Trick or Treat
Little Bo Peep Show
I love Halloween. For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed being scared—at least a little bit—and the prospect of being someone else for a night has always been appealing. The main attribute I require in a Halloween costume has always been authenticity. This means that, when I was a 4-year-old Batgirl, I needed a costume painstakingly constructed—down to the utility belt—by my amateur seamstress mom and my fanboy Uncle Bobby, rather than a mask and plastic coveralls from Kmart. Anything, for example, with a picture of Batgirl on it would have been absolutely out of the question, as Batgirl would not wear a picture of herself. Duh.
With less iconic, more broadly conceptual costumes, my sense of authenticity was more subjective. For several years—starting when I was around 12, I think—I went as some kind of vampire. Obviously, there’s no precise template for vampire, so I would just construct an outfit that seemed like something a vampire might wear: the occasional cape, a lot of black, an—during my punk-rock teens, tattered stockings and boots with pointy toes.
As I got older, the vampire got a little sexier. Indeed, I would say that it’s no coincidence that my vampire years coincided with adolescence. Like any other fancy dress occasion—by which I primarily mean school formals—Halloween was a chance to become someone hot.
Given that Halloween is a liminal time, a celebration of topsy-turvy, and a last hurrah before the cold, dark winter sets in, going for hotness seems like a reasonable approach to the holiday. Of course, as someone who spends a lot of time around the children—I live in a university town and I am, myself, a student—I can report that the contemporary American young woman doesn’t wait for a special occasion to go for hotness: I see a lot of g-strings floating above lowrider jeans on every walk to and from Spanish class. I would argue that it’s the pornification of everyday life that has made the typical sorority girl’s Halloween costume indistinguishable from the get-ups worn by shticky strippers, or perhaps whores to whom one must pay a little bit extra for the role-playing.
I don’t have a coherent position on sexiness and feminism, and, as I’ve already stated, my position on sexiness and Halloween is pretty much, “Why not?” Thus, to the extent that I’m disturbed by costumes like “Temperature Rising Nurse” and “Sexy Nun”, it’s because I know that if I went as, say, “Evil Pixie,” I’d actually be going as “Woman Who Is About 15 Years Too Old and 30 Pounds Too Fat For Her Costume”—and “Evil Pixie” is relatively demure.
Actually, even if I were sufficiently delusional, I still couldn’t go as “Evil Pixie,” because the largest size in which this costume is available is 6-8. It is, however, available in teen sizes, which brings us to what I actually do find disturbing in the trend toward racier costumes: children dressed up to be sexy and adults dressed as sexualized children.
This ThursdayStyles article didn’t have a whole lot in the way of ground-breaking commentary, but it did offer the unsettling idea of college students dressed up as “va-voom Girl Scouts” and “girls’ costumes… designed in ways that create the semblance of a bust where there is none.” It was the latter image that sent me on a Froogle search for “bratz costume”, and, sure enough, I discovered that one can, in fact, dress one’s 8-year-old in a ersatz latex corset this Halloween.
The online shop where I found the Bratz get-up also sells something called “Lipstick Diva.” This hot little number not only induces unease, but also conceptual vertigo, as the plaid miniskirt seems to be schoolgirl, by way of Trash & Vaudeville, sold back to schoolgirls. In fact, all the girls’ costumes on this page are kind of gross. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t remember quite so many bare midriffs at Halloween when I was a kid.
I don’t really know what to say about all this, except that the peak of female sexiness—as judged from the outside, not the inside—seems to be a brief period between the ages of 12 and 19, and that, when the time comes, I think I will try to convince my own daughter that it would be good contrarian fun—rebellious, even punk—to use Halloween as an opportunity to celebrate her inner prude.
[THANKS TO GRIFFIN FOR THE NYTIMES LINK.]