Women dress as “sluts” on Halloween because it’s the one night of shame escapism

“I’m a mouse. Duh!”
“I’m a mouse. Duh!”
Image: Paramount Pictures
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We all laughed when Lindsay Lohan’s character, Cady Heron, uttered the words in Mean Girls: “In the regular world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In Girl World, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” 

This throwaway pop cultural joke summed up the reality of why many women really do let it all hang out, in more ways than one, on Halloween—the one night of the year where you can somewhat escape overt slut shaming from both men and other women.

Women are constantly battling to reclaim, redefine, or abolish the word “slut”. It’s an easy word to shut down a conversation, and an existential accusation of moral failing (whatever that means). The word is used to keep us from discovering our sexuality, limit our ability to speak out against abuse, and belittle and blame women in a variety of situations. Women as well as men are conditioned to believe that “sluts” deserve certain treatment and often bring other women down with the same awful word.

What makes a woman a slut in popular imagination is the amount and types of clothes she puts on her body: A short skirt, heels higher than average, a blouse tighter than average. Even entertainers don’t get a break. Often deemed dowdy and uninteresting if their clothes aren’t alluring enough, female musicians can cross the line into slut zone and suddenly find themselves criticized as less of a singer or a bad role model because they showed too much flesh—whether you’re the hot new millennial favorite Little Mix, or legendary superstar Madonna

But all that changes on Oct. 31. On Halloween, as Heron says, “The hardcore girls just wear lingerie and some form of animal ears.” The rest come out as sexy Superwoman, sexy nurse, sexy goldfish, whatever. And no one calls them sluts. Halloween has become synonymous with the skimpy outfit version of a famous character because it has become subconsciously the one night of the year where you’re free from judgment. When you were a child you were able to let loose, go wild and wear something crazy—whether that was your favorite scary character or your number one comic hero. You were someone else for one day. When you’re an adult, that same tradition of going wild gives you permission to celebrate yourself, shed the shackles from everyday life and look exactly how you want.

Too bad Halloween is the only time that you can do it without having to defend yourself against other people’s judgment.