Sexy Nurse. Sexy Cat. Sexy Cop. Sexy Green Poop (yes, it’s a thing). Nowadays you can find virtually any costume and its sexy counterpart. When did this start, and why? Halloween, in the traditional sense, is a night to dress up as goblins and ghouls and frighten your neighbors in the search for confectionaries and other such delights. Once upon a time, women’s costumes were just that, costumes; made just like any other, without bows and ribbons or push-up bras. So when did this switch happen? It was at the end of the 19th century when the hyper-sexualization of women began to be more and more marketable, but it wasn’t until the 1990s-Early 2000s when “sexy” costumes were more than uncommon.
In the 1970s, the market towards adult costumes was beginning to flourish-and by flourish, I mean that they started producing the original sexy costumes: the sexy nurse, and the sexy maid. It’s no coincidence that the market for adult costumes came at the start of the women’s liberation movement. Companies often benefit from social movements without being beneficial to said movements; they saw a potential market and they wrung that towel dry over the following decades.
By the turn of the century, sexy costumes saturated the costume market; sexy cop, sexy pilgrim, sexy pirate, the classics. It wasn’t until Britney Spears’ Baby One More Time (1999) that Sexy Schoolgirl became a prevalent costume marketed towards women as young as 16, around the age of Spears herself. At this point in time, sexy costumes were mainstream and there were far more costumes on the market than sexy nurse, cop, or pirate. In the words of Cady Heron of Mean Girls (2004):
“In the real world, Halloween is when kids dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In Girl World, Halloween is the one day a year when a girl can dress up like a total slut, and no other girls can say anything else about it. The hardcore girls just wear lingerie and some form of animal ears.”
She was right-about the lingerie and animal ears. This was the era of miniskirts and Juicy Couture; costume manufacturers started hemming the skirts, tightening pants, and making stockings, fishnets, and bustiers the new accessories to these costumes.
While the early 2000s pushed the limits of how little you could wear as a non-sworn police officer, the turn of the decade created something new. While the 2000s made its money off of sexy cops and sexy cats, the 2010s made its money off of producing sexy costumes not of job titles or characters, but of inanimate objects, pop culture references, and any animal you can name (Sexy lobster anyone?). However, sexy costumes weren’t just for women and girls anymore; the Gay rights movement prompted the costume empires to start manufacturing sexy costumes for all walks of life, although there is still a vast difference in the type of sexy you see between male-presenting people and female-presenting people. If you look up “sexy costumes for men”, you’ll see a variety of options, usually fully clothed but defining arms, legs, or midsections. If you conduct the same search but for women, you’ll see the number of fabric decreases, but the price tag doesn’t — in fact, it usually increases. Just another example of how manufacturers profit from the sexualization of the female body.
However, this trend is on the decline, as companies are being held more accountable for their part in the objectification of women, and as women are taking their sexualities into their own hands. The decline started in 2012, and sexy costumes are steadily decreasing as more people become more aware of social issues; the inclination to one-dimensional or tone-deaf costumes is at an all-time low.
So when the day of frights comes near, whether or not you decide to put on that push-up bra or smoosh the ladies into a sports bra, whether you choose the basketball shorts or the assless chaps, ensure that the decision is only your own! And as always: Stay safe, stay warm, and have a Happy Halloween. — Haley Berger