It’s inevitable — every Halloween, there are costumes that are bound to spark backlash or, in the case of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, whose past costumes involving blackface and brownface recently resurfaced, result in a major political scandal. Some schools have canceled Oct. 31 festivities in an effort to avoid potential costume controversies, while others, such as Furman University in South Carolina, are issuing guidelines and urging students to avoid wearing something that might “reinforce stereotypes or [be] otherwise demeaning."
Though Halloween is still a week away, some get-ups have already fanned the flames of controversy thanks to concerns about cultural appropriation or accusations of bad taste. In Australia, Kmart has pulled a bride costume aimed at girls as young as four after an outraged mom started a petition saying it normalized child marriage. And according to High Country News, a publication covering tribal issues, the popular costume and lingerie retailer Yandy has quietly removed its Native American-inspired outfits after a Change.org petition started last year fetched more than 26,000 signatures. (Yandy, which also yanked a “sexy” “Handmaid’s Tale”-inspired costume following backlash last year, continues to sell Day of the Dead, geisha girl and other takes on cultural dress.)
But some of the season’s most eyebrow-raising looks have nothing to do with cultural appropriation, and more with sexualized tributes to unexpected icons that some say are in poor taste. When Yandy released its racy take on beloved children’s TV host Fred Rogers — the “Nicest Neighbor” costume, which comes complete with bum-hugging hot pants, a cropped red cardigan and hand puppets — “Mr. Rogers” fans cried foul. “Is nothing sacred anymore?” read one complaint, while another Twitter critic joked, “We are all doomed.”
The retailer’s ode to the late, cloud-happy painter Bob Ross, which features an afro wig and denim thong, also drew criticism, with one commenter writing, “I'm positive both men wouldn't have wanted their wholesome, family-friendly images appropriated in a sexualized way.”
Yandy has drawn inspiration from more recent news with two particularly controversial ripped-from-the-headlines ensembles. A sexy play on Operation Varsity Blues — the college admissions scandal that landed Felicity Huffman in prison — involves inmate-orange leggings and a crop top with “Mom of the Year” scratched out across the chest. Critics have accused the “College Scandal Costume” of glamorizing criminal behavior, which, in the words of one upset commenter, was “revolting” and “abhorrent.”
And on the political front, there’s the “Miss Impeachment” costume, a beauty queen-themed get-up complete with tiara and a whistle — a nod to President Donald Trump’s former ownership of the Miss USA pageant and the Ukraine whistleblower dominating the news. On the opposite end of the political spectrum are the “Fake News Reporter” costumes for men and women. The men’s sports jacket is currently sold out, while the price of the minidress has been slashed.
Another politically-sensitive costume that continues to make waves: the sexy border patrol agent. Spirit Halloween no longer stocks the “Border Babe” costume that caused such a stir in 2017, but similar versions can be easily found online.
And it’s not just costumes that have the potential to be problematic. This week Bed Bath & Beyond came under fire for selling a black jack-o’-lantern, which some say resembled blackface; the retailer has since pulled the item and issued an apology.
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