Halloween open thread: did you go as a sexy _____?

Last week Chloe wrote about one of her new favorite Tumblrs: Fuck No Sexist Halloween Costumes in anticipation of Halloween, aka “that time when people who you think are normal and sensible and great suddenly morph…into walking talking demonstrations of sexism, racism, and cultural appropriation.” The site  compares costumes meant for men with costumes meant for women, showing the inherent double standard in the sexy Halloween costume business.

But there’s been some interesting ( and kinda insider-y but hear me out) talk this year about the role of the feminist blogosphere in critiquing the “sexy ___” Halloween trend. Dan Savage thinks we’re slut shamers. Amanda Marcotte thinks we should “chill out” and “let it go” and that “instead of simply attacking the concept of a sexy Halloween costume in the future, maybe it’s time to offer some positive examples of costumes that allow you to be both sexy and express your individuality and creativity.” Eleanor Barkhorn over at the Atlantic explores some of the ethical and practical complications of “killing sexy Halloween”, noting that criticism of the trend has now crossed over into pop culture, rather than being relegated to op-eds (presumably by crotchety ole feminists). And we hosted a defense of the “sexy Halloween” tradition on our site last year. 

You’ve had some great ideas in the past so tell us: what did you go as this Halloween? Did you feel empowered? Constrained? Sexy?

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/noadi/ Sheryl

    I was a sexy vampire. Though sexy in a way that didn’t lead to hypothermia (I live in Maine), tight faux leather pants, peasant top, underbust corset, and the requisite makeup and fangs. I have no problem with appropriate sexy costumes and vampires definitely are an appropriate subject for a sexy costume (regardless of gender) because they are supposed to lure you to your doom.

    What I really object to the difficulty in finding any non-sexy costume for women (and the creepy amount available for young girls). I only bought some false lashes and fangs for my costume since the rest came out of my closet so I didn’t have to spend much time in the halloween store but while I was there I didn’t see a single non-sexy costume for women. It was really depressing and reaffirmed my tendency to always create my own costume (last year I was a non-sexy alterboy using my old white graduation gown).

  • http://feministing.com/members/lapis4eva/ Emma

    I actually had two costumes this year! The first one (for a grad student on my ballroom team’s party) I was a black cat. My friend was a witch and I was going as her familiar. I didn’t feel anything but much too young for the event. Although I think the best costumes at the party were two women who went as Pussy Riot!

    For my second costume (read: my real one) I was Zelda from Skyward Sword and/or Ocarina of Time (I had a sailcloth/really bright hair ties and a blue ocarina. Zelda fans, make of that what you will). Although the dress was short enough to be “sexy,” I know that I put a lot of thought into why I chose to dress as her. As far as princesses go, she’s smart, cool, and knows how to step outside her perceived role in society once in a while! Either that, or she hangs with her awesome guardian Impa. Nuff said.

  • http://feministing.com/members/herdisleah/ Tina

    Sexy Valkyrie! In the sense that a historically authentic, self-made viking apron-dress and a leather helmet fit for armor-grade use is badass and inherently therefore super friggin’ sexy.

    I had a LOT of people stare. I had a lot of people comment on how awesome the helmet/outfit was. I had one old nasty lady say it looked like I dragged it out of my mom’s closet. She wouldn’t recognize an outfit with a hundred hours poured into it if it smacked her in the face.

  • http://feministing.com/members/folktronic/ Rob

    It’s fairly hard to find a Sexy male costume that isn’t just a giant penis joke and/or rape-y. I made my own “Sexy Luigi” costume. Running shorts, deep V, suspenders, cap and gloves. Gaymers FTW.

    I agree that Halloween can be a fun time to get out of a comfort zone and explore a more sensual and sexualized sense of self. Masks are a great tool for that. I wouldn’t go as far as Savage and claim that these sort of blogs are “Slut shaming”; rather, it’s more nuanced as it is decrying a more lack of options for ” non-sexy” costumers and pointing out of gendered difference in costumes.

  • http://feministing.com/members/adeal06/ Amanda

    I reused a costume (because I was feeling lazy this year) and went as a fairy of the non sexy variety. It was floor length, sleeveless and had an empire waist line. Costumes aside, I do love that on Halloween you can wear all kinds of crazy make up that you normally wouldn’t ( I did lots of dramatic blue and black eye make up, plus glitter and more blush than usual).

