Changing Costumes

This is not another post about how Halloween retailers sexualize young girls by labeling costumes with names like “sailor sweetie” or “cop cutie.” This is not another post about the padded muscle costumes that encourage hyper-masculinity in boys (although, to be honest, I really haven’t seen any posts addressing it the same way the sexualization of girls is addressed). This is not another post about how all “girl” costumes feature skirts, glitter, and princesses or how all “boy” costumes have bloody weapons or are superhero-themed. This is an exploration of how occupation or career-themed costumes are labeled as “girls” or “boys.”

First of all, I have nothing against girls who want to be princesses, sparkly witches, or cowgirls or boys who want to be superheroes, pirates, or ninjas. I’m all about Elsa, Ariel, and Spiderman—you do you, Batman. Halloween is all about dressing up and pretending to be someone or something else, and that’s the beauty of it.

I chose to feature major Halloween retailers—Walmart, Target, Party City, Halloween Express, Spirit Halloween, and Costume SuperCenter—and only selected the pictures listed under the occupation or career category. All the websites sorted their costumes by “boy” or “girl,” so when you see a boy wearing a costume on the “girls” side, just know that the picture is there because the retailer categorized the costume as a costume that could be worn by either gender. For transparency’s sake, know that I left out certain costumes. While most of them are definitely real careers, I had to narrow it down in some way. Here is what I left out: athletes, circus clowns, gangsters, “career criminals,” pop stars, referees, and Hollywood stars. However, I kept dancers and fortune tellers because, frankly, the girl’s side was lacking representation.

Click on the collections below to see for yourselves…

Interpret the collection of pictures however you would like, but here are my observations:

  • There are way more occupation or career costumes for boys than girls.
    A lot of the “boy” costumes also could be worn by girls. Some may be more male-dominated, but it’s not like the occupations of firefighters, astronauts, or postal carriers are exclusively held by men.
  • When the retailer did categorize the costume as “either,” the image is always a boy. The default child is “boy.”
  • Target actually had a “gender neutral” costume option, but the only occupations featured under this category were depicted by boys.
  • The retailers all seemed to have the same costumes, but how they categorized them varied slightly.
  • There are very few non-white children featured in the occupation or career theme category of all of the retailers. In fact, Target had all white children featured in their occupation or career costumes except for the two models dressed as Doc McStuffins.
  • I was somewhat hopeful when I saw that Costume SuperCenter carried a brand with a girl and a boy wearing the same costume in the same picture, but then the company categorized the doctor, vet, and chef as either “girl” or “boy” and the construction worker, police officer, and fire fighter only under the “boy” category. This is despite the fact that the image had both a boy and a girl. Take a look below.


So what does all this mean and who is to blame? When children play pretend and imagine themselves in certain careers, don’t we want as many options for our girls as we do our boys? Children should be encouraged to explore all types of careers, and Halloween is the perfect time for boys and girls to take on these different roles. When the occupation or career costumes marked “girl” only feature the options seen in the collection of photos above, when a costume could be for a boy or a girl yet the default image features a boy, what message are we sending to our children? Are we steering girls away from these occupations by not including their images with the costume? Maybe.

As a child, it’s difficult to imagine you can be someone or do something if you can’t see a person that looks like you in that position. Yes, there are lots of other factors that influence which career girls end up pursuing, and, yes, the availability of Halloween costumes probably is a tiny piece of that puzzle. But what’s the harm in at least giving girls the option to explore different roles through costumes in the same way we allow boys to explore?

I’m not advocating that parents should force their children to be something that they don’t want to be. If a girl wants to be a sparkly princess, let her. If a boy wants to be a secret agent, let him. But the option to be a firefighter or construction worker should be given to girls as it is for boys. It shouldn’t be edgy or gender-bending that a girl would want to dress up in the same occupation or career costumes as a boy.

This is not the fault of the companies who manufacture the costumes, though they could feature both a boy and a girl in their costumes to make it easier for retailers to market their products more broadly with more diverse models.

This is not the fault of major retailers who sell the costumes, though they could do a better job of categorizing and labeling their merchandise. Instead of saying a costume is either for a “boy” or “girl,” labeling it as a “child’s” costume would give children and parents the power to decide for themselves.

This is our fault. We, as a society, are to blame for the lack of occupation or career- themed costumes for girls. Manufacturers do not make products that cannot be sold by major retailers, and major retailers do not carry products they cannot sell. Consumers drive demand for products. We have to collectively take action. Our girls deserve better.


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