Yikes, you guys! Halloween is almost here! Do you have a costume yet? Never fear—if your sexy bunch of grapes costume got lost in the mail, here are 10 last-minute feminist costume ideas that you can put together in less than an hour, using materials from around the house (or maybe the drugstore.)
But first: a quick refresher course in feminist Halloween etiquette.
FEMINIST HALLOWEEN DOs AND DON’Ts
DO freak out the patriarchy. When you’re trying to figure out an “edgy” Halloween costume, a good trick is to ask yourself “WHOM might this costume make uncomfortable?” If the answer is “white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy,” YES, GO AHEAD with your bloody tampon Halloween costume. If the answer is “my mom,” that’s a personal family decision you’ll need to make on your own. If the answer is “PC social-justice warriors,” hang up that war bonnet, my darling girl, and figure something else out.
DON’T alter your appearance, especially your skin or your hair, to make it look like you have a different race or ethnic background. This includes wigs, hair color, makeup, and masks.
DON’T appropriate the sacred regalia or symbols of a religion that isn’t your own. I think it’s totally within Madonna’s rights to gleefully blaspheme the Catholic Church in which she was raised. I think it would be weird for her to do that with another religion.
DO consider your own identity affiliations and privilege when choosing a costume. The same costume might be edgy and transgressive on one person and creepy or downright inappropriate on another.
DON’T make light of the death or suffering of real people; this includes references to genocide, slavery, and other institutional raced or gendered violence.
DO draw bloody tears down your face with lipliner whenever possible.
And now: on to the costumes!
THE YELLOW WALLPAPER
From Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 novella: “There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will… it is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern.”
You’ll Need: Yellow construction paper; stamps, crayons, markers, fabric paint, or other art supplies; Scotch tape; safety pins or glue; optional yellow outfit OR old-fashioned frilly nightgown; optional yellow face paint crayon (usually available as part of a drugstore Clown Makeup kit); optional hairspray, comb, liquid eyeliner, and mascara.
Prep Intensity: Low to medium, depending on your artistic ambitions. You can definitely put something good enough together in less than an hour.
Step 1: If you have a yellow outfit you don’t mind ruining, decorate it with fabric paint in a crazy pattern. Otherwise, decorate several sheets of yellow construction paper; you’ll attach these to your clothes to make it look like you tore all the paper off the walls of your recovery room and/or escaped from behind the wallpaper of someone’s recovery room (hint: the answer is AND.) Perkins Gilman’s narrator describes the pattern like this:
The outside pattern is a florid arabesque, reminding one of a fungus. If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an interminable string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless convolutions—why, that is something like it.
Step 2: If you used paint, let it dry. While it’s drying, tease your hair so it looks wild and matted. If you have a facepaint crayon, apply it in a wild curlicue/bubble/dot pattern over any exposed skin. If you don’t have face paint, consider applying eyeliner and mascara heavily, then rub your eyes aggressively so makeup smudges all over your face, making you look tired and sad and deranged.
Step 3: Put on your yellow outfit, nightgown, or other clothes. If you decorated construction paper, rip it into jagged strips and patches and attach to your clothes. You can fasten strips around your arms, legs, neck, and waist with tape; you can pin or sew sections to your clothes; you can pin small pieces in your crazy hairdo.
Step 4: Cling to the perimeter of any room you go in, sweetly asking your companion to let you move to another room and snarling “I’ve got out, in spite of you and Jane! And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” Occasionally gesture to everyone and say, “I wonder if they all came out of the wall-paper as I did?” Tell everyone that we need to establish clearer protocols for postpartum depression screening among PCPs, OB/GYNs, and pediatricians, and encourage all your friends to bring new mothers casseroles and talk to us about normal stuff and take us out for cocktails sometimes or this is what will happen.
From Sylvia Plath’s poem, completed 52 years ago today, on October 29, 1962: “The peanut-crunching crowd/Shoves in to see/Them unwrap me hand and foot–/The big strip tease . . . Out of the ash/I rise with my red hair/And I eat men like air.”
Note: Credit for this costume idea AND for its execution in the photo above goes to Becca Klaver, who comes up with top-notch literary Halloween costumes WAY more often than one year in every ten.
You’ll need: matte powder in a shade lighter than your skin, black or purple eyeshadow, white surgical gauze, optional gummi worms, paper bag, optional peanuts in the shell, optional slip or shroud-like gown, optional red wig, optional spirit gum or other skin-safe adhesive.
