What not to wear: Halloween edition

The four seasons — or in Canada, three with a two-minute period called “spring” — each bring a new atmosphere with a change in weather and holidays associated with it.

In the midst of Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter lands Halloween, which is arguably, the most creative holiday of the year. Does the whole Santa in a red suit schtick leave room for subjective creation? Not really.

Halloween, however, does. It gives children (and wannabe children) the freedom to dress to their imagination or fan-of-said-show’s-heart’s-content for one day/night. According to History.com and other findings, Halloween started as a tradition “with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts.”

But while exploring the limits to your imagination can be liberating, there’s intention versus impact: a costume that may seem ‘fun’ or entertaining runs the possibility of targeting a group of people in mockery. (See also: Cultural Appropriation.)  

Cultural appropriation can be defined as the act of “adopting elements of an outside, often minority culture, including knowledge, practices, and symbols, without understanding or respecting the original culture and context.”

An example of this in recent events were leaked pictures of a younger Justin Trudeau donning brownface not once, not twice, but on three different occasions. He has since apologized but his actions are proof that as much as we’d like to think instances of cultural appropriation don’t exist, they do.  

Also, seeing various Instagram models wearing a bhindi to Coachella isn’t refreshing as a result of mass market acceptance but rather annoyance at something being worn entirely out of context for personal gratification.

I understand the internal struggle can be strong: how do I express my creativity stifled by the mundane 9-5, or show my inner comedic genius that deserves more attention than my bathroom mirror, without offending anyone or looking like an a–hole?

So for the confused Halloween party goer: Have no fear! There are costumes that can give you the liberating feeling of dressing within, or breaking the confines of your imagination. Avoiding racist and problematic costumes, we were surprised to find, is not terribly hard.

Here is a very general, hopefully unproblematic, list of our go-to Halloween costumes:

1. Household items that are needed for general, everyday upkeep

Dress up as items found around the house that are available and used by the general public. Who said household objects needed for chores are boring? The mundane everyday life can be exciting and unproblematic with these accessible yet random costume choices. 

Examples of this can include anything from lawnmowers to teapots to toothbrushes. These also cost the least and probably warrant the least amount of effort to put together. Other general household objects could include dressing as a spoon and fork, and even maybe a spork if you’re feeling daring. They’re the skorts of utensils.

2. A planet

Everyone lives on the planet. The planet has grass and trees. Wear green and blue and draw some Sharpie oceans on yourself and you’re good to go.

3. A blank book

I say blank to erase any possibility of offending anyone. No topic or cover to judge the book by? No problem. Compensate for the lack of aesthetic creativity of gluing or binding blank (recycled!) paper together. Get creative with it by cutting out pieces of paper and binding them in your own personal book spine. How long is your book? Is it a novel warranting 100+ plus pages? A short story of maybe four pages? The choice is yours! What creativity!

4. A sexy animal?

This is subject to change, pending an animal revolt where they somehow start talking to us and show their dismay with humans dressing like them (Planet of the Apes and the Bee Movie have personally scarred me). Personal liberation of your body is allowed and being sexy isn’t problematic. But if you’re like me and feel the Canadian cold trumps certain attempts within this, just be any animal.

But just be the animal. No problematic animal-humanly-appropriated-crossover. No, Finding Nemo cannot wear a bhindi, or Indigenous regalia. Please. Thanks.

5. Shrek

A timeless icon.

6. Firefighters/nurses/doctors/fairy princesses/pirates, etc.

It doesn’t really matter if you’re avoiding blackface, brownface or other forms of cultural appropriation. But rule of thumb: If you think your costume might be offensive, then it probably is.

So, there you have it. At the end of the day, there are many different types of costumes and things to go as this Halloween that don’t offend people. Just use your better judgement, and be mindful of things that offend other people, rather than just yourself.

And if nothing else works, go as Shrek. You can never really go wrong with Shrek.

Graphic by Kaitlyn-Lee Mun.