5 Rules of Etiquette for A Happy Halloween for Everyone

It comes each year with the same reliability as Pumpkin Spiced everything. Every year when the leaves start falling and Halloween rolls around the debate begins. What will be the most offensive costume, and what will be the most disturbing Halloween display this year?

Instead of sitting back and complaining like I usually do, I am going to attempt something different.  This year, I’ll share a Halloween Etiquette Guide to help those of you who are either so insulated or so devoid of empathy that you can’t figure these things out on your own. In which case you probably don’t care about any of this anyway. *sigh* Here goes…

1. The How-tos of decorating your house: Your home is your personal property, yes. But it is personal property that we all have to view. Please consider that while you are decorating.

Tasteless Ebola House with homeowner in CDC costume

Tasteless Ebola House with homeowner in CDC costume

Maybe you think that tenting your house for Ebola and getting all decked out as a CDC agent in a Hazmat suit is wildly original and wickedly funny, but have you considered these two things:

  1. You may actually cause a panic in neighbors that will attract the attention of every local news network (oh yeah, that’s probably the point after all)
  2. Maybe it’s not in the best humor or taste to depict a disease that is actually Killing People.

For all of the people who think that the Ebola Hazmat costume is the go-to look of the season I defer to the king of macabre, Edgar Allen Poe. Behold the words of Poe in Masque of the Red Death, as he so eloquently wrote of the moment when Prince Prospero first saw the specter that came to his masquerade ball dressed as a victim of the red death:

Edgar Allen Poe The Masque of the Red Death
There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and Shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave…

…“who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him—that we may know whom we have to hang, at sunrise, from the Battlements!” -Prince Prospero
— Edgar Allen Poe, Masque of the Red Death

So, to the person who hung bloody babies from the fence surrounding their house: No, just no. And to the person who uses Halloween to decapitate and hang political figures in their yard: Election Day is just 1 week after Halloween. Please wait until then to express yourself politically. I’m so damn tired of someone thinking it’s ok to hang the POTUS and other black figures from a tree. Not only is it unpatriotic but lynching alludes to the next rule.

NO blackface Ever!

NO blackface Ever!

2. Don’t be a racist!

No blackface. Period. If you honestly don’t know why people get so upset about blackface, I suggest you take just five minutes of your precious time and do a little reading. It's easy. Just do a simple internet search on Al Jolson, Stepin Fetchit and the Minstrel Shows. This is the history of our great nation after all. There really is no acceptable occasion to wear blackface.

If I dress up as a Disney Princess for instance and I want to accurately match my skin tone, I can dress up as Tiana. If I stretch it maybe I can eek out a Jasmine or Pocahontas. But here’s the big news; you don’t really have to match your skin tone, yeah? If I want to be Belle or Ariel or even Elsa, who’s going to stop me? Most of the costume is in the clothes, the makeup, and the wig so...

People will get it. Trust me.

The Disney Princesses
Black George Washington

Black George Washington

This wouldn't even be an issue if more people grew up like I did, being of a darker complexion in a majority white society. Some of us had to learn early on that skin tone does not make or break a costume. We didn't have a choice. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with being a “Black George Washington”, just ask SNL's Stefon.

If you are white and still want to be 100% accurate in skin tone, Congratulations! You won the skin tone lottery in that you still have many characters to choose from. Just look at that picture of the Disney Princesses. So you’re not a perfect tone match for Tiana or Storm or Beyonce' for that matter. You can still be like almost anything else. 


Prince Harry Natzi costume

Moving on, any costumes that elude to a historical atrocity that caused great pain and/or genocide of a specific race should also be avoided.   (I’m talking to you Prince Harry) So, if you had plans to go as a character from Django Unchained or 12 Years a Slave, just don’t.


Other costumes that fall into the racist category:

Costumes that allude to any stereotypes of a particular race. I may be guilty of this breech of etiquette because it is more nuanced. I tend to think of the Asian or Mexican migrant worker costumes as the worst, but some groups are upset about the "commandeering of their culture" as a costume. I can certainly see their point, but where is the line where celebrating their culture turns into mocking it? I don't know for sure. My recommendation is to do research and tread lightly. 

A rule of thumb that I use with all costumes is to ask myself a simple question: Would I feel comfortable wearing this around the people that this costume depicts? If the answer is no, just don’t do it.

Redneck Costume

Some are undoubtedly now saying, what about those redneck costumes available in many retail stores?  The costume kit usually consists of a mullet wig, some type of make-up to blacken out your teeth, and a prop like a beer, tattoo, or a piece of grain to chew on I guess. I agree it certainly is offensive, but I would not categorize this as a racist costume. Instead I would say it is an example of...

3. Classism -

Leann Rimes redneck costume

Leann Rimes redneck costume

Classim - unfair treatment of people because of their social or economic class
— Merriam-Webster definition

The "red neck/white trash" costume obviously represents biases, stereotypes, and prejudices assigned to people of a lower socioeconomic standing by someone in the dominant class.

