Cultural appropriation and Halloween

Halloween (my personal favorite holiday because you get to play dress up) is coming and I’m all excited. Of course, Halloween is an opportunity for costume manufacturers to appropriate other people’s cultures and sell them as cheap stereotypes for fun and profit – which I’ve always condemned roundly as being lame. But this Halloween, I’m wondering exactly where that cultural appropriation line is and if my potential costume might be crossing it.

My sweetie and I want to dress up as Malcolm Reynolds and Inara Serra from Joss Whedon’s brilliant Firefly series. Most of the series’ costumes were inspired by the neo-Victorian steampunk trend, but Inara’s regal, intricate costumes were closer to the saris worn by traditional Indian brides. This always struck me as problematic because on the show, Inara is a courtesan with a mysterious past and it seems like her wardrobe might have been designed to evoke the “sexy and mysterious east” trope.

That problem aside, Inara is an awesome character. She’s a sex-positive, brilliant, complex and flawed female character who challenges stereotypes of sex workers and dances rhetorical circles around the show’s leading man. I’ve always loved her and wanted to be just like her when I grow up. Dressing up as her for a night is kind of a dream come true for me.

So here’s my problem: I love to go all-out for Halloween, so I started shopping for wedding saris like some of the ones I’ve pinned here in search of the perfect Inara look. I’ve always wanted to wear a sari because I think the’re elegant and fucking gorgeous, but I’ve been reluctant to borrow from centuries of someone else’s tradition because I think the result is pretty. I’m particularly uncomfortable with using a sari as part of a Halloween costume because it’s already such a loaded holiday – what with the history of cultural appropriation and all.

So, what do you guys think? Am I being a culturally insensitive jerk? Am I really over thinking this? Should I dress up as Kaylee instead?

Consumer technology geeker-outer. "Seamlessly integrated" with social networky goodness. Unapologetic spoiler of a small, emotionally needy cat. Bullied kid for whom it got better. Frequent singer. Occasional dancer, actress, photographer, psychologist, public speaker and circus performer. Man-loving feminist. Member of the landed gentry. Innovator, Latina, Jew, human. I product manage for Bobsled by T-Mobile (@letsbobsled) but do not speak for them.

Read more about Tae

Join the Conversation