As Cady Heron put it, “In Girl World, Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress up like a total sleaze and no other girls can say anything else about it.” This infamous quote from the world-renowned movie Mean Girls most accurately epitomizes the common attitude many women today hold towards Halloween. It’s a holiday made for women to have fun with their costumes and break the norms that society wants them to conform to…or so they are told.

The risqué Halloween costume phenomenon dates as far back as the 1940s. Surrounding the peak of Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” movie studios began using their actresses for film publicity during the spooky season. These production companies would require their actresses to dress in tiny corsets and fishnets for their promotional photos—many of the outfits in these photos were never even seen in the actual films. Regardless, it was what most enticed their audiences to watch them. Then, in 1973, New York had its first annual Halloween parade which completely changed the game. Costumes were no longer a little bit risqué; they were full-on scandalous. During this time period, the second-wave feminist movement gained momentum, encouraging women to express themselves. In turn, they began to dress in shockingly revealing outfits in an effort to defy the patriarchy. Yet, did this really stand against a sort of patriarchy, or feed right into one?

Absorbing into the early 2000s, girls were going wild (literally), and the suggestive horror films weren’t going anywhere. The uber-successful Scary Movie film series was released and drew the public instantly. The movies typically either began with a scantily clad woman running from a guy in a mask and/or featured all sorts of sexual innuendos throughout. Sequentially, the erotic Halloween getups continued. Meanwhile, another hit film on the block, Mean Girls, has made it okay to not only put barely anything on, but also to put barely any thought into one’s costume. For example, dressing up in lingerie and mouse ears. Put simply, the female faces of Halloween at this time were almost always dumb and seemingly always died first. But hey… at least they’re hot, right?

These common portrayals of women completely dishonor the movements intended to deliver them from objectification. Still, in 2023, occurrences of lewd ensembles are hard to miss on Halloween. Females continue to be exploited victims of the “sexy costume” fad, as they are told by companies that it’s all intended to be in good fun and freedom for women. However, there is much skepticism behind the genuineness of these proclaimed intentions, due to the fact that scandalous men’s costumes are few and far between. Costume and production companies solely capitalize on the female archetype, then sugar-coat it with their phony intent of “fun.” Considering all this, it truly is important to have fun and be yourself during Halloween. As much as dressing up is exciting, it’s still crucial to be mindful of societal themes and ultimately, the wider implications of the way you present yourself. 


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Written by

Regan Brown

Regan Brown, senior, is involved with the Humanities and Global Citizen Pathways, along with Missions, Ignite, and Mock Trial. In her free time, she loves going to the beach with friends, listening to true crime podcasts, and hunting for cool thrift finds!