Prep Intensity: Low to medium. You can go all-out to really hit a lot of identifiable details in the poem, but some surgical bandages and panache might be all you need.
Step 1: Get dressed; street clothes are fine, but some kind of white garment or nightgown or slip might convey the “grave cave” look best.
Step 2: Do your makeup. Cover your face with matte powder so your skin looks bloodless and dead. Make big eyeshadow smudges around your eyes so it looks like you have dead rotted eyepits.
Step 3: Put on your red wig, if you have one.
Step 4: Wrap your arms, legs, and torso with surgical gauze so that it looks like you’re a mummy who’s just been unwrapped. Some gauze around your jaw and neck can’t hurt, either.
Step 5: If you want to make a reference to the line “They had to pull the worms off me like sticky pearls,” glue Gummi worms (maybe just the paler colors) to your clothes, and stick some to your skin using spirit gum or adhesive. Another option is just to wear a string of pearls.
Step 6: Hand out peanuts to spectators; if you’re that kind of feminist, do a big striptease.
From Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror, 1981: “A wound with blood and pus, or the sickly, acrid smell of sweat, of decay, does not signify death. In the presence of signified death—a flat encephalograph, for instance—I would understand, react, or accept. No, as in true theater, without makeup or masks, refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These body fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being… Such wastes drop so that I might live, until, from loss to loss, nothing remains in me and my entire body falls beyond the limit—cadere, cadaver.”
You’ll need any or all of the following: Lipstick, fake blood or red paint, tampons, dark brown paint, milk, eyeliner, lipliner, nail clippers, scissors, Vaseline, tape, clothes you don’t mind destroying.
Prep Intensity: Low to medium. The biggest problem is going to be establishing your own tolerance for the abject. How gross do you want to get your clothes? How uncomfortable do you want to make your friends?
Your goal is to cover yourself with as much abject stuff as you can–the wastes that drop so that you might live. But since this is a costume, it’s OK to signify death–or rather, to represent it as realistically as possible. Also, your feminist abject should probably put the waste of your gross, unclean, irrational, excessive, dying woman’s body front and center.
Some ideas: Rub red lipstick all over your thighs; attach bloody tampons to your thighs (it’s up to you if it’s real blood or not); rub red or brown paint on the seat of your pants or skirt and the back of your legs; drip yogurt onto the chest of a dark shirt and let it dry there; draw open wounds on your face with lipliner and eyeshadow; cover your face with fake blood. If you want to be truly horrible, cut your fingernails and hair and glue the clippings to your clothes, or carry them around in little plastic baggies. A friend of mine once came to my Halloween party with a freshly shaved head, his hair attached to his chin with Vaseline to create a horrifying beard. Everyone was disgusted and I found little pieces of Vaseline-y hair in my apartment for months. So, there are downsides to abjection, who knew.
THE MASTER’S TOOLS/NOT THE MASTER’S TOOLS
From Audre Lorde’s 1984 essay: “Survival… is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” (Find Lorde’s collected essays in Sister Outsider; her collected poems are here.)
You’ll Need: Cardboard, OR a few small and lightweight household tools, such as a wrench, a trowel, a toilet brush, even a nail clipper or a pair of tweezers; cardstock or paper; scissors; Scotch tape OR a hole puncher and string; a pen; optional toolbox.
Step 1: Use cardstock or paper to make a label for the toolbox. There are two ways to go here. You can make one that says The Master’s Tools & go around demonstrating how you can’t use them to dismantle the master’s house; or if you feel weird carrying around something labeled “The Master’s Tools,” you can make a label that says Not the Master’s Tools.
Step 2: Make labels for your household tools using cardstock–or cut tool shapes out of cardboard and write the labels directly on them. Possible labels for “master’s tools” include leaning in; patriarchal models of nurturance; the Western canon; heteronormativity; racism; homophobia; transphobia; mere tolerance of difference; hierarchies of difference; divide and conquer; requiring the oppressed to educate the oppressor. If you’re making non-master’s tools, I could suggest labels for those, but I think you can do a better job. Who am I to tell you how you’re going to remake the world?
Step 3: Punch holes in labels and attach them to tools with string.
Step 4: Put tools in toolbox; if they’re the master’s tools, go around town demonstrating how they can’t dismantle the master’s house. Sample houses to try: government buildings, universities, banks, Walmart, almost any building that actually exists in the world.