I don't have too much experience with that type of costume, but this does make me think back to my childhood when my brother and I dressed up as hobos. I liked the costume because we got to wear our Father's over-sized clothes and we could wear “dirty” makeup.

I always begged for a pole with a polka-dotted handkerchief tied to the end. One year I rigged my candy bag at the end of a stick. It wound up getting too heavy as the trick or treating progressed. (In retrospect I guess that was a pretty good problem to have.) I was obviously heavily influenced by the cartoons of that time and thought I was like the guys on the Conjunction Junction - School House Rock video or maybe a Norman Rockwell portrait. I even walked around singing, “How dry I am…”

Now, as an adult, I would never dream of making fun of a homeless person. And I think if I had been exposed to more homeless people as a child, I wouldn’t have thought it was so funny to dress up as one. Yes, in retrospect, that costume was definitely classist.

4. On the subject of sexism in costumes... 

Some may disagree with me, but I am not offended by adult themed costumes. I just feel there is a time and place for everything. Even if I don't have a problem with you wearing bedroom clothing outside of the bedroom, I would have a problem with you wearing it around children. So I have to mention that one caveat again. Similar to what I said about decorating, if you are going to be displaying your private body in a public manner, please be considerate of whoever may see your privates. (I sure hope your costume doesn’t expose your privates.) Keep the revealing costumes and racy adult humor costumes to the appropriate venues.

Sin City Old Town Girls - Costume inspiration?

Sin City Old Town Girls - Costume inspiration?

 One time I went to an adult costume party dressed in fish net stockings, a mesh shirt - bra showing- heels, a short skirt and a whip. What can I say? It was circa 2006 and I was obsessed with the Old Town Girls from the Sin City movie. Not to be outdone, one of the guys at the party arrived with nothing but a tie and boxer briefs stuffed with dollar bills . Pretty wild, yes, but again this was a private house party for adults and no one else was unwillingly exposed to our debauchery. So it’s all good, with good friends. Just keep in mind the camera phones.

The annual winner of the most sexist costume (yes there is a new one every year) is the Ray & Janay Rice costume. For those of you who don't follow football, Ray Rice punched and knocked-out his then fiance, but now wife, in an elevator earlier this year. This abusive incident received a lot of media attention due to the video footage of him dragging her unconscious body out of the elevator by her arm, and the NFL Commissioner's subsequent attempts to downplay the event.

The unfortunate theme of the Rice costume is basically to make fun of what happened to Janay Rice. This translates into a costume that usually entails a man dressed in Ray Rice's football jersey accompanied by a woman donning a black eye. If the tasteless man portraying Rice does not have a significant other to play the abused, (I wonder why) there are some renditions where the guy just drags a black blowup doll around. Yes, pretty sad. I've even seen kids dressed up this way carrying a black doll. Portrayals of domestic abuse never = funny and are in fact pretty shitty!

My other gripe when it comes to sexist costumes is with retailers. It is frustrating that most of the costumes presented to females of all ages are very revealing, form fitting, and sexualized. The ‘choices’ presented to us are extremely limited. (Just like with regular clothes.)

Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble

One year I wanted to dress up as a cave woman to take my daughter and her friend trick or treating at the mall. I attempted to buy a costume hoping for a Wilma Flintstone/Betty Rubble type of deal. But nope, sorry. All of the Flintstones outfits left me fearful that if I bent over to tie my daughter’s sneaker, the people behind me would get a treat indeed.

One Million Years BC Raquel Welsh

How about just a generic cave girl costume? Nope, sorry, that was not in the cards either since all retailers had to offer me was something like what Raquel Welch wore in One Million Years B.C. So those were the only options I had to take my child to the mall where there would be other kids and families.

Clan of the Cave Bear

Seriously some of these outfits left me fearful that I ran the chance of ending up like Darryl Hannah in Clan of the Cave Bear. Certainly the costumes were designed by men of the same mindset. I wound up making my own costume. So yeah, stores get your act together. 

And while I’m at it, Hey retailers...

5. No more fat shaming please, thank you.

Walmart Fat Shaming Costumes

Walmart Fat Shaming Costumes

Wal-Mart I’m talking to you. In case you missed it, this was recently in the news. Evidently a search for plus-sized costumes on the Walmart.com site brought up a category labeled ‘Fat Girl Costumes’.

If you are thin, then you are expected to wear a revealing costume. But if you are heavier, you better cover all of that up. Interesting.

Lara Croft Cosplayer

Lara Croft Cosplayer

Finally, let's not forget about the cattiness of the internet.  Remember all of the memes that were created because this cosplayer had the gall to dress as Lara Croft?

I guess Halloween is just for thin people? Come on, we’re better than this! Before you comment on someone else’s costume, consider whether your comment adds anything festive or fun to the Holiday. I mean, really. When did we become a society so devoid of empathy?

Halloween is a fun, kick-ass holiday if you ask me.We get to dress-up, eat candy, and get scared half to death. You should all have lots of fun, but your fun should not come at the expense of others. Try to keep that in mind while planning your Holiday. 

Happy Halloween have fun and enjoy it!