Why are women still being judged for their choice of costume?
As the daylight dwindles and pumpkin-spiced aromas become a staple on the wet streets of the city, we can be forgiven for being unable to fully remember the few weeks of sunshine we were gifted with this summer. Unable to face the approach of the darkest months of the year without something to look forward to, society embraces an event: it is far too soon to utter that festive "C-word", so we must lose ourselves in the excitement of the scariest night of the year – Halloween.
Though sometimes considered a holiday for children, this seasonal highlight is arguably embraced more by adults. No longer about sweets, trick-or-treating and apple-bobbing, Halloween gives us an excuse to dress ourselves up while letting our hair down. Clubs and bars will be preoccupied with themed nights and drink promotions, and event invitations to parties will be reaching everyone on social media. Those wishing to partake in a more intimate affair will settle in to watch their favourite horror flicks – from Casper to The Shining.
There may be a variety of ways in which Halloween is celebrated, but one thing remains consistent: a good costume is what turns a generic night into a special event. Halloween is the one night of the year where we can transform ourselves into someone else without being accused of trying too hard or being fake. It is like a society-wide masquerade ball: no one is truly themselves, but that’s okay because everyone is partaking. Walking the streets on 31 October, you are not met by your usual mix of bankers, baristas and builders; instead, you’re treated to superheroes, vampires, and a whole host of literary favourites. It’s as though we all silently agree to embrace our inner child and allow ourselves to play pretend for one night a year, without judgement.
… Without judgement?
Society might take a break from a few things on Halloween, such as usual attire and alcohol limits, but judging one another is so hard-wired that this doesn’t seem possible to diminish. Judgement occurs regardless of gender, but arguably, women do seem to be judged on their appearance to a greater extent than men. If there are "rules" that explain how a female should dress, then there are many different versions; sometimes it seems impossible to win.
Outfits are deemed too prude, but the difference between that and too revealing is one more un-done button. A skirt is too short or too long, whilst makeup remains overdone or lacking effort. If a university student can take the opportunity provided by Halloween to become a pirate, you would think that the same student would have the choice of what type of pirate they want to be: sexy pirate, ruthless pirate, drunken pirate? Anything should go, but the reality is that in spite of the myriad of costume possibilities, once more there seem to be very few ways to dress without triggering an onslaught of external opinion.
If Halloween is celebrated as a night of make-believe, then it makes sense that people might want to take the opportunity to do something they would never normally do. It’s part of the reason the holiday is so widely acknowledged – when else do quiet personalities get to be heroes, or book lovers get to become part of their favourite fictional world? Identity loses touch with reality, but that’s all part of the fun.
For some, of course, this means that they get to take on an identity they would not be confident enough to characterise in their everyday lives. Halloween can offer an injection of security, because on a night where everyone is dressed up, there’s no better time to try on a character you would never normally be able to. Often, the result of this is a lot of skimpy outfits not made for the bracing autumn weather. The volume of costume ideas that are preceded by the word “sexy” are seemingly limitless: in fact, if you type “female Halloween costume” into a search engine, most of the results are sure to get hearts racing for reasons other than being frightening…
It’s almost as though there is an expectation for outfits to be sexy on Halloween. Whilst what is considered sexy might be subjective, the theme of short skirts and cleavage-enhancing tops is far more prominent than costumes accurately portraying the character. (What the hell is a “sexy zombie”, anyway?) The fact that this style of costume is so frequent shows there is a certain level of expectation. Stores are just supplying for demand, so why is there still so much judgement year after year? You would think that on a night firmly based outwith reality, revellers should be able to wear whatever they want with no comment from anyone else.
No one should feel pressured to look a certain way or be a certain thing when it might be the one night of the year that they get to be creative with their identity. Those wanting to embrace the fear-factor and make themselves truly terrifying should be congratulated instead of being made to feel as though not picking the sexy option was a wasted opportunity. Those wanting to reveal their inner queen and flaunt what they’ve got should be applauded instead of being made to feel as though their outfit choice offers some narrative on their less-than-innocent character.
Perhaps Halloween just highlights a wider societal problem. After all, it is an event in which the appearance of an individual is scrutinised much more than usual. The issue of slut-shaming persists on a daily basis, and Halloween brings this to the forefront. We know it happens: people, especially women, are criticised for defying expectations associated with their sexual behaviour or appearance. Whilst seemingly harmless if you’ve developed a thick skin, this practice can become far more concerning in the context of victim blaming. When it comes to sexual violence, the implication remains that if the victim was dressed a certain way or behaving in a certain manner they may have been “asking for it”. Not only is this mindset harming victims and affecting their likelihood of reporting, but it is also perpetuating the idea that the blame might fall with anyone other than the perpetrator. This is wrong. If someone chooses to wear a barely-there costume on Halloween, that is their right. We need to stop weaponizing an outfit choice. At no stage when discussing sexual violence should we ever hear the question “What were they wearing?”, but this remains a frequent line of inquiry.
Halloween can be incredible - it can offer us a break from reality, a break from ourselves and our usual responsibilities. It should therefore also offer a break from peoples’ inane opinions. What we choose to wear whilst enjoying the festivities is our prerogative. Can we agree to embrace the variety of benefits afforded by All Hallows’ Eve and practice inclusion? Whether a hairy werewolf, a cute pixie or an ill-fated monarch, everyone deserves to enjoy their night without unfair backlash. Let’s aim for a Halloween in which the scariest entity is the axe-murderer or evil spirit on your TV, as opposed to waking up to your judgement-riddled social media feed on the first of November.
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