Some Non-Racist, Non-Sexist Halloween Costume Ideas

Every year we read about the worst sexist and racist Halloween costumes. And get really angry or bummed out about what should be a fun excuse to play dress-up.

So let’s discuss some alternatives, shall we? Most of these ideas can be thrown together last-minute — because how many of us really plan our costumes that far in advance? (Warning: Some ideas may contain shoulder pads.)

Radical, Militant Librarian

Need: Books, beret, sash, “shushing” skills.
Related ideas: Radical Doula (heeeyyy Miriam!), Radical Cheerleader, Radical Zombie

The Ghost of Health Care Bills Past

Need: White sheet, stethoscope
Related ideas: Ghost of Immigration Reform Bills Past, Ghost of Equal Rights Amendments Past. (Or apparently, given the image I’ve selected, Ghosts of Stevie Nicks Past.)

A Photoshop Disaster

Need: A t-shirt with a body drawn on it that’s less than half the size of your own. Or something (Haven’t really figured out how to make this one work yet…)
Related ideas: This is part of the grand Halloween tradition of just drawing some shit on a T-shirt… Could also be done with a Death Becomes Her Halloweeny twist.

Kanye West

Need: These, microphone, and a willingness to repeatedly make the “Imma let you finish” joke.
Related ideas: Taylor Swift (Couple costume!)

Nancy Pelosi

Need: Suit (preferably w/ skirt, not pants), gavel, shades, funky-but-understated jewelry.
Related ideas: Condi Rice, Hillary Clinton.

Dolly Parton

Need: Blonde wig, lots of sequins, guitar, falsies.
Related ideas: Leslie Hall

John Waters

Need: Garish-patterned suit jacket, drawn-on thin mustache, bowtie, drag-queen pals.
Related ideas: A dandy, Steve Buscemi (but only if you’ve got the looks for it.)

Judy the Talking Embryo

Need: Garbage bag, helium (to either inflate the bag or inhale to make your voice embyro-like). More info here.
Related ideas: Betty the Talking Blastocyst, Ollie the Talking Ovum.

Rickie Vasquez (from My So-Called Life)

Need: Drum-major jacket, hair gel, earring, shoulder pads, a buddy to go as Angela Chase.
Related ideas: Thriller-era Michael Jackson, actual drum major

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Need: Lacy neckerchief thing, black robe, clip-on earrings, bun, glasses.
Related ideas: Sonia Sotomayor

Heathers (Group idea!)

Need: Blazer with serious shoulder pads, croquet mallet, AquaNet, white tights.
Related ideas: 90210 (the original, obvs)

Richard Simmons

Need: Short track shorts, curly wig, thick white socks, tank top.
Related ideas: Evil aerobic clown

Werewolf Bar Mitzvah

Need: Fur, face paint, friends who like 30 Rock and will get the joke once you start singing.
Related ideas: Vampire Bar Mitzvah, Goblin Bar Mitzvah

Bea Arthur (RIP! This is an in-memoriam costume idea, one that I will probably use this year.)

Need: Gray wig and/or curling iron and gray spray-in hair color, a serious silk tracksuit, shoulder pads. Gratefulness for being a friend.
Related ideas: Other Golden Girls, obvs.

Last-minute cop-outs:
Shark: Tape a cardboard fin to your back
Unicorn: Tape a cardboard cone to your forehead
Narwhal: Tape a skinnier cardboard cone to your forehead.

Other costume ideas? C’mon I know you’ve got some good ones, so leave them in comments (including instructions on how to put it together). I’ll keep adding to this post as good ideas pop up.

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125 Comments

  1. trivia42
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    My girlfriend went as the board game Opperation one year. It took a little time but was cheap and easy.
    We used:
    Pink sweats for the body, preferably with pockets in the pants
    Old red t-shirt
    old white t-shirt
    small cooking tongs
    a buzzer (we used the one that came with the game taboo).
    Superglue or tape
    Yarn or heavy string
    Cut out the organs/bones shapes out of the red shirt and a slightly larger version out of white shirt and glue or fasten them onto the sweats in the appropriate places. We used a red organ with a white background to simulate the hole you’d pull the organ out of. Tie the tweezers (tongs) to your waist using yarn or string. When someone tries to pull out an organ, hit the buzzer hidden in your pocket. It’s awesome and also kid friendly and everyone seemed to enjoy the nostalgia.

