I suppose some kids still have parents who ask their kids what they want to be for Halloween and then make those costumes themselves. It is probably much more commonplace, though, for Halloweeners and their parents to search the store aisles for ready-made outfits. That means that the costumes worn on Halloween are in no small measure determined by what the stores are offering.
In 2000, Adie Nelson published a paper based on more than a year of roaming the aisles of department stories, craft stores, toy stores, and lots of other places that sold Halloween costumes, and keeping a meticulous record of the kinds of costumes that were available for purchase. She also took note of which costumes were marketed to girls and to boys, and which were neutral (not tagged specifically for girls or for boys).
Overwhelmingly, the 469 costumes were sex-typed. Only 8.7% were gender neutral.
Go ahead and guess the kinds of costumes most frequently marketed to girls, and the kinds most frequently on offer to boys. I so wish I could say that this is a trick question.
The costumes most often available to girls were princess outfits (16%) and beauty queen costumes (12%). Animal costumes came in third (11%).
Boys looking for a costume would have the easiest time finding The Grim Reaper and other death-themed outfits (12%). Superheroes came in a close second (11%) and warriors were not far behind (10%).
Less frequently, boys were offered the option to dress up as cops, cowboys, kings, emperors, monsters, supervillains, convicts, and sorcerers. Girls could become brides (insert eye-roll here), cheerleaders, ballet dancers, and witches – though also sorceresses and supervillains, in rare instances of boy/girl costume overlaps.
Other costumes available to both boys and girls included animals, food (such as pepperoni pizzas), inanimate objects, and insects.
An interesting question about singlism and matrimania is how popular culture works its way into the lives of children. When girls go shopping for a Halloween costume and find more princess and beauty queen outfits than anything else, they are learning something about what they “should” want to be for Halloween. Of course, many girls may already come to the stores with matrimaniacal fantasies. Still, those hoping to be astronauts or scientists or J. K. Rowling (the person who creates the Harry Potter characters instead of the characters) or the first female U. S. President are probably going to be out of luck.
I would love to see this sort of study repeated for many years. Then we could see changes over time in the kinds of costumes marketed to girls versus boys. It would also be great to gather data on the types of costumes that get left on the shelves. Just because stores are peddling Princess outfits to girls does not mean that the girls have to buy them.
Nelson, A. (2000). The pink dragon is female: Halloween costumes and gender markers. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 24, 137-144.
Beauty pageant costume photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 25 Oct 2012