October — a whole month to plan and plot, design and fashion our most perfect costume on the last night of the month, Halloween. All Hallow’s Eve began as a festival that borrowed from an old Celtic ritual, during which their priests, the Druids would dress up in animal-pelt costumes to ward off bad spirits and better divine the future. Over the years, the festival remained a secular celebration that traveled to America via the Irish immigrants who arrived in the time of the famine.
For some time, Halloween retained the macabre feeling of its pagan origins, but then it became more of a communal celebration in the late 1800s. Americans imitated the European customs and began to include the door-to-door collection of money or food (now known as trick-or-treating) and exercises in harnessing the dark powers for purposes of matchmaking young, eligible women.
Though by the 1920s and 30s, Halloween had been stripped of religious overtones and become established as a secular celebration, with entire towns organizing parties for adults and kids alike. However, even as the truly grotesque stuff gave way to a wider variety of costumes, the emphasis was still on gore and creepiness. Perhaps as a result of the built-in ambiance, yearly Halloween celebrations became rife with vandalism and all kinds of destructive neighborhood tricks.
By the 1950s, trick-or-treating had become an American custom during Halloween. In the first place, sharing small treats with the whole community is an inexpensive way of organizing a potluck celebration, with no single family bearing the onerous weight of providing all the treats and sweets. The other good reason to hand out candy to costumed youths is right there in the name: a handful of good sweets can be the perfect vaccine against having your home egged, toilet papered, or worse.
A child of the 1980s, I can attest to the fact that Halloween made it all the way to Colombia. We lived in Bogotá a big, noisy city with a security problem. Unlike in the U.S., the idea that children, especially those who weren’t in dire need of anything, would roam at night, knocking on strangers’ doors in search of free food was an untranslatable concept. My siblings and I were allowed to ring doorbells in our building, which comprised 30 units altogether.
On a good night, and all of the Halloweens in my memory were such, trick-or-treating in a small apartment building was enough to make a killing in candy. Since the people handing it out were known to us, we could safely trick or treat without fear of harm. If they had all managed to refrain from murdering us on weekend mornings when we would run around the courtyard yelling, certainly they would not put a razor blade in the apples.
It’s interesting that so much of the custom was imported, despite some deep cultural differences that would suggest that Latin Halloween would be difficult. The very phrase we were taught to recite as we knocked on doors, shows how close to the U.S. adaptation we were following: triki, triki, Halloween, quiero dulces para mí; si no hay dulces para mí, rompo un vidrio y salgo a mil. Nope, you’re not wrong — there is no word “triki” in Spanish, so we basically kept it in English. And then there is the threat, the extortion, the proposal upon opening the door that vandalism will only be prevented if a sweet is handed out. Ever the literal child, I remember asking my mom about breaking the windows, as if I were expected to prepare with a few stones in my pocket for those neighbors who kept their lights turned off. She laughed and explained that it was just an idiom, but when I was a bit older and saw enough American teenage movies, I finally connected the rhyme to the reason — broken windows might very well have been a part of Halloween once.
With no dedicated Halloween stores, Colombian kids would design and make their own costumes, using their mother’s makeup, recruiting help from their grandmothers, who tended to know how to sew. I was once a bumblebee in a black leotard with yellow stripes sewn across it and a thickly-wired set of wings and antennae, which my father bent into the right shape and my mother cover in yellowish cellophane paper. Another time I was Strawberry Shortcake, but the homemade version. My grandmother sewed me a pink dress with strawberries and a little white apron, and my mom dotted freckles across my nose with her eyeliner. I wore a red wig and very naively wished aloud for the plastic face masks they sold in the States. My mother snorted and said, pero si tu disfraz es mucho mejor. In retrospect, she was, of course, right.
