Sexy Halloween costumes don’t have to be sexist

Live a little.
Live a little.
Image: AFP/Getty Images/Gabriel Buoys
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The lingerie site Yandy will rake in $15 million this October, Forbes predicts, thanks to its selection of “sexy” Halloween costumes, which include short-skirted and hot-panted renditions of 2015 memes—most notoriously, the heroic New York City rat who dragged a slice of pizza (video) down the subway steps.

Image for article titled Sexy Halloween costumes don’t have to be sexist
Image: Yandy

Personally, I’d argue against the one-use, throwaway nature of a sexy Pizza Rat costume (pizza pockets are going to feel so done by December), but I also find myself impatient with the annual orgy of eye-rolling that accompanies the season’s new crop of sexy costumes.

Rather than dismissively side-eyeing naughty nurses, Playboy bunnies, or even a sexy Donald Trump, consider joining the fun. It doesn’t have to mean a cleavage-squeezing or thigh-grazing costume—though if that’s what you feel like wearing, it makes you no less “empowered” than that Amelia Earhart over there.

Regardless of your costume choice, engaging with the transformative spirit of the holiday can offer a welcome reprieve from one’s daily image. And that can be healthy.

“It’s an opportunity to explore a different side of yourself,” said New York City psychiatrist Samantha Boardman, who frequently writes about the power of appearance and dress at her website, Positive Prescription. “Comfort zones can be like a cage or a cell. We get stuck in routines or safeties, but when we do things that are sort of out of character in some way—we wear something—that kind of helps to think a little bit differently.”

This is great advice for men as well as women. Of course, it can work just as well whether you’re dressed as Chewbacca or Frodo Baggins, but there’s something uniquely thrilling about the prospect of tossing off our sexually puritanical yokes come Oct. 31, and wearing something risqué to the party. (Provided it’s that kind of party, of course. I went as a standing desk to an office party, which felt just the right level of sultry for a 4pm gathering in a conference room. And to be clear: I’m referring here to dress-up for adults, not children.)

Revelers dance on the street during the West Hollywood Halloween Costume Carnaval, which attracts nearly 500,000 people annually in West Hollywood, California October 31, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY) - RTX14W4B
It’s not just for the ladies.
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn

Another reason to ditch the judgment: There’s often an unsettling edge of sexism to the condemnations of Halloween costume shenanigans, as Molly McHugh pointed out in the Daily Dot. ”Nary an October goes by that the Internet doesn’t rejoice at the most ridiculous ‘slutty’ costumes we’ve collectively willed into existence,” she wrote, “and the bro-blogosphere works itself into a near fit waiting for Nov. 1, when it will post slideshow after slideshow of ‘idiot’ women they’re both ogling and mocking.”

But if we let it, October 31 can offer a refreshing break from such slut-shaming—whether it’s ourselves or others that we’re judging harshly. My colleague Annalisa Merelli, an Italian-born feminist who rarely wears revealing clothing, said the sexy costume was one of the first elements she understood as essential to US Halloween.

Nichole Galicia attends Heidi Klum's Haunted Holiday Party benefiting Superstorm Sandy relief efforts, on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012 in New York. Klum's original party, scheduled to be held on Halloween, was postponed due to the storm. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
As long as you’re comfortable.
Image: Invision/AP/Charles Sykes

“A friend of mine, someone American, was like, ‘No you have to wear something slutty, otherwise it’s not Halloween—it’s like an unspoken rule,'” Merelli said. “And I remember being so offended—and so deeply happy—that that was their rule.”

It’s a desire that’s not confined to repressed Americans, either. Merelli quoted the Latin slogan of Italy’s Carnival: “Semel in anno licet insanire,” she said. “Once a year you have a license to go crazy.” 

Getting tarted up is fun, sure, but it also can also be revealing in more personal ways. ”A costume party gives you the latitude to go out on a limb and try something else,” said Boardman. And it doesn’t have to end with Halloween. ”If you do boost your confidence in some way—if dressing that way does that for you—why not take that with you?”

If lacy lingerie is your go-to for Halloween, for example, Boardman suggests that it could be an empowering element of your daily costume, too.

And even for those who don’t dress up, the suspension of critical judgement and the celebration of whatever silliness, sexiness, or subversiveness others embrace and express is a worthy exercise on Halloween—and for each of the other 364 days of the year, too.