top of page

Unacceptable Halloween Costumes: Other People's Cultures

Sabina Topol

November 7th, 2017


It’s been a few days since Halloween, and looking back, it seems that the same sad trends that emerge every year were more prevalent than ever on October 31st. From cultural appropriation to slut shaming all around, celebrators of the spooky holiday brought in controversy on all fronts, specifically for choices in costuming.


In the weeks -- even months often -- before Halloween, people rush around frantically for costumes for the one night of the year; those that will impress their friends (or their more-than-friends), those that reflect on childhood favorites, those that poke fun at political figures, and those that are just a ton of fun to wear. Unfortunately, lots of these costumes are offensive and derogatory. From Native American headdresses -- significant and meaningful parts of Native American culture that not everyone (even within the Native American community) are allowed to wear -- to Geisha costumes (which, although sexualized in American and Western culture, are women who are trained in the arts), to “Eskimo” (a derogatory term used to refer to Inuit and Yupik people) outfits, these costumes appropriate other cultures in order for those in more privileged positions to have a fun night.


But, time and time again, what people don’t seem to understand is that other people’s cultures are not costumes. You do not get to put on someone else’s culture because you want to, taking the aspects you want of others’ cultures, and picking and choosing the ones you do not like having. According to the New York Times, 1 in 3 Native American Women have experienced sexual assault. When you put on a Native American headdress for a night of Halloween partying, you are not taking with you the higher chance of sexual assault, you are just picking out something that seems “cute” to you.


Tangible clothing items are not the only things people claim their own on Halloween night. Another common and extremely offensive costume is blackface. There is absolutely no context in which blackface is okay. Ever. Blackface is a form of racism that dates back hundreds of years and was initially designed to make fun of black features. People who use it today continue to uphold and enforce the same racist values it promoted centuries ago. Even if people who use blackface do not “mean” for it to be racist and are not trying to use it for derogatory purposes, it is still racist and on top of that, ignorant. And ignorance is not an excuse. This act is not okay, and there should be consequences for this type of blatant resources. People often get away with saying or doing offensive things with a warning, or not even an acknowledgement, which makes them believe that this behavior is okay.


On top of cultural appropriation, Halloween also comes with controversy for slut shaming. Many individuals, specifically but not limited to women, dress up in “sexy”-looking costumes. But many degrade these costumes and look down upon those who wear them, proclaiming themselves as superior for wearing more conservative outfits. Degrading others for what they wear, or saying that it makes them look “slutty” is slut-shaming. Many people say that those who wear more revealing or tight costumes just want attention, or look too inappropriate, or that they are taking advantage of Halloween to be “sluts.” But no one is a worse person or a “slut” for wearing something revealing, and no one has the right to judge other people based on how they dress or look.


So remember: Halloween is a time to wear anything you want, without others judging you, except for racist or appropriating costumes. Halloween is a time for fun, no superiority and no offense. People should not have to dread Halloween as the day their culture gets mocked, or the day they get shamed for how much or little they wear; Halloween is for fun and laughs and candy and costume photos with friends -- and that’s it.

bottom of page