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Dressing the part: Halloween costume tips

Posted by Robin Abrahams  October 17, 2012 05:15 PM

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Tempus fugit, my dears! It seems like Entitled Bridezilla Outrage Season has barely ended when Slutty Halloween Costume Outrage Season begins. I was asked to do an interview on NECN on the topic of costume "appropriateness" yesterday, as I am pretty much every year. When did this become part of the Halloween tradition -- the marketing of ridiculous "sexy" versions of costumes, and the marketing of outrage about it? Was this a thing 10 years ago? 

I mean, I get it. Women do not need a "Sexy Body Bag" costume. But honestly, who buys a body bag costume anyway? A $5 garment bag from Goodwill, an index card, some corpse-y face paint and you're good to go. Between eBay and the research capacities of the internet, it's easier to whip up a nifty Halloween costume nowadays than it ever has been. 

Some basic guidelines to maximize your costumed fun: 

1. Dress venue-appropriate. The office is not a nightclub. Costumes should provide the same amount of coverage that an ordinary outfit would. Oh, all right--10% less coverage and that's it. No Playboy Bunny suits at work, no Borat budgie-smugglers anywhere at anything but the most libertine of adult parties. 

Also, consider the mood of your outfit. A kindergarten teacher shouldn't go as Magic Mike, but he shouldn't go as an extra from "The Walking Dead" either. Save the sex & violence for adult hours after work. If you're working with older people, sick people, very religious people, then keep your decorations and accessories focused on the harvest/pumpkins aspect of Halloween, not the death/morbidity aspect. 

 2. Little kids shouldn't be a "sexy" anything. And there's a good chance they don't want to. If your kid wants a costume that you feel is inappropriate, try to figure out what kind of feeling they're trying to get from it. "Sexy" probably is not that feeling. Little kids -- big kids -- adults -- love costumes because they make us feel different, powerful, glamorous. Does your kid want to fit into the crowd with her costume, or stand out? Does he want a costume that feels like who he is, or someone totally opposite? With a little psychology, you might be able to find a costume that gives your kid exactly the mojo they're looking for without giving you a heart attack. 

3. Clever > Glamorous > Sexy for all ages and genders. Here's where we're going to talk tactics, not just etiquette. If you're going to an adult party or a bar for Halloween, and you want to dress as a Sexy Unicorn, shine on. It's not a manners misstep. 

However, if you want to make new friends--and particularly if you want to meet someone who could be more than a friend--tone it down. You don't have to be a Sexxxy French Maid. When everyone is running around courting pneumonia, different and approachable beat sexxxayy hands down. (This is true for straight men and women, anyway. Halloween in the gay male community might play by different rules!) 

Based on personal experience and some academic research into human nature, I can assert the following with some confidence: At a party of mostly-single 20- and 30-heterosomethings, a woman dressed as a librarian, a diner waitress, or Rosie the Riveter, when all the other women are dressed like Sexy Kitty Cats, will get more male attention than she knows what to do with. Trust me. 

4. Don't dress as someone else's ethnic group. That includes Gypsies. I realize that's unfortunate, truly I do. As a compulsive accessorizer and bad holiday planner, I've more than once thrown a few more scarves and bangles on and said, "The hell with it, I'll just be a Gypsy again."   But this is not kosher. Gypsies aren't like half-Orcs or something, they're people. I mean, would you dress as a Jew for Halloween? Of course not. So don't dress like another ethnic group that was killed by the millions in the Holocaust and is still getting kicked out of European countries to this day, either. 

What are you going to be for Halloween? I think my costume this year will be--since I am a PhD and also a perky brunette from Kansas--"The Professor and Mary Ann." Half-and-half, straight down the middle. It might challenge my sewing skills, but I think I can do it. You?

UPDATE: Some great pro tips from ComicCon cosplayers. These guys are hardcore. Tip #9 is my favorite. 
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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