ I asked her if supply and demand factored in; maybe women feel like the only thing out there for them is sexy costumes, so they feel they have no choice? ‘No, that’s not it at all,’ enthused Fran, ‘if women don’t buy a costume, actually, if people don’t buy a costume, it gets discontinued. It’s as simple as that. Sexy costumes exist because people want to wear them. There is a shift right now, and more and more women are choosing to buy accurate and modest costumes, but the costume industry changes just like the fashion industry. There are trends and crazes. We go off what the customer wants, and if all the women wanted squid costumes, then you’d see a lot more squid costumes. That being said, it’s normally the younger women, between eighteen and twenty-one, who want provocative costumes. Anything older, and it gets more sensible.’

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It made sense, and it was a lot to think about, but I was still standing in a costume shop and I wasn’t wearing a costume. In the spirit of bridging the gap between sexes, I decided to put on something I’d never worn before: a Victorian dress, complete with a bustle (a cushion to make my butt look gigantic) and a delicate petticoat. As I stood for my picture to be taken, a thought occurred: ‘damn,’ I said to myself, ‘I should’ve tried on that ladybug costume instead.’

Fancy Dress Fanatics can be found on FacebookTwitter and the actual internet

Attend The Brunel Lecture on the subject of being scared. It’s free. Should be interesting.