Halloween: the holiday that involves sugar binges and discovering ways to scare yourself and others. It is also one of those rare holidays that’s meaning changes with age. Much like Valentine’s Day, where we went from trading cartoon valentines to our kindergarten classmates to offering roses and chocolates to our college sweethearts, the spooky festivities in which we partake drastically change over the years.
Whereas Halloween used to be an opportunity to wear a kickass Power Rangers costume and eat so many candy bars you wanted to hurl, it’s now a sprawling two-to-three-weekend extravaganza filled with drunken excuses to wear a sexy costume.
Costumes are arguably one of the most important components of Halloween. When else can you dress up like someone completely different and get away with it? Unless, of course, you’re an actor. Or a mascot. Or you work at Disneyland.
The art of choosing a costume differs depending on whether you’re a guy or a girl. It boils down to the fact that guys and girls have different aesthetic objectives when dressing up for the night. Girls want to look their best, accentuating all of their assets, while guys normally aim for humor or capitalize on the chance to show off their abs.
On second thought, maybe guys and girls aren’t so different in how they pick a costume. Halloween is a social holiday and, as a result, people use it as an excuse to impress others. A flattering costume will do just that, and maybe more.
The psychology behind costume selection on this most hallowed of nights is intricate. Essentially, a costume represents the self that we hesitate to portray to the world, the side of our identity that on any other day we’re afraid to display. It’s a better, more eye-catching version of ourselves that is only allowed an annual appearance — which means you have to make the most of it while it lasts.
Whether this means bringing out your inner deviant or buying a monster mask, Halloween is a chance to break free from the constraints of everyday life.
Here lies the allure that keeps us interested in a holiday that has become so heavily commercialized. Possibility awaits behind every mask and under each disguise. At the end of the night, it remains up to us who we decide to reveal ourselves to, one way or another.
The last night of October is when the socially constructed wall between morality and immorality crumbles. As the ever-insightful film Mean Girls points out, “In girl world, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” It’s a tried-and-true tradition of Halloween that girls assemble the skimpiest of costume ideas just for the sake of showing skin.
Nobody wants to be a Cady Heron and show up at the party in a scary costume. Who does that? As children, Halloween represented innocent fear. As adults, there are distinct sexual undertones to this night of debauchery.
Even male costumes are starting to get in on the scantily clad fun. This is especially evident in niche neighborhoods such as West Hollywood, but school parties are also catching up with the latest trend that every costume becomes sexualized.
In addition to the morbidly erotic element to Halloween, there’s also an inherent pressure to be clever and daring. Everyone has seen the bedsheet ghost getup, as well as the sexy French maid or a police officer.
Nowadays, people expect more from each other. A costume has to break the mold and make others think a little bit before instantly recognizing it. This delicate balance depends on whether your idea is witty enough to elicit a laugh but not so obscure that others give up trying to understand.
Irony reigns as king on Halloween; the more ironic your costume, the better suited it is for the critical eyes of our generation. This doesn’t mean throwing on some plaid and thick-framed glasses and calling yourself a hipster. Instead, think of it this way: Nobody actually wants to be Honey Boo Boo or Mitt Romney, but if you dress up as one of these two for the sake of irony, you’re bound to be a hit.
Halloween is not an effortless holiday. Finding an outfit and party planning (or even just finding a good party) require social prowess and a sharp sense of humor, not to mention natural sex appeal to complement those costumes.
It almost makes you yearn for the Halloweens gone by, when all you had to do was buy a pre-made costume from a plastic bag and say trick or treat at every door, doesn’t it?
Nick Cimarusti is a junior majoring in English and Spanish. His column “Get Schooled” runs Mondays.