In defense of ‘slutty Halloween’

Halloween is the one night a year when you can live a little. Can we stop with the slut shaming?


Molly McHugh

Internet Culture

Posted on Oct 30, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 7:38 am CDT

My descent into slutty Halloween was incremental. I took tiny, delicate tip-toes into the sequined, one-size-fits-all land found in the back of Spirit stores. But before that, I was a Halloween slut-shamer.

I didn’t know that’s what I was, of course. I thought I was just smart, too clever to default to a “sexy [insert anything here]” costume. My Halloween get-up had to be topical, funny, and cute, but not overtly suggestive. In order to demonstrate the vast and multifaceted person I was, I had to take my one night of approved adult dress-up and cover multiple bases.

And the women who chose, instead, to don LED bras and cat ears were less-than.

The attention they received infuriated me. Accordingly, I scoffed at them. “Original take on a secretary,” I thought. “Naughty nurse? Really?”

Slut-shaming never comes more easily than it does on Halloween. Here we are, all dressed up, making clear our allegiances to being whores or virgins, make your assessments!

Nary an October goes by that the Internet doesn’t rejoice at the most ridiculous “slutty” costumes we’ve collectively willed into existence, and the bro-blogosphere works itself into a near fit waiting for Nov. 1, when it will post slideshow after slideshow of “idiot” women they’re both ogling and mocking. (“Look at this dumb beezy dressed up as sexy Ebola; nice tits though.”)

And I get it, because I used to do it, too. For some reason the barely-there costumes and brave bodies beneath them made me so mad, and I tried to label this anger as pride. I told myself it’s because I wanted better for these women, so they could be like me—unafraid of revealing their brains in clever costumes rather than, you know, revealing other things. How absolutely positively stupid to waste a perfectly good opportunity for creativity by being a Playboy Bunny. How insulting that anyone might think a NSFW version of Winnie the Pooh was better than my jellyfish costume (umbrella, christmas lights, and boom! You’re a jellyfish!).

Sophomore year of college, while browsing one of those temporary, big box Halloween stores, I cracked. I felt uninspired and drained: I couldn’t think of anything that would prove myself as funny and smart and on it and with it and worth talking to, which, yeah, is a really tall order for an outfit. It was so easy for “sluts” to get spotlight with their costumes! I had to actually work for it!

And there it was. I wasn’t necessarily furious at slutty Halloween; I was furious that I didn’t have the confidence to be a part of it, and that I had to spend so much energy trying to compete in other ways. That I could both partake and, you know, still be all those things I thought I was. And also that for some reason, I thought I have to prove all of that in visual form.

So that Halloween, I was Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island. I cut up an old, already too-small flannel, chopped what seemed like a foot off a pair of jeans, and put on some heels. I felt like I had to apologize to my female friends, like I’d let them down by giving in to slutty Halloween, by becoming one of “them” versus “us.”

The next year I was Rainbow Brite, one of those everything-in-the-bag things, where you should definitely wear shorts because the dress is barely a dress. This time, I self-consciously dressed, worried what people might think, but less so than my first go. One year, I just wore cat ears, a small skirt and top, and put a cardboard box around me that said “cats for sale.” At this point I was past caring when someone eyed me over, whispering about that slut in the cat-box-costume.

For some reason, we think that slut-shaming isn’t slut-shaming on Halloween, that it’s just an honest critique of someone who wasn’t good enough to “come up” with a better costume. I can come up with plenty of costumes! This is the one I chose, and I choose it again and again because it’s fun and I like it and I want to.

I know that this judgement is largely reflexive, that a women is either a virgin or a whore, and of course that notion is going to extend to a day where we’re basically given the choice to visually declare ourselves as one or the other. And I know it’s so easy to give in to this, because for a long time I judged slutty Halloween, but as a women I’m held to an unreasonable amount of dress code requirements on a daily basis: bras, because I “have to”; gym shorts that aren’t too short so I don’t get any comments; nothing that, heaven forbid, bares a bit of my stomach because I don’t have washboard abs and this is just an unspoken rule.

So give me slutty Halloween. Give me one day out of the rest of them where it’s OK that my outside isn’t perfectly defining and representing every single piece of me. I would like more understanding and acceptance than this, but at the very least let us embrace the immortal words of Mean Girls:

“Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no one can say anything about it.”

Photo via Vancouver Film School/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Oct 30, 2014, 10:30 am CDT