Costumes: from fun to offensive

When do Halloween costumes cross the line?

Forest Lieberman

It is no secret that we all want to look our best on Halloween. By the time the horror-filled holiday comes, we have finally gotten around to introducing ourselves to that cute guy or girl from our logic class who we always see at the SLP.

Halloween is the perfect opportunity to spark that special someone’s interest by showing off brain and brawn with an outfit that is both clever and a bit more flattering than what we wore to our logic midterm (probably pajamas from the night before).

However, in this pursuit of a perfect costume, we become desensitized to the feelings and values of others. Costumes that embody a specific culture can be insulting if they make light of or disparage elements of the culture that should be given more respect.

Additionally, costumes that contribute to stereotypes, such as gender roles in the workplace, can be harmful.

Although, it is possible that Halloween is a healthy release for the politically incorrect personifications shied away from throughout the year. It is an opportunity to use satire to confront stereotypes in the same way Latin American countries use humor and lightheartedness to confront death during Día de los Muertos.

So, when it comes to assembling a witty and sexy Halloween costume sure to claim our crush’s attention, where is the line between fun and offensive?

Senior Austin Laliberte, captain of the lacrosse team shared his thoughts on the extent of Halloween costumes.

“If the costume is in good humor then usually everyone gets it,” Laliberte said. “But there is definetly a fine line.”

There are some costumes that are blatantly offensive. Others, however, depend on a series of factors. A Ku Klux Klan costume, for example, is highly offensive; this goes without saying.

But what about, say, a costume that portrays a member of a Mariachi band? If the costume wearer understands the history of the Mariachi, values the art it inspires, and intends the costume to be a celebration of culture rather than an attention-seeking spoof, it’s okay, right?

Well, it depends. Sophomore Claire Flynn, a budding musician and Changemaker leader, shares a thought on the matter.

“It depends on the situation. If someone is celebrating a culture and wearing traditional clothing, that’s great, but when the garment is used as a costume it can become dehumanizing.” Flynn said. “When people go to parties dressed as a personification of another culture, an unrealistic and limiting portrayal of that culture typically results, even if this was not the intent. If you want to celebrate a culture, there are other ways to do so.”

In a college party setting, the intentions of one’s costume can be easily misunderstood. Given the loud music, constant shuffling of bodies and liquid distractions, a party environment is not conducive to a conversation in which one might explain why their costume celebrates culture rather than disparages it.
So, in consideration of others, it would seem as if it is better to play it safe by avoiding costumes with cultural depictions when going to parties.

Freshman Jordan Ashford,shared her opinion on the pressure Halloween poses on certain costumes.

“This year I’m dressing up as Catwoman. I feel like girls almost feel pressured to look good and dress a little less conservative,” Ashford said. “Since the majority of girls do and it’s not as accepted to dress conservative or funny particularly for females.”

Then again, maybe we are being too sensitive. Halloween costumes can easily become offensive, especially at parties. But what if we are allowing them to become offensive too easily?

Rather than be offended, why do we not laugh at the costume and, in turn, lessen the power the presented stereotype has over us?

Junior David Smith has an open mind towards Halloween and all the costumes that come along with it.

“I don’t really think it’s up to anyone how someone dresses on Halloween or any particular day for that matter,” Smith said. “Halloween is an exciting holiday where we get the chance to break free from the social norm of how we should dress everyday. I don’t look at people differently based on their Halloween costume, I just go with it. It’s supposed to be fun.”

By laughing at a stereotypical costume, a “slutty” secretary outfit for example, we are indirectly acknowledging that the ideologies it projects are oppressive and wrong. It is so obvious that objectifying women in the workplace is wrong that we wear costumes that do just that without any confusion that this is a foolish endeavor, a mockery of ourselves, and something we would never do in a normal setting.

Unfortunately, this is problematic. We cannot assume there will be no misunderstandings with costumes.

Many people understand that stereotypical costumes are for amusement purpuses only. However, others seem to forget that it is just a costume.

That being said, it is better to play it safe than risk taunting a stereotype, even if the intent was to decrease its power through satire.

In choosing your Halloween costume this year (or multiple costumes if you participate in Halloweekend), think twice.

Though your intentions are likely harmless, think about how your costume or costumes might be seen from the perspective of others.

Louis Benson, a senior resident assistant and member of Beta Theta Pi, offers words of advice on such conversations.

“Don’t yell or scold,” Benson said. “Be patient, but also suggest how to correct the insensitivity.”
Besides, stereotypes and cultural parodies have been done countless times before. Challenge yourself to be creative. What better way to impress your crush than by exhibiting creativity?

And if you happen to see someone at a party wearing a costume you find offensive, try catching them during the hush of the Spotify commercials to explain your thinking.