This past Halloween weekend was an ideal experience in exploring “the correct way to perform masculinity and femininity” in today’s society. Per usual, I did not get a costume until the day of Halloween but thankfully located off campus is Dallas & Co. This store has everything from Bernie Sanders masks, fake blood, and ‘sexy’ panda costumes. There is no mistake in the previous sentence, this costume store sold a ‘sexy’ panda costume for women, and not only a panda but a multitude of other ‘sexy’ animals and occupations. I have seen the classic ‘sexy’ nurse or police officer but the panda was a first and I then began to notice that for every ‘regular’ version of a costume for women there was also a ‘sexy’ version. My mind immediately remembered the iconic scene from the movie Mean Girls which perfectly summed up this phenomenon. “But in girl world, Halloween is the one time of year a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girl can say anything about it.” Due to societal expectations and norms, women are wearing less and revealing more, not only during Halloween, but in day to day life.
This trend of wearing the least amount of clothing while still making your costume obvious reaches new levels each year. But for men there seemed to be only ‘regular’ costumes and no need for a separate section dedicated for more revealing costumes. In fact, there was a Gandalf costume available for men in which only the eyes, nose, and hands were visible while the rest of the body was cloaked in fabric or covered by a beard. Now, I am in no way completely against women wearing less clothing if that is how they wish to dress but when it seems expected of us to wear a ‘sexy’ panda costume is where I feel conflicted. Why are girls dressing that way, arguably in cold temperatures, and to impress whom? Unfortunately, being a sexy panda was not in the cards for me that night and I left empty handed.
Reflecting on these questions during the ride home, I remembered our class discussions revolving around postfeminism. In the article by Jessalynn Marie Keller, she states that, “the fashion and beauty industries are central to postfeminist femininity, and women are encouraged to “choose” to adhere to the norms dictated by them in order to mark oneself as an ambitious, empowered, and desirable subject” (Keller, 149). So were women dressing as sexy pandas because it made them feel empowered and I just missed the memo? I struggled to understand how, in some cases, costumes that mocked the female body were feminist. Maybe it was the fact that these costumes were designed by women for women, or that simply the woman that would end up buying the costume was confident enough in herself that she truly wanted to wear it.
Later that night at one of the local campus bars, I made a point to notice what costumes girls chose to wear. While there was plenty of girls that chose to dress sexy, thankfully no one opted for the sexy panda or sexy Harambe costumes this year. In addition, I was happy that no one expected me to wear an elaborate costume. But what I learned was that this cannot only be applied to Halloween, but daily life. Girls in the middle of January will wear tank or crop tops out because it’s what’s trendy or in style. However, what makes this phenomenon of postfeminism applicable to fashion is that women “choose” to dress that way and it’s what makes them feel or look the best and not because society expects it. While I won’t be wearing a panda costume anytime soon, this auto-ethnography gave me a new understanding of why women dress the way we do.
PS for any inspiration for Halloween 2017 please enjoy these costumes