More than anything, Halloween was a kids’ celebration in my hometown. Once in a while, the adults had costume masquerades, but these were rarely on the occasion of All Hallow’s Eve, more the whim of the organizers. But when I moved to the U.S. for college, I quickly realized that with the advent of technicolor leaves and cool air also came some pressure to come up with an original costume for the many parties students and organizations would throw. Clearly, no one has issued an age cut-off here, I thought to myself.
That first year as an almost-adult celebrating Halloween, I played it cool and dressed up but not in costume. When I saw what so many of the women and some of the men had created for themselves, I instantly understood the appeal. Women, especially, would construct elaborate costumes or simple ones, but everyone tried to look like someone other than themselves. What is masquerade is not something that reflects some of our deepest, most authentic bits, perhaps the ones we aren’t allowed to air on a regular night?
Halloween helped me realize that even in America, women still could not dress how they really wanted to on the other 364 nights of the year, at least not without fear of humiliation or bodily harm. For this reason, they would make the most of Halloween, the perfect excuse to bare those darker sides of ourselves in a normalized setting. And while it was difficult to perceive whether beautiful outfits, skimpy outfits, macabre outfits would carry over into regular life, at least for that day, many of those college-age women gave the men a bit of a scare. This year, I propose we all take the power back and use Halloween for the best thing since candy and broken windows made up our wildest dreams — let’s stick it to the patriarchy. Here are some ideas on how:
Men have long had more than their fair share of superheroes to choose from, matching their hair color and personality type to any number of ‘roided out titans from the Marvel and DC pantheons. Sure, Wonder Woman is sensational and no one rocks a leotard and a lasso like Linda Carter, but it’s so nice to have a brand new super lady to emulate this Halloween.
Elle Driver from Kill Bill
You know how the super sexy nurse with the white thigh highs and 6-inch heels custom made for running around the ER is one of men’s favorite costumes? Go for it this year, but make it spicy by adding an eyepatch and a white cap with a red cross on it. Purse those lips and get ready to whistle a killer tune — he won’t know if you will share your candy or murder him, and what’s more Halloween than that?
Yes, we know Harry Potter is the bomb, but where would he be without his loyal, fiercely independent, smart, self-made friend. Get yourself a Hogwarts uniform stat, and hope that some of Hermione’s hard-earned wizardry rubs off on all of us.
A group costume, this one is appropriate for you and two of your besties. If you read this and immediately thought, “matching fuchsia-sequined, body-con, floor-length gowns and beehives,” run with that and be the amazing Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard. But this is one of those you take in a totally different and just as bad-ass direction, with the three of you representing Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and the inimitable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, our ladies who represent on the Supreme Court. Don’t forget the signature doily collar for RBG.
If props and accessories are your thing, you might be the type to salivate over aviator hats with flaps and goggles, like the kind we conjure up when we think of Amelia Earhart. Bessie Coleman was Earhart’s contemporary and she became the first woman of color (African and Native American) to earn her pilot’s license. A trailblazer, she was a stunt and trick pilot, a pioneer woman in this field. Despite her unfortunately young death, she opened the doors to many more female pilots.
Ladies of Women’s Soccer
They play like girls and they win like women. The USA women’s soccer team wasn’t content with just bringing home the biggest prize in the land, they uncovered the gaping abyss that lies between what the male players’ salaries and theirs, even though they consistently win. Since their victory, many of the players on the team have made public appearances and used their megaphone to lay bare the wage gap and other forms of discrimination against women. Great individually and certainly together, don the uniform and you are ready to go. If you want to be super recognizable, Megan Rapinoe is likely your best bet, with her short, purple hair, and now-legendary, outstretched-arm celebration pose.
Louise Belcher from Bob’s Burgers
She’s mouthy, sharp, and probably smarter than anyone else in her family even though she’s the youngest. A prankster and a contrarian, Louise is the Lisa Simpson for the new millennium and a perfect alter ego for you this Halloween, just affect a high-pitched hilarity like Kristen Schaal (who voiced the character) and let everyone know exactly what you think of them. Pink bunny-ear hat and green dress not included.