  2. aliciamaud74
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Maybe you could put a t-shirt on the “devil baby” with a reference that would clarify how you feel about the Polanski situation? Like put it in a onesie on which you have written “Rape apologists are another kind of evil”. Or make it look super-demonic and have the shirt read “Rape Apologist”. Or give the demon baby Polanksi’s face.

  3. aliciamaud74
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Or tape a copy of the petition to its chest.
    If you made the baby represent Polanski, you could make terrible excuses for it all night Or have a friends accompany you as Woody Allen and others who have signed the petition and THEY could make the excuses. . .

  4. hardlycore
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    haha, one of my housemates is “sexy bacon.” as I understand it, this involves a skintight brown-and-white striped dress and a stuffed pig.

  5. aliciamaud74
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Or, make the baby look like one of the people who signed the pro-Polanski petition, and have the onesie read “Demonize rape culture.”

  6. cyanideandsugar
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    I love the Harry Potter ideas! Last year my friends and I did a Harry Potter theme and one was Moaning Myrtle (we covered her in baby powder), one was Hermione Granger, one was Harry (of course), one was Luna Lovegood, and I was Ron Weasley, which was great fun since the little kids who were trick-or-treating at the college kept asking me questions like “Are you Ron or Ginny?” because I have short red hair but am pretty obviously a girl. Hooray for gender-bending costumes!

  7. aliciamaud74
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    OR, if you want to keep in subtle, but reserve the right to make a point if given the opportunity, just carry around your little demon baby, but have IT represent “rape culture” or “rape apology”. . .just have the phrase written subtly on the butt of its diaper or something. It wouldn’t be asking for confrontation, but if you get into a conversation with someone about it, you can use that to show them where you stand.

  8. everybodyever
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    These are all awesome ideas. I think I’ll try for something like that. Thanks so much!

  9. Tinnie
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Not to keen on the whole kanye and taylor thing. I wouldn’t want to give him more attention then he already tried to get.

  10. kay.bax
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    For other 30 Rock fans, I am dressing up as Liz Lemon when she tries to get attention for “That’s a Dealbreaker, Ladies” by doing silly photos for the magazine with Jenna. Pink T-Shirt, dark jeans, suspenders, silly mustache glasses, and a rubber chicken! If only I could find a way to birth the chicken on the toilet…

  11. teenfeministadvocate
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    personally, i’m going with buffy for my costume.
    easy, fun, cute, nonsexist.

  12. teenfeministadvocate
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    personally, i’m going with buffy for my costume.
    easy, fun, cute, nonsexist.
    all i need is a minidress or just jeans, some boots and a tank top plus a stake. lazy person constume done.

  13. disnazzio
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Depending on who you are, dressing up as a black celebrity or as a “militant lesbian” might indeed be racist or heterosexist. I’m disappointed that you would list those as alternatives to the appropriative costumes you’re encouraging people to avoid, without saying IN the actual post that a white person dressing up as Kanye, or a straight person dressing up as a lesbian, is not okay. You all must be at least as aware as the rest of us that your readership is largely white women, right?

  14. dirty democrat
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Did you misread the “militant librarian” idea? Otherwise I do not see any lesbian (at least militant) ideas here.

  15. dirty democrat
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Did you misread the “militant librarian” idea? Otherwise I do not see any lesbian (at least militant) ideas here.
    Also, I don’t see the problem with being Kanye West as long as no blackface is involved.

  16. TopHat
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I was “Green with Envy” one year. I just wore green pants and a green shirt and had an “N” and a “V” on my shirt.

  17. dirty democrat
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    ah! sorry for the weird double post

  18. dirty democrat
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Similar to the zombie Ann Coulter idea…I’m gonna be Zombie Michele Bachmann. I’m from Minnesota so I think it works best for us since maybe she’s not QUITE as infamous as Ann. I’m wearing a suit, pearls, tousled curls with twigs in my hair (from when she crouched in the bushes at a gay-rights rally…gulp), under-eye circles, bleeding mouth and wrists (from the whole slit-our-wrists-to-defeat-healthcare bit…jesus christ is this woman real?). It’s going to be…amazing.

  19. ElleStar
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    That was the one!

  20. Toongrrl
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Would it be bad if I went as Michelle Duggar? I’d be wearing a housedress, stuff my belly, carry baby dolls, and wear a fright wig. I’d carry a bible and would “tattoo” “I am the Lord’s (Jim Bob’s) babysitter.” Feedback anyone?

