Halloween Costumes – disrespectful or just good fun?

We are coming up to that time of year where almost everyone loves to dress up. Whether it’s for a party or for trick-or-treating, costumes are an integral part of Halloween. Traditionally costumes tend to be people’s favourite characters, think Disney princesses and superheroes or they would be paranormal creatures like witches or vampires, however now costumes are getting wackier and wackier.

Before I start to talk anymore about Halloween costumes, I suggest you check out these three Buzzfeed videos that inspired me to write this post today.

In these videos, people from three different cultures try on shop bought, premade Halloween costumes that are advertised as being from their culture, Overall the summary that the people trying on the costumes come to is that these costumes rely heavily on stereotypes which mean they can be offensive and sometimes racist.

Obviously the people designing the costumes did not mean for the costumes to come out this way and simply mean for them to be a bit of fun. The whole purpose of the costumes is to be something different that people get to wear on one night of the year.

When looking at whether or not these costumes qualify as disrespectful and offensive, there are two view points which can be taken. The first, is that of the people manufacturing the costumes and the people choosing to buy and wear them. Since very few people intend to be offensive, the assumption that can be made is that the designers have attempted to oversimplify an entire culture into one outfit, whilst also making it appealing to the Western market and failed. Clearly, when designers do this, they are not and they know they are not providing a full and accurate view on the culture, simply choosing to pick out the most popular bits. Therefore this means that whilst the costumes may not be accurate, they are not intended to be a history book or exhibit, they are just a bit of fun.

On the other hand, those belonging to the cultures that are being misrepresented in these Halloween costumes feel very differently. They feel that these costumes are making a joke out of values and cultures that are close to their heart and that other people don’t understand. As a privileged white girl living in the UK, I have been lucky enough to never experience such casual racism, meaning I can’t even begin to imagine the frustration and disappointment these people feel as their cultures are made into jokes. This is where the problem lies. These costumes are casual racism, Racism so ingrained into people’s everyday lives that people don’t know it’s there. To some people a Halloween costume may just be a bit of fun, but the people’s whose cultures are being made a joke, it is yet another sign of the constant and often unnoticed racism.

What do you think? Are these Halloween costumes offensive or just good fun?

I’d love to know what you think.

Always Opinionated Girl


6 thoughts on “Halloween Costumes – disrespectful or just good fun?

  1. Luna Cooler says:

    This is cultural appropriation here. I tell this to people and then some people say, “Well, can’t I express myself on Halloween?” The problem with that is that, you may be able to express yourself, but the people of that culture you’re dressing up as will not be able to express themselves without being stereotyped or told “you’re supposed to wear this and this”. And then some people say to me, “Take a freaking joke!” Cultures are not costumes, nor are they things to cherry-pick elements from and make a twisted version of. Geez.


  2. Dani W says:

    Ok, while I agree with the whole cultural appropriation thing, I also wonder where the line is and what counts.

    For example, I am a white girl who grew up in China and Japan. While there, especially while in China and very young, I dressed up in Chinese dresses made in China by Chinese people. These were not premade ‘costumes’, but I used them as costumes. Does that count as cultural appropriation if I am in the country wearing clothing not solely intended to be a costume as a costume?

    Then you have the other question. Is it wrong for a Japanese person to dress up like a white American?

    Oh, and then what about if I want to wear South African-style dresses to reflect my South African nationality, even though I’m white, not necessarily as a costume?

    These sorts of discussions are always more complicated than they initially seem.


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