The Gems from Steven Universe
Rebecca Sugar’s series for Cartoon Network departs from her highly philosophical work on Adventure Time and discusses our regular world through the allegory of an alternate one in which Steven seeks his own self-betterment in the company of anthropomorphized gems. I will admit, it took me a while to grasp the concept when my 10-year old brimmed over with excitement about a show he finds equally satisfying and mind-bending, in its unrelenting quest for each of us to just be ourselves.
The most interesting aspect of Steven’s entourage, which is comprised of these various gems named Garnet, Spinel, Sapphire, Pearl, etc.is that, according to my source, they are gender-fluid or perhaps un-gendered. Some viewers see them as women because they are colorful and bright, and many of them are quite powerful: a perfect costume.
A Real Witch
No pointy hats or brooms in sight, a great way to spin that witch/bitch trope around is to dress up as one of the real women who were ostracized and drowned under suspicion of being a witch, back in the good old colonial days when the patriarchy was even stronger. Without the green skin or the striped stocking, you will onlookers to ask you who you’re supposed to be. Watch them squirm like a toad when you tell them.
Amy Poehler herself would be a phenomenal costume to scare the crap out of the patriarchy. She is funny, clever, smart, a great actor, writer, and producer who always looks to help other women. Through her organization, Smart Girls, young women with talent are showcased and encouraged to serve as role models and positive representation. A veteran of the stage and screens of all sizes, Poehler is a superhero. But the character she played on Parks and Recreation (NBC 2009-2014) is a one-woman show, fearless, and totally sincere, a badass with a heart of gold. Steal her look with a gray pantsuit, blue oxford shirt, and accessorize with a clipboard and maybe a waffle or two.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford
If I still find it difficult just to think about what Dr. Blasey Ford had to endure just to give her testimony against Kavanaugh; the mind struggles to think what she endured in the first place and her selflessness in trying to save the country from his tainted touch. This is a very quiet costume that should strike fear in the hearts of abusive men: black-rimmed glasses, a blond wig, eyes closed and upturned, right palm up, giving her oath.
Anyone from Orange is the New Black
This series offered us an entire rainbow of tough, smart, fearless women to emulate, minus the whole committing a crime part. Begin easily with an orange jumpsuit (unless you’re shooting for that weird penultimate season with the different colored suits for the different cell blocks, but then you’ll have a lot more explaining to do) and then finish off the look with the appropriate accessories. Will it be a soup pot and a spoon (Mendoza) or black-rimmed glasses and a brunette ‘do (Vause)? Big, curly blond hair (Nicky) or red lips and a bob (Morello)? A red wig (Reznikov)? A crew cut (Poussey)? Glam (Sophia), Suzanne’s pigtails? Taystee’s pigtails? Cindy’s pigtails? If you’re dressing up with a friend, nothing says BFF like a Flaca and Maritza duo.
One of the Ghostbusters
Remember how pissed some people were when a third Ghostbusters movie was released, in which — gasp! — the busters were played by women? And how doubly offended they were at the representation of different races and body types within the busting team? Well, that was the patriarchy talking. Wouldn’t it be awesome to piss them off some more and all while wearing a stylish brown jumper and slime pack. For best results, fill your pack with slime and shoot anyone who dares object, preferably in the mouth.
Played by Charlize Theron in the most recent iteration of the Mad Max movies, there is no more compelling character that Furiosa in her crew cuts and heavy artillery. If you’re looking to really intimidate, the gun holsters and general desert-caused griminess will get you there without a doubt.
A Life-Size Uterus/IUD/Tampon
These homemade costumes would all benefit from a trip to the fabric store to get pink felt or fluffy white cotton. Though clearly self-explanatory, they each challenge the patriarchy in that they make visible things that many men would rather not think about, much rather see built up to scale. With all of the real and present threats to our reproductive health and options these days, there’s no harm in reminding the dissenters this Halloween that something that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die is something they should fear.