  21. Canadiana
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    I almost had a meltdown in the costume store (warehouse) in which I couldn’t find one single non-sexualized costume for women out of the probably 150 options. So I decided to be a Crayola crayon instead and its cheap and easy too…wear all of the same colour from head to toe and add a children’s party hat and you are good to go. i am gonna deck it out with some black lettering just to be sure i put some effort in.

  22. chrisbean
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Also: bad-ass strong women rockers!!
    Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde, Janis Joplin, Courtney Love, Patti Smith, and Tina Turner are all instantly recognizable, and easily pulled off with a wig plus clothes you likely already own.

  23. chrisbean
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    AWESOME!!!!!

  24. FLT
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    My favorite costume ever was when I went as a Bible. Very easy costume, black cardboard front and back covers. Sheets for pages. and!
    My finishing touch was finding three feminist Bible verses and putting one on each page. This was a huge party, for a Halloween wedding, and people were amazed when they learned the verses were genuine.

  25. chrisbean
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Plus, a few years ago I went as “Prince songs”:
    I wore a thrifted Raspberry Beret, Gold jewelery, scads of fake Diamonds and Pearls, a Paisley [Park] skirt, a tanktop I painted a Little Red Corvette on the front of, a Pink Cashmere sweater, etc. And carried a Purple [Rain] parasol.
    Spent a LOT of time explaining myself, though.
    My friend Patrick’s creative costume that year was a “My Name Is… JUDY” sticker on his shirt, and a string of christmas garland looped around his neck.

  26. Katie93
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    I have this idea in my head I’m going to be Artie, The Stongest Man In The World for Halloween, but the chances of me being able to pull that off with my gender/body are slim. Also, hardly anybody born after circa 1987 would know who that is.

  27. Gretchen
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    AN ARTIE COSTUME WOULD BE SO EPIC.
    (I’m a 1989er here, but Pete & Pete was one of my family’s fave shows when I was young.)

  28. L. E. Hairstylist
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    A good idea for couples would be the very feminist couple of John Lennon and Yoko Ono (which, since the two were both kind of androgynous, could be easily managed by any gender couples, depending on willingness to crossdress). John needs the round glasses, long brown hair, and a snazzy white suit, Yoko requires long black hair, a white dress, and a matching hat or some of those giant bug-eye sunglasses with the white frames. Season to taste with acoustic guitars, protest signs (“WAR IS OVER if you want it” works well), and witty remarks for both parties.
    As for me, this year, as a satire on the inavailability of any costumes for women that aren’t “sexy noun,” I am going as a sexy velociraptor. I’ve got the walk down pat already.

  29. Nayva
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Hahaha–I’ve been planning (and accumulating the pieces of) my Hermione costume for years! My friend is coming up to visit, and she just so happens to have a Luna costume planned! I’m so excited.

  30. disnazzio
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    First, doh! I totally did misread that. Which is ridiculous given how many times I read it. Mea culpa!
    But as to Kanye… I do still see a problem with a white person dressing up as a black person – wearing him as a costume. It makes me profoundly uncomfortable. And I have a hard time envisioning a way to carry that out that wouldn’t involve a sort of metaphorical blackface – a performance of blackness that wouldn’t necessarily involve actually painting one’s face but would still be co-opty and offensive.

  31. Macha
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    Holy cats, I can’t believe your friend thought to go as the Master from “Manos Hands of Fate”! That’s gotta be one of my favourite hilariously bad movies of all time!

  32. Macha
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Holy cats, I can’t believe your friend thought to go as the Master from “Manos Hands of Fate”! That’s gotta be one of my favourite hilariously bad movies of all time!

  33. bzzxz
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    “I am going as a sexy velociraptor.”
    This is the best thing.

  34. Mikaela
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    I’m a little cheesy and doing a couple’s costume. My boyfriend is a talented piano player, so we’re going as Lucy and Schroeder from The Peanuts!
    He’s getting one of those children’s pianos, and I have some great black and white shoes, I just need a blue dress.
    He is preforming at a Halloween themed party and I’m contemplating propping myself up on the end of the keyboard and staring at him with a dreamy look in my eyes.
    Haven’t decided yet if I want to make a psychiatric booth out of cardboard, we’ll see!

  35. celestialblender
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Two involving little more than cardboard:
    1) “Magnetic” Poetry: about 100 words (and endings) written in big, black letters on bits of index card, then stuck with masking tape to an all-black outfit. Invite people to rearrange the words. This was a hit last year.
    2) Can of Spam: Cardboard Box, pair of suspenders, and half an hour with the crayons. I’m doing this one if I don’t get my shit together to make the dress required for the Squid costume I really want to do.