    Like Sheryl stated above, I don’t have an issue with sexy Halloween costumes per se (and honestly who doesn’t love a good corset). I don’t like that sexy Halloween costumes are pretty much the only option for women and very often for teenage girls too. It feels almost like, if you’re female, you’re expected to dress in a sexy costume but not all women want to go that route (myself included). So you have to resort to either making a costume or borrowing from someone else.

  • http://feministing.com/members/rajamie/ Rachel Ajamie

    I think it’s really important to remember that “sexy” is not equivalent to “revealing” for everybody, although it definitely is for some. A costume, in my opinion, should ultimately make you feel good as well as comfortable exploring some alternative identity. For example, I dressed as a beast this halloween, with horns, fur, animal makeup, and flowers in my hair. It wasn’t very revealing, but I felt pretty sexy because of how good I felt that I looked, how creative the costume was, and most importantly, how powerful I felt in the costume. I see no problem with looking sexy on halloween, but I do have a problem with how limited the definition of sexy is when it comes to “sexy ____” costumes, especially ones you see in stores and online. I think really revealing costumes make some women uncomfortable but they wear them anyway because they’re expected to. Generally I avoid the pre-made “sexy” halloween costumes because they seem to cater to a specific taste for heterosexual men, and not to what I think is sexy about myself as an individual.

  • http://feministing.com/members/mmmk/ Leah

    This is my first post here! Yay.
    Anyway, I dressed up last minute for work. I was going for ‘witch’ but didn’t have a hat. So, a lot of people were confused. I didn’t intend to reveal much skin but the only black shirt I have is a scooped neck. I did a lot with eye make-up, defining my brows, and donning a wig. I may have ended up looking goth. Whoops.

    My goal wasn’t sexiness but just to have some fun wearing things I normally couldn’t get away with.

    I really wanted to go as the Statue of Libery or Lady Justice but I had limited time/cash.

  • http://feministing.com/members/aspeedingbullet/ Amanda

    My friends threw a Game-of-Thrones-themed Halloween party, so I went as George R. R. Martin. (Google him — he has a very specific nerd/gamer look to him.) But as it was Halloween, I did go as “sexy” George R. R. Martin — knee-high argyle socks, black shorts, black ankle boots, a button-up unbuttoned to show just a wee bit of pretty bra, suspenders, nerd glasses, cap, and more makeup than I usually wear. It went over really well at the party, and I felt both confident, since I was fitting in with the theme, and hot, since I put together a really good costume that flattered me and wasn’t super-revealing.

    I think my intent here was to fit in with the theme of the party and to also poke fun of “sexy” Halloween costumes. George R. R. Martin is decidedly NOT sexy (to me, at least) and to make it into a “sexy” costume was making fun of the “sexy” Halloween trend. Also, the gender-bending thing made it double awesome…

  • http://feministing.com/members/camdiggidy/ Cambra

    I went as The Dude, which turned out to be an awesome costume in terms of comfort and recognition. Striped cotton pants, T-shirt, Nordic sweater, cheapy sunglasses, my own hair and a painted-on goat. I wanted my boyfriend to be Maude but we can’t have it all, I guess. He did go as his own burgeoning drag persona and looked FABULOUS, hunty. We had a great time.

  • http://feministing.com/members/hrimhari/ James Carman

    I didn’t dress up for Halloween, I have a party this weekend (and I don’t usually dress up). I’m responding more to the general question of how to critique the trend. I see a difference between telling women ‘don’t dress up sexy’, and critiquing a society that gives women very little choice other than to dress up sexy.

    There’s also the point that Melissa McEwan made a while back, about the Hugh Hefner mode of empowerment: that by allowing women to use their sexiness for their own ends does empower them, but it empowers them in a sexist context and so ultimately contributes to their disempowerment.

    So while I won’t judge people who dress sexy, I will judge the society that makes it more or less mandatory to dress up sexy to the point that the ‘choice’ is often illusory.

  • http://feministing.com/members/cookiemonster/ Ashley

    I went as Rosie the Riveter. I wore an old flannel shirt and a red bandana, and I felt pretty darn sexy AND empowered. “Sexy” is subjective, so I think that whatever makes someone feel confident and awesome can be considered sexy. For some women, that’s the “sexy ____,” and that’s awesome. For me, it’s Rosie the Riveter, and that’s awesome too. I just wish there was more variety in costumes, and being “sexy ____” didn’t automatically make you “slutty ____.” The “sexy ____” costumes can initiate slut-shaming, but they aren’t the cause. Society is the cause.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lkalal/ Lauren

    I went as Eponine from Les Miserables. I got several amusing guesses from “bum” to “chimney sweep.” My favorite was Fielvel!

