In Defense of the Slutty Costume

Today I turned 30. It’s been a good day–I’ve eaten too much, spent too much, and it looks as though now I’m about to say too much. On top of the day’s excess sits a hefty amount of reflection. I spent some time combing through my external hard drive, hell-bent on finding a photo from ten years back. And though the particular snapshot I was looking for still eludes me, I got a hilarious, embarrassing, bittersweet, enlightening, foolish, fabulous trip through my twenties in pictures. Including, of course, ten Halloweens.

The pictures from the last few years have a heavy emphasis on creativity. I want to have the most original costume, nothing that comes in a bag from a store. The best example was last year, when I was at Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland dressed as Madame Leota. I had little lines of people herding over to take pictures with me, like I was Belle or Goofy. I don’t think I’ll ever top that costume. It seems futile to try.

Seriously. I peaked. It’s time to resign myself to cat ears and sadness.

Then we go back further. The results get, well, less inventive.

Halloween 2005.
Halloween 2005.

Yep, I did the slutty schoolgirl, followed a couple of years later by the slutty Hogwarts schoolgirl. There was Slutty German Stereotype and Slutty Jack Sparrow-Era Pirate. Slutty Sarah Palin.

At the time of the above photo (at a McMenamin’s with a tent, not Sassy’s, I promise), I had turned 21 less than two weeks before Halloween night. I was out with friends and my new-ish boyfriend, and for the first time since I’d started college, I felt sexy. I felt confident. I bounced between bars and barns and made it home safe to bed. The specifics have faded–I remember a terrible band (or were they a surprisingly good band? Some level of extreme entertainment), and I know I flashed my future husband at some point. We haven’t seen the friends we were with in years, and that amazing pink lace bra I rocked has vanished between a hundred moves.

Knowing all that I know now, looking at this picture, I wouldn’t do one single thing differently.

Yes, it’s not original. Yes, I’m a basic bitch. But I own these facts. And I’m not going to shame anyone else into not wearing what they want on a holiday as patently ridiculous as Halloween.

Every year, right around the appearance of the first Pumpkin Spice Latte, we’re inundated with think pieces on how terrible slutty costumes are getting. This year the blogosphere was in an uproar over the speedy transformation that Anna and Elsa made from box office Disney royalty to tramped-up cheap costume trends. “Halloween Hits All-New Low with Slutty Frozen Costumes” proclaimed the San Francisco Chronicle, calling out the quick turnaround of Anna, Elsa and Olaf (yeah, your third best friend can be the snowman) costumes cut up and down to there. When I peruse the costumes, I’m far more outraged at the fact that they look like guy-with-a-trunk-in-the-alley counterfeits. Where’s Anna’s jaunty Nordic-inspired embroidery patterns? In my day, you had some DETAIL on that skanky dirndl, TYVM. And what about a twig headband to top off Olaf? There’s no excuse for lazy here, people.

anna-slutty-costume-frozen-492x600 slutty-olaf-frozen-costume-600x600


The SF Chronicle article states that:

On Halloween night little snow princesses will be walking up and down leafy neighborhood streets, grasping buckets of candy in their hands. Boozy 20-somethings looking to get laid and dressed up as sexualized versions of Anna and Elsa shouldn’t be allowed to join this parade.

Here’s the thing though: it’s not the same parade. Those “boozy 20-somethings” aren’t running around neighborhoods plucking candy and a healthy self-image away from children. They’re at bars and parties, clustered into slutty quartets of Wizard of Oz characters and superheroes. Just because it’s a different kind of parade doesn’t mean one should be cancelled for the other. There’s a place on this Earth for kids to have pure, wholesome fun while adults participate in their own version. In those early twenty days we have one foot in, or at least facing, adulthood. The other is still rooted in adolescence, and our nostalgia for what we loved in those simpler, safer days–those characters like Strawberry Shortcake and Snow White, they’re like Kraft macaroni and cheese to our restless, aimless souls.

Yes, not-so-deep down we know that it’s not good for us. But for me, young me, Halloween was the one day in a year where I could dress as ridiculously, lazily “sexy” as I wanted to, and didn’t have to apologize. My idea of what makes me, or anyone else, sexy has evolved, but I don’t feel the need to be ashamed for what it used to be. I don’t feel the right to tell these 90’s babies that they’re wrong, either.

I’m not saying that the “Halloween slut machine,” as the mentioned article calls it, is anything close to perfect. I object to the shady, abusive manufacturing conditions such cheap seasonal merchandise comes from, as evidenced by this horrifying story from 2012. No woman should ever feel she has to dress sexy or slutty to fit in; a short skirt and platforms should only be one choice on an entire spectrum of fashion expression. And these costumes should never, ever be manufactured and sold in juniors or pre-teen sizes. Consenting adults only.

But when adult women are making choices on what to wear for Halloween, one girl’s sexed up Elsa doesn’t ruin my Crazy Cat Lady time. A costume is a chance to play, to be something we’d never want or dare for one night. We can all enjoy our own preference without slamming the weight of collapsing civilization on Slutty Alice in Wonderland’s shoulders.


3 thoughts on “In Defense of the Slutty Costume

  1. Good point in noting the difference between choosing adult appropriate sluttiness and being force-fed sluttiness, or having it trickle down to teens and children. There’s a delicate balance to debauchery, and when you’ve got people dressing as slutty ISIS or slutty Ebola nurses, and every women’s costume at the party store is made by Playboy with no other options, you know you’ve gone too far and the world is ending. I did appreciate some of the ironic slutty costumes this year, like slutty Antonin Scalia. That was hilarious and surprisingly sexy.


  2. “A costume is a chance to play, to be something we’d never want or dare for one night.” That is so true! I really enjoyed this, and it made me rethink slutty costumes. I also appreciated your complaint about cheaply-made costumes. When I was growing up, my mother always sewed my costumes because she wanted me to have something nice, made of real fabric, with lovingly-crafted details. I still appreciate that.


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