Administrated Costume Ban—Depriving of Expression or Ensuring Respect?

Disclaimer: This article is a commentary on a satirical article posted on Phanes College in Vermont and the costume ban discussed within this article are fictional. The following article is meant to provide the reader with a thought-provoking discussion on appropriate and respectful costumes.


There was an article recently written on about a small, private liberal arts school in Vermont, Phanes College. Administration, specifically the Dean of Students, Benedict Craven, sent a campus-wide email explaining the repercussions of wearing any costume deemed controversial or problematic. These said offensive costumes included anything gender-normative (sexy nun, devil, witch, etc.), costumes that uphold certain standards of beauty (an example given was the Bride of Frankenstein), and any costumes depicting human genitalia. This email dictating what students are and are not allowed to wear is controversial in its own way. It can be debatable in many different ways—who does administration think they are to determine stylistic choices of students? How much influence should administration and higher education authorities have in a student’s personal life? Self-expression is a form of personal rights, so should administration's entrance into such a personal sphere be considered an invasion? Let’s open this up to debate by first defining some terms in the email…

Gender normative is a term used in place of cisgender to identify gender as either male or female. Also known as gender policing, it enforces normative gender expressions on an individual who is not performing, through behavior or physicality, the sex that was assigned to them at birth. It is the reinforcement of ideal standards of masculinity or femininity. This is dangerous, as it locks one into an identity and implies that certain behavior is socially expected. Starting first with the sexy nun, one could argue that this costume promotes the idea of a woman being objectified in a hypersexualized way. This portrayal of a nun is a contradiction to the role of a woman with values and a vow of chastity and modesty within her own religion. People of this religion could be offended to see someone of religious devotion portrayed in the opposite way and for the purpose of entertainment. Students of Phanes College were encouraged to dress as objects and to avoid any character that could promote gender normativity.

The Bride of Frankenstein, what could be so wrong with her costume? The argument posed by administration was that the character is held to certain European standards of beauty. The characters thus portrays English culture and ideals of women. When the administration issued a ban on this costume, I think they were attempting to explain that no cultural appropriation would be tolerated. Some common culturally appropriated costumes include, but are not limited to, Native American headwear, Pocahontas, Mulan, sombreros and fake mustaches, afros, blackface, etc. Cultural appropriation, defined by Oxford Dictionaries, is “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society." Simply put, it is when someone adopts something from a culture, or acts onto a stereotype placed on a culture, that is not his or her own.  

Genitalia. Often used for crude humor in a way that incorporates vulgar elements. College is the time when you are not quite a real out-in-the-workforce adult, but still an adult nonetheless, and feel entitled to your maturity to make jokes on specific things. Dressing up as genitalia does not show maturity or any sort of adult element. Genitalia sexualizes situations and can often make people feel uncomfortable. You may get a few laughs for this costume, but mainly you will receive side-eye glances and uncomfortable stares. No one will respect you or probably want to be near you. Just please don’t do it.

SparkNotes version of this article:

While administration putting bans on costumes and threatening expulsion is controversial, are regulations really needed to tell people not to dress offensively? Yes. If you are unsure if a costume is offensive, better be safe than sorry and not wear it. On the flip side, if you see someone wearing something offensive or acting in an offensive way—CALL IT OUT, SIS. Whether it is ignorance or a desire to offend, nothing should be tolerated if it is offensive to anyone, and there should be repercussions.