Variation: If you don’t think carrying a toolbox is enough of a costume, consider dressing like an iconic photo of Audre Lorde, or maybe wearing an Audre Lorde T-shirt. Another more costume-y option is to glue or pin your labeled cardboard tools directly to your clothes. This might work especially well with the “Not the Master’s Tools” version, since unfortunately you could get in trouble if you go around actually dismantling real houses with your crowbar or whatever. You can decide whether or not that’s how you want to contribute to the revolution.
GONE GIRL (WARNING: MILD SPOILERS BELOW)
Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel/David Fincher’s 2014 film.
Everybody’s having a great time debating whether Gone Girl is a feminist or misogynist book/movie, whether they can see Ben Affleck’s penis, whatever. There’s a lot to say. But there’s a scene in the movie that calls out to me that it must be a beautiful, beautiful, gorgeous, gory Halloween costume. WARNING: FURTHER MILD SPOILERS BELOW.
You’ll need: white slip; red paint or other blood substitute; red lipstick or face paint; short, chic blonde wig.
Prep intensity: Low to medium. If you don’t have a white slip you’re OK with destroying, you’ll need to pick one up at a thrift store. You’ll need a LOT of paint or fake blood. You might be able to find a cheap blonde wig at a drugstore, dollar store, or Target; you can find a better-quality one for $30 or so at Ricky’s or one of those pop-up costume stores.
Step 1: Put on your white slip.
Step 2: Just fucking cover yourself in blood. I think what I would do is just put out a bunch of newspaper and pour red acrylic paint on it and just drop the slip in it, but you could also mix up some dark-red food coloring and water and pour that all over the slip, or get in the bathtub and pour the food coloring mixture all over yourself while wearing the slip.
Step 3: Smear and spatter red lipstick, paint, or edible fake blood all over your chest and face.
Step 4: Put on your blonde wig.
Step 5: When you go to your Halloween party, stagger barefoot out of your car and throw your arms around the neck of the bro who has the least amount of personality at the party. Collapse in his reluctant embrace. Then turn around and give everyone a dazzling smile and encourage them to bring you cocktails and adore you… or else!
PAIRS (MOVIE BFF EDITION)
Movies are literature, too! Only for this section, though. Just like how visual art is also literature, but only for pair and group costumes. Listen, I’m just excited about these cinematic best feminist friends.
MARIE I AND MARIE II
From Véra Chytilova’s 1966 film Daisies.
You’ll Need: a short white A-line dress with short sleeves; a short black A-line dress with cap sleeves; pumps with kitten heels; a daisy wreath; a gauzy shawl; optional short brunette wig; optional short blonde wig with bangs.
Prep Intensity: Medium to low, depending on your current hair & wardrobe. Wigs can be annoying to find, but maybe you don’t really need them if you have the dresses, and vice versa. A daisy wreath might be annoying to find, but I got a florist in Rhode Island to make a baby’s breath wreath for my baby for $15, so you never know (this was not so I could dress my baby up as Marie I, fwiw.)
Step 1: Make or buy the daisy wreath (you can use fake daisies. I bet you can get them at Michael’s or somewhere. Don’t get them at Hobby Lobby, omg, did you not notice these were feminist Halloween costumes, yikes.)
Step 2: Get dressed. Marie I should have short blonde hair with bangs, the daisy wreath, and the white dress. Marie II should have dark hair in pigtails, the shawl, and the black dress.
Step 3: Decide that since the world is “spoiled,” so are you. Go out to see if anything’s happening. Hold hands and run around giggling a lot. Trick some guys onto taking the wrong train. Get drunk and make a spectacle of yourselves at a cabaret. Go back to your apartment and cut up a bunch of phallic foods, like hardboiled eggs and sausages and pickles. Have a giant food fight. Laugh at everybody. Be best friends forever.
Variation: If you have a bunch of newspaper and some time on your hands, try constructing the Maries’ costumes from the end of the movie:
THELMA AND LOUISE
From the 1991 movie with Susan Sarandon & Geena Davis.
You’ll Need: Red lipstick; stonewashed jeans; boots; blue eyeshadow, sleeveless denim button-down blouse or black biker t-shirt (for Thelma); large scarf, cat’s-eye sunglasses, white tank top (for Louise).
Prep Intensity: Low.
Step 1: Get dressed! Like the Janie Crawford costume, I’m picturing this as a hybrid costume that references the beginning and end of the movie, so you should make yourselves up to resemble Thelma and Louise’s iconic selfie, but dress like the desperate outlaw BFFs they are by the end.
