In the real world, Halloween is when kids dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In Girl World, Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut and no other girls can say anything else about it.’ Cady wryly says in Mean Girls. However, it’s not true. In fact, every October women are shamed for their choice of costume.
In terms of All Hallow’s Eve, men get an easy ride – they want to buy a cowboy costume, they can. For, women their search will chuck up results that start with the word ‘sexy’ and end in a highly-flammable outfit consisting of about as much fabric as a bikini. For women, the 31st of October is a minefield of do’s and don’ts. The fancy dress industry’s industrial complex is telling us that if we want to dress up, it can and should be provocative, while the side-eye and under-the-breath comments of strangers say otherwise.
While it might not seem it, the phenomenon of dressing alluringly for All Hallow’s Eve is nothing new. Actually, it can be traced as far back as the 18th-Century when everything people did was separated along gender lines from where they lived, to where they worked and prayed. It’s been noted that public holidays were one of the few occasions when sexes mixed and when flirting between unmarried couples could occur. During the 18th- and 19th-Century masquerade balls that required attendees to wear costumes gained popularity. This created a safe space where guests could expose skin without judgement, and a little nudity was approved of. Though this practice went on for decades, it took until the 1970s for the provocative costume industry to explode. In the years between the masquerade balls and the explosion of camp films like The Rocky Horror Show on to cinema screens, Halloween became a tad puritanical. During the early 20th Century it was celebrated in church halls with candy until the ‘70s when the world was more sexually liberated, and the pill was readily available, which allowed the practice of observing Halloween to culturally shift from a state of morality to embrace sexual deviance.
By its very nature a costume allows you to play a character and take part in activities outside your normal day-to-day life. So, if you don’t feel sexually confident on a normal basis the fact that your fancy dress outfit comes with the epithet ‘sexy’ can be a healthy starting point to feeling that way. I can’t speak for all of womankind, but as far as I can see there is nothing bloody wrong with feeling ‘sexy’ in your clothes, be they jeans and a t-shirt or an abbreviated sheet with eyeholes masquerading as a ghost costume. It’s fucked-up that we live in a world where women are objectified and that the fancy dress industry has co-opted the word ‘sexy’ to mean scantily clad. But, right now, there is a quick way of circumventing the judgement, and it’s by calling out what the problem is: slut-shaming.
Sexy is a feeling, not an aesthetic. Just because you wear something skimpy, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re feel aroused. Though you should never feel guilty for wanting to feel provocative, you can’t buy the concept of sexiness. A £20 cat costume won’t suddenly make you ‘sexy’, as you have to feel it.
Halloween is a fantastical spectacle where fear and fantasy is embraced. Though the dress-code doesn’t read ‘near-naked’, this can be the one time of year when you get a hall-pass to wear what you want in public. It can be a moment to express your sexuality and your desires without double-guessing yourself. We’re grown-ups (whether we like to admit it or not) so we’re not blind to the fact that sex and sexism surround us, but let this be the one day of the year that we choose on our terms how we want to look. Though we know it shouldn’t be limited to a single day, there should be nothing wrong with wearing what you want on Halloween at the very least. If you want to wear a Borat-style swimsuit and nothing else, I say, game on sister!
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.