    Pictures coming as soon as I get them at http://damnthatissexist.tumblr.com/

  • http://feministing.com/members/fullmetalannabelle/ AnnaBelle

    My problem with sexy costumes is that they’re very nearly the only thing available to women unless they want to make their own (which I always I have). I love that people can dress in as much or as little as they want for Halloween, and I wouldn’t have a problem with the trend if there was just some variation. Dan Savage has (yet again) jumped the gun on judging that sort of resistance: most of the people who are angered by the sexy version of the costumes just want access to a normal version too.

    I had two costumes for two party weekends, and both were female versions of men, as I have very short hair now. The first, for the older crowd, was Hawkeye Pierce from MASH, who’s been an idol of mine all my life. The second was Han Solo (specifically his costume from A New Hope), for the younger crowd, and likewise and idol ;). With both costumes, I focused on accuracy first, and flattering my figure second. Since I started putting the costumes together early, there were tradeoffs for each, but I managed both pretty darn well. :D

  • http://feministing.com/members/whumpusthing/ Melissa

    I went as a decided unsexy character- Starswirl the (Un)Bearded, a cartoon character. Completely covered, with a big floppy wizard hat. I was having fun and liked my costume, so I suppose that is empowerment? When I want to feel sexy I dress for it, and for me, Halloween wasn’t about being sexy, mostly because I only dress sexy when it’s for my boyfriend, and we’re long-distance anyway so it doesn’t matter if I did or didn’t on Halloween.

    On the (anti) overly sexy costume blog, I discussed this with male and female friends alike, and some pointed out that while a lot of the costumes for females are considerably sexier than the mans, they could wear the man’s costume in a size small or with a bit of alteration, or make their own. While it’s not the best alternative, it is a possibility. I do see the point made by the tumblr, however.

    A bit of me did feel that slut shaming happens on Halloween, in that some girls insult those girls that choose to wear the kitty ears and skimpy shorts and bra and are a “cat”- to me, it’s a ridiculous “outfit”, but you do what you want in terms of your body and how you choose to show it to others.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lilysavage/ Lily Savage

    As a college student, I often complain to my mom about the “sexy trend” that has latched into the minds of my peers. Though I personally do not feel comfortable wearing those outfits, on Halloween I decided to channel my inner sexy and be a sexy cat. Though it wasn’t very revealing, it’s sex appeal derived from its ability to cling to my body, I found myself hiking down my dress and shivering the entire night. After looking at the above comments, I think I can find a way to still look cute and stay warm for next year!

  • http://feministing.com/members/tryingtosmile/ Tryingtosmile

    I wore a sexy (but not revealing) blue dress, red heals, and red devil horns as “Devil with a blue dress on.” The song has some problematic lyrics (something about the girl being not to skinny and not to fat? ugh), but I always liked it and found it to be empowering.

    For a fairly last minute and easy costume I liked it a lot after I got into it. The dress was a little tight around the middle, and when I first put it on I found myself pretty self-conscious. But after wearing it for about 20 minutes I felt pretty darn clever (and sexy). :-)

  • http://feministing.com/members/integrandia/ Jen

    I’m the pastor of a small church which hosts a Halloween event every year (as a stop for trick-or-treaters, with candy and cupcakes for the kids and hot coffee for their frazzled parents), so I wanted to go in costume but “sexy” anything was not going to fly.

    A brown robe (which I believe was originally a monk costume) plus a lightsaber made me a Jedi quite easily. It was identifiable, it was cheap, and it didn’t run the risk of offending anyone.

  • http://feministing.com/members/tmaple55/ Tiffany

    I chose to go a little on the sexy side but was mostly covered. I was a female assasin from the movie Sucker Punch. I added stockings under my shorts and a purple bob wig. Some jewels and fake eyelashes leadto less eye makeup. I loved it! Playing with other identities is awesome and allows us to explore. I was dissappointed with my selections but ultimately took my time and put something together.

  • http://feministing.com/members/jpbsa/ Jason

    Everywhere I go I’m a sexy ________! I went to a Halloween party as a “sexy devil” I suppose. Though being a genderqueer person I put different touches on it. I had a nice dress on, high heels and glammed out makeup. But I also painted a mustache on my face. So it ended up being a little bit of sexy genderfuck.
    My back up costume was a member of Pussy Riot but I didn’t end up getting to use that costume.

