My Un-Sexy Halloween Costume

I am a twenty-one-year-old woman and this Halloween I dressed up as a small boy. Before your mind gets carried away, I’ll clarify that I dressed up as Greg, who is ceaselessly optimistic and youthfully witty kid from the Cartoon Network miniseries Over the Garden Wall.

This is Greg.

Trying to be the closest approximation to his character as possible. I planned my Greg costume as good few weeks in advance so that I could make my own teapot hat and buy white tights and figure out where in the world I would get a pair of green overalls. Putting together the costume was a labor of love—ever since I first watched the show nearly three years ago, I have strongly identified with Greg’s unexpected humor, and because his attitude toward life (a sort of naïve, everything-will-always-be okay-optimism) is how I wish I lived my own life. Needless to say, dressing up as Greg felt like stepping into a part of my personality I had not yet tried on, the way I think the best costumes are supposed to make you feel.

My Greg costume! (or, me living up to my full potential)

Despite my teapot periodically falling off throughout the night, my costume surpassed any dream I had had about one day dressing up as Greg. I got plenty of compliments, too, from (the few) people who knew who I was. I felt great; that is, until I started looking around to see what other girls my age were wearing. Some were quite overtly sexy, with small amounts of tight-fitting clothing, and others a more covered-up sexy, either in a dress, or all black, or anything, really, that clearly indicated, "I am a girl." I felt self-conscious that my costume was very much not sexy, seeing as I was dressed up, essentially, as an elementary school kid. The magic of my costume lessened for me a little.

For the rest of the night, people told me, “You’re so cute!” Usually, a comment like this wouldn’t bother me all that much. Cute is not inherently a negative word. But being called "cute" when surrounded by other women dressed as a woman "should"—pretty, appealing, sexy—felt infantilizing.

Part of the fun of Halloween is to dress up in a way you wouldn’t normally, to exaggerate a part of yourself that you normally keep tucked away. Especially for women, dressing sexy on Halloween can be empowering because it is a night were judgment is held back, at least a little. So why did I feel so out of place?

Greg, the Joker, and a flapper

The sheer number of women dressed sexy, or even just femininely, made dressing up in any other way seem not age-appropriate. It sort of reminded me of the feeling I had in eighth grade when I desperately wanted to own clothing from Hollister so I could be mistaken for one of the popular girls.

On top of all this, men are not expected to dress sexy. If is far more acceptable for a dude to simply throw on a banana suit that hides nearly his whole body than it would be for a young woman to do the same. In a lot of cases, women are expected to look cute and need to put in more effort than simply throwing something on. On trip to Walmart to gather supplies for my Greg costume, I wandered down the Halloween costume aisle. There was some ad for men’s and women’s deer costume, and the man’s costume just had a brown t-shirt and some antlers. The woman, on the other hand, had full costume makeup to make her look more like a deer. There are so many more, worse examples of this sort of double standard.

This is an example where the woman is the less sexualized, but there is still a clear difference. For more, check out this article on Buzzfeed.

There seem to me to be two major motivations for dressing up on Halloween, aside from the necessity of that last minute rush to find a costume to go to some party with your friends. People dress up either to be looked at, or to be something else. Neither of these are necessarily a bad thing. Catching people’s attention and be a huge confidence boost, but it can also be seen as attention-seeking. Dressing up as something else can be whimsical or freeing, but it also can be an escape or avoidance of responsibilities. I dressed up this year because I wanted to be something else, a character that I admire.

But, when it came down to it, I didn’t want to be looked at. Somehow, in dressing up as Greg I felt like I was revealing too much, especially because most people didn’t know who I was or what it meant to me. I felt too honest next to people in makeshift costumes of literalized puns or all of the sexy cats. I felt like I should’ve been dressed in something more recognizable, or at least more feminine. If I had dressed sexy, people wouldn’t have been so confused when they saw me because they would’ve understood immediately the point of my costume: to be sexy. The night I dressed up as Greg, I wasn’t looked at as the twenty-one-year-old woman I am, but as a question—what are you supposed to be? Image Credit: Emily Stegner, Drew Meeker, TV Tropes, Buzzfeed