Dressing the Part: How Costumes Enforce Gendered Norms

by Christina Charie '25 on November 10, 2023
Opinion Editor


Each year, the capitalist machine releases the same set of generic costumes for men and women, along with some geared toward the year’s pop culture trends. With a quick scroll through popular websites, it becomes easy to see that there is a stark difference between men’s and women’s costumes. Ultimately, the consumerist nature of the tradition enforces key gender stereotypes surrounding fashion. 

Women’s Halloween costumes often use common tropes found in male costumes by making the main garment into a dress. This enforces the past standard norms of fashion, since modern women wear a variety of garments that stretch far beyond the confines of a dress. Granted, in context, a dress makes sense for certain costumes, such as a Regency period outfit. For generic costumes such as a pirate, skirts are the most common option for women, despite the creative freedom the subject provides. 

Even though women have worn pants for decades, Halloween costumes offer skirt or dress options more frequently in the designated women’s section. 

In addition to the lack of options in terms of bottoms, many costume concepts that enforce sexist stereotypes are still on the market. Every year, retailers present an extremely revealing nurse costume or a fallen angel outfit with a short black shirt. These outfits emphasize conventional stereotypes, such as the temptress or the caregiver. In 2023, women should not be subject to these stereotypes while shopping for a costume. 

Rather than empowering women to represent icons throughout history, the industry continues to offer the same options. A typical Halloween store might not even carry a Taylor Swift costume for women of any age, let alone figures like Rosa Parks or Elizabeth Blackwell.

People of all genders should feel empowered to wear what brings about confidence, but the Halloween industry continues to lag behind the rest of the fashion industry in terms of providing options. For many, this problem may seem small in comparison to other issues society faces, but this message has a long-lasting impact.  

Halloween ultimately sends a harmful message to young girls and women by encouraging them to dress up within the confines of a stereotype as a form of escapism. This inherently implies that conforming to ultra-traditional gender norms is better than the way the world is currently structured. More women might aspire to break into male-dominated fields if these types of costumes were not marketed year after year.