    In relation to the above comments, I don’t think there is a problem with anyone feeling sexy. The problem arises when we buy what is sexy based on someone else’s demands. At the Fuck No Sexist Halloween Costumes blog you can see where all the costumes (especially the star wars ones) with masks for men don’t have masks for women. How are you supposed to know the leatherface costume from Texas Chainsaw Massacre is such without a mask? But these costumes aren’t about the character, they are about a perfectly made up face with perfect bouncing hair. Even the crayon costume has a smaller hat for the female version. Less costume, more skin.

    But then when you see more skin on the male costume it is suddenly a joke, like the nun costume. In the picture the guy is putting his leg out to show some skin. As hot as some of are going to think this is we aren’t dumb enough to think that was the intent of the photo. It is more about the joke that anyone presenting or looking feminine is lesser than a human being. The guy in the photo is in the clear because it is FUNNY to pretend to be a woman…as long as you are joking. There isn’t any comedy implied by any of the female poses on the site.

    So it isn’t that we shouldn’t show some skin and be sexy. It is the way these costumes are being marketed and sold.

    Oh and for more on trans-misogyny during Halloween I would recommend checking out this post http://gudbuytjane.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/men-in-dresses-transmisogyny-and-halloween/

  • http://feministing.com/members/oubli/ LOL

    I went as a Dominatrix and dressed the hubby as an Al Capone style gangster.I already owned the ankle length leather skirt and the corset just needed to buy a festive whip. Empowered in my costume we went to have a night of playful fun at a local strip club!

    Non sexy outfits require a bit more creativity but are totally worth it, one year I went as Miss Miscellaneous, complete with a crazily lettered sash. It was a hodge podge of fashion and not at all revealing (6 separate gowns went into it’s making!) Besides to unsexy? an outfit a unitard can easily be worn under it all and in colder climes may actually keep you better insulated.

  • http://feministing.com/members/lmarvin88/ Marvin

    I was sexy Uncle Pennybags

  • anyadnight

    I bought a $6 plastic chimp mask and wore that with a regular dress. It was cute (and a little creepy), but not sexy and certainly not Halloween sexy. When I handed out candy I was an astronaut and sometimes I put the mask on and was a space monkey. It was fun. The astronaut costume simply consisted of an orange jumpsuit (it was a totally legit jumpsuit I found at a thrift store, not cheap at all) that had NASA and American flag patches pinned to it.
    I just wanted little trick or treaters to see a woman dressed as something cool and/or silly. I wanted to do a Pussy Riot costume, but no one knew who they were or wanted to join in and it seemed to not work as well on its own. :\

    I am sick of sexy costumes. I’ve tried them, but I don’t have nearly as much fun.

    In ’08 I was Sarah Palin and won my college’s scary costume contest, that was really fun. Another year I was an alien. I spray painted a skirt silver, had green leggings, silver gloves, and boots and painted my face and arms green. THAT was really fun and I did the make up really well.

    I think I’ve always looked good regardless of whether I’m wearing the sexy cop costume or the Scary Palin and I get attention no matter what. Many years I have strangers coming up and asking to take a photo with me. I just get tired of the costume sellers thinking they have to sex everything up because they’re making it for a woman. Some women might actually just want to be what they’re being and not require it to be “sexy.” Maybe every single woman is not dressing for the conventional male gaze every time? That’s my main issue. It’s not that there are sexy costumes or that anyone wants to be a sexy costumed person– go for it! Really!– it’s just the assumption that pretty much all women should do is attract cis, straight men’s attention if they want to participate in a holiday that has so much room for fun.

    Also, I take issue with anyone saying feminists haven’t offered alternatives. There’s plenty of sites and list cool, creative, and *gasp!* sexy alternatives and an entire website based around creative, empowering costumes. Not to mention, there ARE sexy strong female character costumes… but it’s like we’re allowed to have our strong women just so long as they conform to conventionally sexy standards. Seriously, why are they asking that feminists provide alternatives? They really ought to be asking why the mainstream concept of women’s costumes isn’t offering “positive examples of costumes that allow you to be both sexy and express your individuality and creativity.” OH WAIT. Maybe because the mainstream Halloween Industry is sexist.. But wait.. we aren’t supposed to say that; we just need to offer solutions to an a problem we shouldn’t define. Geeez.