Step 2: Go around taking that iconic selfie all the time. Don’t drive over a cliff unless you have a really good plan, though, OK? I kinda like you guys.
THE RAINBOW (LADIES IN RED, ORANGE, YELLOW, GREEN, BLUE, BROWN, and PURPLE)
From Ntozake Shange‘s 1974 choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf
You’ll Need: At least one prominent item of clothing in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, brown, and purple; optional other clothing items or accessories in that color.
Prep Intensity: Low. The hardest thing will be coordinating with your six friends to decide that you want to dress up like a 1974 choreopoem, especially if some of them hated the Tyler Perry movie, and deciding which color each person wants to be.
Step 1: Determine with your friends which lady you’re going to be/which color you’ll be representing.
Step 2: Put on your outfit.
Step 3: Get together with your friends and explain to everyone that not only are you dressed as a beautiful rainbow, but you are also dressed as characters from a groundbreaking Black feminist choreopoem that was on Broadway in the 70s.
UNTITLED FILM STILLS
From the 1977 – 1980 photo series by Cindy Sherman.
Each member of the group will need any or all of the following items: a wig in a style that was popular in the 40s, 50s, or 60s; an adorable vintage-y hat or headband; a dress, coat, bathrobe, slip, or lingerie that smacks of mid-century feminine archetypes; stockings; heels; liquid eyeliner; false eyelashes; any other makeup you have on hand; some gadget with a cord that looks like it could be a remote shutter release.
Prep Intensity: Low to medium. You can try to recreate one of Sherman’s actual photographs, which will be a little harder, or you can just make up your own film still and dress up as any cinematic/melodramatic/noir feminine archetype you want, using whatever you have in your house.
Step 1: Put on your stockings/girdle/dress/bathrobe/lingerie/jumpsuit/shoes.
Step 2: Put on your makeup.
Step 3: Put on your wig or style your own hair.
Step 4: Pose dramatically on beds, in windows, on bathroom floors, etc. Click your remote shutter releases and pretend to be taking photos of yourselves—and/or actually take selfies with your phones.
Variation: Make the selfies the focus and dress up like the kitties from poet and artist Kate Durbin’s recent Hello Selfie project (choose from happy LA kitties or sad NYC kitties.) And look out for participant Jennifer Tamayo’s selfie piece, coming soon on this very blog!
Variation: Dress up like James Franco dressing up like the Untitled Film Stills. Get James Franco to dress up like you. Who said men couldn’t participate in feminist Halloween costume parties?
THE WEIRD SISTERS
From Shakespeare’s Macbeth: When shall we three meet again/In thunder, lightning, or in rain?
What better way to celebrate WEIRD SISTER’s launch than by dressing as Shakespeare’s WEIRD SISTERS with your feminist BFFs? Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters, or three witches, may have been based on ancient female figures like the Fates and the Norns, or witch-persecutor King James’s descriptions, or even on Valkyries—so you have a lot to work with.
You’ll Need: Long black robes, cloaks, or coats, ideally with hoods; wild hair (wigs or otherwise); long black fake fingernails; makeup of various kinds; crazy tights; optional green face paint; optional fake beards; optional garlands of herbs; optional rubber snakes, rubber eyes, rubber frogs and lizards; optional cauldron.
Prep Intensity: Low to medium, depending on how elaborate you want to go. Three women in dark cloaks with mysterious eyeliner markings on their faces might make you seem Weird enough.
Step 1: Do your makeup. You can go with Wicked-Witch-of-the-West green; arcane symbols drawn on in eyeliner; Goth pallor & black lips; feminist anti-surveillance makeup (face recognition software should never be able to identify witches); your own weird Goddess-given face. If you want to suggest Norns or Fates, consider making yourselves look like a Crone, a Mother, and a Virgin (maybe you already are a Crone, a Mother, and a Virgin. MAYBE WE ALL ALREADY ARE.)
Step 2: Do your hair. Anything goes in a Weird Sister: long gray unkempt manes, long purple unkempt manes, sleek silvery manes, bright white braids, red and orange spikes, bald heads, librarian buns, wigs made of rainbow foil streamers, braids with autumn leaves or rubber snakes braided into them, pointy witches’ hats, winged Valkyrie helmets, veils, hoods.
Step 3: Get dressed, put on your cloaks, load up your sacks. String rubber eyeballs into necklaces and put those on. Get your familiar to ride on your shoulder or in your purse.
Step 4: Put on your long fingernails, because you won’t be able to do much else after that.