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Is it time for retailers to retire ‘offensive’ Halloween costumes?

A recent survey of parents of young kids identified a top-ten list of “offensive” Halloween costumes they believe should be banned from stores.

The list from OnePoll included:

  • Holocaust-related costumes (e.g., dressing up as Anne Frank), cited as an “idea to avoid” by 45 percent;
  • Anything blackface, 43 percent;
  • Anything with the Confederate flag, 38 percent;
  • Transphobic costumes, 37 percent;
  • Pandemic related costumes (e.g., wearing a hazmat suit), 32 percent;
  • Portrayals of cultural stereotypes, 29 percent;
  • Costumes depicting controversial figures (e.g., Adolf Hitler, Donald Trump), 26 percent;
  • Overtly sexual costumes (e.g., sexy nurse, sexy cop), 24 percent; 
  • Homeless person costumes, 23 percent;
  • Religious costumes, 18 percent.

Good Housekeeping’s recently-compiled list of 15 Halloween costumes “that shouldn’t exist” included many of the same costumes, as well as flasher, terrorist, psych-ward patient and any costume referencing body-shaming, an eating disorder or national tragedy.

Turns out many of these costumes are now hard to find in stores such as Spirit Halloween, although hazmat suits, Donald Trump face masks and nun costumes are readily available.

A number of niche costume sites as well as third-party sellers on online marketplaces such as Amazon.com continue to sell Native American-style headdresses, Mexican sombreros and ponchos, as well as straight-jacket and flasher costumes.

An abundance of oversexed female costumes remain widely available despite the #MeToo Movement. A recent USA Today article asked, “‘Sexy baby,’ ‘Sexy Handmaid’s Tale’: Have Halloween costumes gone too far?”

Of course, some may wonder instead whether merchants are missing out by not stocking many traditional costumes and have taken some of the fun out of the lighthearted holiday.

OnePoll said the relationship between Halloween and cultural appropriation or stereotyping “has become a hot-button issue” over the past decade, with critics and activists regularly calling out inappropriate costumes on social media.

Among the parents surveyed by OnePoll, 63 percent are being more careful with their families’ costume choices because they don’t want to offend anyone. Nearly half (45 percent) regretted wearing certain Halloween costumes in the past now considered inappropriate or offensive, compared to 37 percent who don’t feel sorry.


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