  36. Yekaterina
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Judy the Talking Embryo? Because the idea of embryo personhood doesn’t get enough traction?

  37. Laura_M
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    She really only gets the katana out a few times, though; usually her weapons of choice are a musket, a pistol or an ankle dagger. I’m sure you could find a steak knife or something that might work for that last one. :)

  38. Chrissy
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    My best friend is going as Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus books, and I am going as the Magic School Bus itself.
    She will be wearing a red wig, a purple dress with cut outs of planets and stars on it, and purple shoes, and a toy lizard. I will be wearing a box painted yellow with wheels and windows painted on.
    Can’t wait!

  39. Kat
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been debating between the bunny from Monty Python and the Holy Grail or Vagina Warrior (super-hero type thingy)…

  40. aliceinhinterland
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t agree. Who says performing Kanye is performing blackness? I think a white person can dress up as a black person without degrading, humiliating, or mocking black people. Black face is NEVER okay, but I think it’s fine for people to dress up as public figures/icons, etc who have a different ethnicity or race. I was considering being Coraline for Halloween. I don’t think that wearing her blue hair and boots, starry sweater, and button eyes without changing my brown skin color would mean I were “performing whiteness.” She’s a cool character. I like her and would want to embody her for a night. As with any costume, just be conscious of what you are invoking and think twice. After that, have fun and enjoy the one time of year when you get to be someone or something other than yourself.

  41. kait
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to wear all black, attach two white cardboard rectangles to the back of my forearms and wear a headband with a white pingpong ball attached above with some sort of thin support rod.
    raise arms above head in showing-off-biceps position, tilt head from side to side while moving arms up and down.
    voila.
    Pong.

  42. aleks
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    I saw WTWTA today, so I’ll be Max (white hoodie that mom has offered to add ears to, white sweat pants, crown).

  43. pluralist
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    My boy and I were going to be Wall-E and Eve (from the movie, of course), but stylising the costumes rather than actually trying to look like robots.
    Wall-E: yellowish plaid or checked work shirt with a dark vest or overalls, add some largish buttons. Also, print out a Buy-n-large logo and stick it to your front. Goggles, work gloves, work boots, look scruffy – five o’clock shadow. Get some portable speakers and download the soundtrack to Hello Dolly! and play at random intervals.
    Eve: form fitting white shirt (like that lycra stuff maybe?), white shoes. Lots of blue eye shadow OR because I already have black framed glasses, get some blue cellophane and carefully affix to said glasses. Tie hair back, carry a toy space gun type thing.
    Props: carry around a boot with a plant in it and/or a fire extinguisher
    We ultimately decided on being farmers from Harvest Moon: overalls, long sleeved plaid, plastic kids gardening toys = already in my closet, lol.
    Smurf would be pretty easy if you’re willing to paint your face blue.

  44. aleks
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

    How exactly do you see the Kanye West one playing out without racism?

  45. Mollie
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    I was gonna go as Rosie the Riveter, but instead I’m going to be a Purple Parrot from Legends of the Hidden Temple. I even have a gold helmet =)

  46. JesiDangerously
    Posted October 21, 2009 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    Wear the trademark Kanye glasses, some sort of ridiculously hipster clothes, carry a fake microphone, and say make Kanye West jokes. No racism required.

  47. aleks
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    Sounds like an offensive caricature of stereotypical young black men.

  48. rebekah
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 1:59 am | Permalink

    my fianc√© and I are going as a dead fifties couple. It’s mocking the traditional fifties style of marriage, and the gender roles that it plays off of. Plus it has the added benefit of telling all of our friends that we are indeed getting married (we have been dating for eight years now and they have been asking for the last three if we ever intended on doing anything with our relationship at all). It should be a hell ton of fun. Oh and since I happen to like dresses that are fiftiesish I don’t have to worry about buying a dress either.

  49. Alex51324
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    Yeah. I don’t think that dressing up as a specific person of another race is racist. It can be done in a racist way, of course, but as long as your costume focuses on the person’s individual characteristics and not characteristics of their entire race, you’re probably OK (even if the costume is uncomplimentary to the specific person in question).
    Dressing up as a generic member of another ethnic group, on the other hand, I would say is almost always problematic–even if the person doing it doesn’t mean to be racist, the costume would almost have to reflect unconscious and/or institutionalized racism.

  50. CathyLBeck
    Posted October 22, 2009 at 2:58 am | Permalink

    Calvin is cute till there’s a naughty kid in the family. Then, he becomes the scariest character possible!

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