A Case for the Slutty Halloween Costume

For as logged on to Twitter and Instagram as I am, I don't see any so-called sexy costumes this year. All I see now are individuals seeking to scrap together looks inspired by esteemed photosets and videos from the last year or so—which only works as those dressing to match the photos/videos can post a back-to-back on their social media feeds (and hopefully go viral). Everything is about virility now. It's less about characters. Years ago, costumes weren't based on viral uploads, but on clever renditions of characters and objects.

Just like almost every aspect of affluent Western society, Halloween has unquestionably been taken over by our new social media culture. People are strolling into parties in unrecognizable costume, basing their entire appearance around one specific photo, not a person. To each his own, but I'm here writing in favor of the barely-there—or as we've loved to call it—"slutty" Halloween costume.

There's a memorable scene in Mean Girls where Cady Heron shows up to a high school party morosely underdressed by being overdressed, and realizes, in a famously delivered line, that "In girl world, Halloween is the one night of the year where you can dress like a slut and no other girls can say anything about it." It's entry-level slut shaming at best (a metaphor of the 2000s), casting Cady as the quirky violator of the archetypal high school party. Ultimate "girl world" villain Regina George is seen flirting with perfect Aaron Samuels in classic Playboy bunny garb, while Cady panics in her undead-bride attire, complete with comically large fake teeth. She's humiliated and confused by her apparent mistake—after all, "it's Halloween."

Cady doesn't look unattractive, but she looks earnest—if not, serious—and while this is a turn off to the on-screen corset-laden teens, the star’s refusal to dress like a "slut" sets her apart from over-sexualized teen audience of the era. This was Lindsay Lohan's entire bit as a teen actress: she always played the realistically hot, cool girl who doesn't realize she's attractive and is conveniently also a genius at math, the guitar, acting, teaching Tyra Banks how to act human, etc. She's an innately good and trustworthy character. And yet, when Lohan started posing for popular magazines in bikinis, embracing her sexuality, we cut her off and shut her down. Lohan was never cast as a gorgeous, slutty villain in films: the public did their best to cast her as a "whore" in her real life. She never recovered from the shame.
If we've successfully reclaimed words like "slut" and "whore," we can reclaim the dress for it too.

Why do I bring this up? Mean Girls, which raked in $129 million while in theaters, profoundly influenced teens of the noughts, including myself (I saw the movie in theaters at age 13). Scenes like this in popular culture painted the message that, yes, you could dress "slutty" on Halloween, but was the reputation you'd earn worth it? Why not strive to be like our heroine, Cady—hot, smart and kind—and shun the very spectacle of sexy dress, then leaned into it (and became universally loathed), and eventually resolved it was—moral of the story—bad, and strangely, an inevitable part of a dreadful personality.

Sexualized dress became synonymous with a nasty disposition. Rachel McAdams, Megan Fox, and countless others actresses who were against their will "bimbofied" during this era were equal parts feared and shunned for their appearances when, in my opinion, they should have been commended for embracing their sexuality. I love Mean Girls, but many aspects of the film just wouldn't fly in 2018.

And slowly, over time, sexy Halloween costumes kind of... fell off. I don't know when, or how, but I do know that when my generation headed off to college in the late 2000s, it was rare, nay embarrassing, to purposefully dress like a "slut." Feminine, definitely, but ass cheeks peeking out of five-inch low-rise skirts and breasts pushed up to the collarbones became frowned upon, even though they'd been all the rage a few years prior. The collective conscious was under the impression that, to be liberal and follow liberal ideals, we had to faction off girls who donned risqué costumes to the conservatives; confining them to frat parties. We believed—because we’re all rife with misogyny in the 2000s—girls who dressed this way knew what they were getting themselves into wearing clothing like that.

Slutty dress became synonymous with "cheap," though I'd argue one of my favorite song lyrics is, "You can't dress trashy 'til you spend a lot of money." Pretentiously, I chose to outsource my costumes from vintage stores, dressing as Madonna from Desperately Seeking Susan, or as a '70s style gold romper-clad robot with full-gold face paint, and eventually, as nothing, just to get even more subversive. We went so against the groove of what we thought was "normal" (we didn't use the words "basic" or "local" back then) that we'd dress up in heinous (and hideous) onesies or even full-body animal outfits. We thought our coolness spoke for itself, as long as we were anything but typical. We'd have done anything to separate us from "those girls" and what we considered their ostensible need to impress boys.

Thankfully, we've changed a lot as a society in the last decade. We came to realize that dressing more sexually explicit than is traditional—regardless of the day—isn't wrong and women who choose to dress sexy aren't "asking for it" and never were. We've changed a lot as a society in the last decade.

Over time, we've collectively gone through ebbs and flows of espousing and shunning our sexuality in the United States—particularly when it comes to Halloween costumes. While some could easily assume it began in the era of Britney Spear's "Hit Me Baby One More Time," what many don’t realize is that the concept of sexy Halloween costumes actually became a staple of sexual freedom in the '70s, in a region where most things free love got their start: San Francisco, CA. As the Castro became the epicenter for gay liberation and second-wave feminism, Northern California's outcasts caught onto something big: what if we subverted Halloween, and instead of covering up, undressed as the truest form of sexual freedom? A leather daddy could dress as Mickey Mouse by adding ears and white gloves. A second-wave feminist could dress as a sexy nun with leather bondage-wear and a nun's habit. A radical couple could go out as Popeye and Olive Oyl, Popeye shirtless in leather pants and Olive in a short skirt and a low-cut version of her signature red and white top.
While the sexual liberation of the '60s and '70s was largely dependent on location, San Francisco's nightlife helped create a widespread market for sexy costumes, and it all commenced following a demand from minorities to free themselves from the mundanity of being otherwise closeted, prone to job loss, endless harassment and even death. There was an eagerness to burst into radical thought, often by those who had been ostracized by not just their peers, but their families. The Castro provided not only refuge for those looking for a home, but a community to embrace this newfound freedom through now famously sexualized Halloween parades. San Francisco continues to provide the aforementioned, though gentrification and the housing economy has been mean to longtime residents.

So, in the age of Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, why don't we, the utterly underrepresented, lean back into provocative Halloween costumes without shame? I want to see sexy Snow White, sexy Minions, sexy Ruth Bader Ginsburg, sexy Invader Zim. Be a sexy version of anything as long as you're appreciating and not appropriating cultures. Let's embrace sexualizing ourselves again on this beloved holiday, without labeling it "oversexualizing."

Also, boobs are officially back in style, so it's a better time than ever for my fellow breast-havers. This stands as a “fuck you” to a failing system, a "Fuck you!" to the past, and furthermore, an homage to those radicals who came before us and dressed as provocatively as they were able. If we've successfully reclaimed words like "slut" and "whore," we can reclaim the dress for it too. So tonight, make me proud, put on your sluttiest garb, and get out there. It's time to bring it back to "cool kid" culture. After all, it was once the most "alt" thing one could do on All Hallow's Eve.

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