The psychology of the sexy Halloween costume

It wouldn’t be Halloween if you weren’t able to spot sexy schoolgirl or hot nurse costumes at nearly every party and bar.

There’s just something about the holiday that inspires some women to slip into skintight catsuits, garter belts, or low-cut vinyl dresses. As Lindsay Lohan’s character in Mean Girls put it: “Halloween is the one night of the year when you can dress like a slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”

Why so many women choose risqué and revealing costumes on Halloween. (Photo: Getty Images)
Why so many women choose risqué and revealing costumes on Halloween. (Photo: Getty Images)

While some may dress scantily year-round, many likely do not. So what is it about Halloween that brings out some women’s risqué side? And can it actually be body-positive?

“Many — but not all — women perceive Halloween as a safe space to step out of their daily routines and have fun experimenting with costumes and their sensuality and sexuality,” Barbara Greenberg, a teen, adolescent, child, and family psychologist, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Greenberg says that for women who might feel self-conscious or even be shamed for wearing revealing outfits any other time of the year, the “rules” about what’s appropriate are suspended on Oct. 31. “Halloween has evolved into a day and night where men and women have a ‘free pass’ to experiment with ‘costumes,’ both literally and figuratively, that they would not ordinarily wear,” she says.

However, some may argue that wearing sexy costumes objectifies women. “It’s objectification that is the concern — if you objectify yourself, how can you be angry when others do so?” Pat Gill, emeritus professor in the department of gender and women’s studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “And most women I know bristle at the notion that the sometimes debilitating concern they feel about not doing all they should to be appealing to others — as well as the pleasure they get in looking good, wearing attractive clothes, and sparking someone’s interest and/or appreciation — is a wholesale participation in objectification. But it nevertheless is just that. I speak as a full participator, as someone who keeps fit, wears flattering clothes, and likes to be noticed for it.”

April Masini, a relationship and etiquette expert and author who runs the popular Ask April Relationship Advice Forum, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that it really depends on the attitude of the wearer. “If a woman feels that she has to wear a sexy costume in order to be accepted, then, yes, this will create a feeling of being demeaned,” Masini says. “But if she wants to wear a sexy costume because it’s fun and makes her feel happy, then it’s going to be a positive experience.”

She continues: “What we each bring to Halloween has everything to do with our feelings about what kind of costume we choose to wear and our experiences wearing them. In addition, our costume choices evoke feelings from other people, and we react to these reactions, which creates an evolved experience for us. So it’s not just about what you choose to wear or why — it’s about what types of reactions our costume choices cause and our own reactions to those reactions.”

Others may find that wearing a sexy costume can actually be empowering, getting them to push their sartorial limits and tapping into their more sensual side — something they wouldn’t necessarily do in public the rest of the year. “For some but not all women, trying on something that they would not ordinarily wear and feeling good about it may increase confidence and a sense of positivity about their bodies,” Greenberg says.

Like donning a mask, wearing a revealing costume can also mean trying on and exploring a persona that’s different from your own. “I think that wearing a costume can be empowering as well,” Gill says. “You can play at being someone else, perhaps discover sides of your personality that you had kept hidden or didn’t know existed. The costume doesn’t have to be sexy, and the discoveries don’t have be sexual or sensual, although they of course can be.”

Masini agrees: “Sexy costumes give you opportunities to try out personas that are inspired by the clothing. The costume is like a portal for behavior, and when you put on a sexy Halloween costume, it’s as if you’re giving yourself the opportunity to wear — and act — as you would imagine someone in that costume normally would.”

She adds: “It’s an opportunity to cut loose a little. Many women keep a lid on their sexuality because they feel to do otherwise is taboo and sends the wrong message. At Halloween, there’s an opportunity to unleash an alter ego that’s sexier than the day-to-day persona many women (and men) employ.”

But for others, dressing up like this is just, well, fun. “For many women, choosing sexy outfits for Halloween is simply a way to play dress-up,” says Masini. “It’s that simple, and there’s nothing behind it beyond the fun part of dressing up in a risqué costume.”

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