Escape from the Sartorial Stereotype: Tips for Creative Costumes

Whether you call it “Halloween” or “Harvest Fest,” this is the time of year when kids dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood or the Big Bad Wolf set out on a mission to collect as much candy as possible before the curfew, and you go out with your coworkers to drink your beverage of choice—dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood or the Big Bad Wolf. Not much has changed, except that you can’t go house to house without people thinking you’re a creepy salesman.

Even if you don’t do New Year’s resolutions, do yourself a favor this Halloween and resolve not to be a sartorial stereotype. Every year, women in particular succumb to one of multiple Hallows’ Eve costume cliches: (1) an adult version of a childhood favorite featuring what looks more like a kid-sized dress, (2) a really bizarre infusion of estrogen into a masculine character or sexless object, (3) a cute bunny, or (4) some kind of feline (see The Office, season 2). These are major stereotypes that women from preteens to adult seem to be stuck in. And perhaps understandably so—it’s really hard to get away from it when that’s all they have for sale at Spirit Halloween.

For men (as well as women), all I can I say is that you should be absolutely mindful of the use of racial stereotypes as costumes—as well as others that might be perceived as offensive, obscene, or derogatory.

With that said, here are some creative ideas for costumes for both men and women alike:

The iconic David Bowie look consists of makeup, flashy clothing, and textured hairstyle. His spacey Ziggy Stardust costumes were mainly designed by Freddi Burretti. Bowie’s costume in the 1986 movie The Labyrinth takes a different path in the direction of the swashbuckling New Romantic scene (although, I do not recommend the guys’ donning anything similar to the Goblin King’s pants—ever). Other iconic personalities with similar styles include Adam Ant and Brian Eno.

Elizabeth Banks’ newest hit role, Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games, was widely celebrated by makeup junkies all over. If you’re feeling like buying makeup for Halloween that’s also suitable for all-year use but do not want to spend a ton of money on MAC Cosmetics, Coastal Scents and BH Cosmetics have similarly pigmented palettes (check out their Halloween contests).  Comparable personalities to Effie Trinket include Björk and Karen O.


If you feel like dressing around a theme instead of a person, you can pick a decade or a genre, or a combination of both. If the theme you pick is the 1920s, you know that every other girl with that decade in mind will be dressed as a flapper, so why don’t you instead pick Coco Chanel or Charlie Chaplin (Pam Beesly was really dressed up as Hitler)? Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that paints an alternate 19th century Victorian universe with futuristic technology using steam as the main power source. In essence, steampunk combines retro and futuristic elements. It’s fun to play around with the idea of mixing time periods and/or genres to create something completely new.

After having said so many Office references, I leave you with this challenge: What will you create?

This article was written for Extant Magazine. I published this on my blog, because the article was not published on time due to administrative issues.

15 thoughts on “Escape from the Sartorial Stereotype: Tips for Creative Costumes

    1. Just every other day? :) Yes, I love steam. I don’t really celebrate Halloween either, but if it comes up on my schedule this year, I’m okay with it. Halloween, contrary to what people think, had Christian origins. Christmas turns out to be the pagan holiday.

      1. Sorry if this not related to the topic but why Christmas turns out to be the pagan holiday? It seems I have to do some research.

        And from the ideas above, I’d love to be Effie :) but sadly I have been so busy these days that I haven’t time to get something similar like that and my sewing skills are not the best lol

      2. Hello Brisallie,

        Here is an excerpt about Christmas’ origin:

        “In the 4th century CE, Christianity imported the Saturnalia festival hoping to take the pagan masses in with it. Christian leaders succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians” –

        As for Halloween’s roots, you can simply look no further than on Wikipedia:

        Hope that helps! I believe it’s really the meaning you put into a holiday. Tradition is useless (as religion) without the meaning you put into it. I myself celebrate Christmas, and I use it to remember Jesus’ birth.

  1. Dumb? I meant damn ahhahaah! By the way, I was basically praising Bowie highly, and how much I love you now that you included Gareth in a post! And how pissed off I am that I was sick on Halloween! :(

    1. Haha, well I thought you really meant to say “dummy!” I thought it was funny. Ooooh, I love Bowie. Now I am really curious about what you said! Oh yea, I was MIA on Halloween too. Not to mention the hurricane here in the east coast made people blow off Halloween that week (and literally blew many of our houses away). We were fine though. Just had a lot of stupid catching up to do for work, so I had my whole week packed. Sorry that you were sick :-/ Best holiday of the year. I like Christmas too, but Christmas gives me sooo much headache.

  2. Playing with alternative styles is always fun. I got interested in Steampunk only recently but I simply love fashion experiments :)

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