Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Enough already

Only the sleaziness of today's Halloween get-ups is scary

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Halloween is coming. This being 2013, it's not really scary Halloween anymore. It's sexy Halloween. But how much longer can this scantily-clad, stiletto-heeled version of the holiday hold out?

It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with dressing like a a slutty bumble bee or a busty Pokemon character. But lately the whole Sexy Halloween Project seems to have collapsed in on itself. Maybe we've reached Peak Sexy.

My personal distrust of sexy Halloween gear might be a holdover from a Winnipeg childhood of wearing costumes that had to fit over snowsuits. Back then, Halloween was celebrated by kids and by a few teenagers who got into Gate Night trouble but considered themselves too cool for costumes. The idea of adults dressing up seemed outlandish.

That attitude has stayed with me. My sole grownup costume has been the remarkably realistic "Tired, Cold Person" getup that I've worn through years of trailing after my trick-or-treating children.

I admit to a personal antipathy to sexy Halloween. But there are larger cultural reasons to reject the increasingly tarted-up nature of October 31st. Halloween is supposed to be a topsy-turvy holiday, a night of inversion, when social norms are upended and there's a sudden, giddy freedom of action and expression. Using this paradigm, you can see that sexy costumes would have held some subversive power back in the day when young ladies were admired for their modesty and married middle-aged women were expected to dress like the Queen.

But now? We've got a half-naked Miley licking industrial equipment. Sexy is ubiquitous. The idea that skimpy dressing is some kind of wicked once-a-year indulgence seems a mite disingenuous. If we really want to honour Halloween as a night of crazy convention-flouting misbehaviour, then celebrants should wear sensible heels, good cloth coats and A-line skirts that hit below the knee.

Another issue is the rampant commercialization of Fright Night sexiness. Costumes were once scrounged from household items and cobbled together with originality, creativity and a bit of duct tape. Now many revellers buy mass-produced costumes from party stores and online outlets. And in order to sell teeny-tiny little scraps of cheap polyester for $49, these retailers are putting out costumes whose manufactured sexiness seems increasingly desperate and sad.

The sexy brand is being diluted. Old-school classics like Hot Nurse and Naughty Nun and Convict Cutie have been overrun by new costumes of dubious hotness, like Sexy Corn and Sexy Pizza and Sexy Mustard. The traditional Sexy Animal market (leopards, black cats) is being flooded by outre, unlikely options like Sexy Squid. (I mean, how sexy can a squid be, except to another squid?)

There's also a dramatic increase in sexy things that really shouldn't be sexy, like Sexy Barney the Dinosaur (considerably slimmed down around the hip area), Sexy Lorax, and Sexy Bert and Ernie. There's Sexy Border Patrol and Sexy Storm Trooper (not the Nazi kind, thankfully, but the Star Wars variety, which is goofy enough).

And while the source material is all over the place, the costumes themselves almost always come down to some combo of breast-crushing top and miniskirt, thigh-high fishnets and heels. There's a dismal sameness to these sexy Halloween costumes, whether you decide to be a Sexy Miner or a Sexy Bathtub or a Sexy Osama Bin Laden. (And no, I am not making that last one up. The final effect is kind of like a porn starlet with a beard.)

Only two years ago, Canadian-born, New York-based artist and illustrator Jillian Tamaki made some funny sketches that satirized sexed-up Halloween garb by offering what seemed like comically random categories (Sexy Underemployed Contract Worker, Sexy First Edition of The Old Man and the Sea).

Reality seems to have caught up with Tamaki, often in a depressingly un-ironic way, from this year's Sexy Real Estate Agent to its Sexy Defence Attorney. As Tamaki predicted, there is also a bizarre interest in arbitrary inanimate objects, or at least, arbitrary inanimate objects that dress like hussies.

Under this sexy Halloween regimen, even gender-bending costumes, which should hold some spark of Halloween rebelliousness, look kind of same-old, same-old. Sexy Hulk Hogan, Sexy Leatherface, Sexy Michael Myers, Sexy Joker, Sexy Rambo and Sexy Rick Grimes somehow end up looking more or less like one identical underdressed girl.

Sexy Halloween has also bled over into some icky areas. The issue of adults wearing very adult costumes comes down to free choice. Children's costumes are another matter. Manufacturers are careful not to use the word "sexy," but there's an undeniable vibe creeping into kids' outfits, even with the preschool set. (The upside to our city's frequent sub-zero October temperatures is that we've mostly been spared this scourge of "naughty" baby leopards, "bratty" little nurses, "sassy" mini-pirates and pint-sized French maids.)

Finally, in an unholy alliance of two of the worst Halloween tendencies ever, we now have sexy Halloween costumes for pets. Yes, you can dress your dog as a cheerleader, a male stripper or a saucy barmaid. You can get canine wigs, corsets and fake boobs.

As Halloween trends go, that one is very scary. And not in the good way. Maybe it's time to rethink sexy Halloween.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2013 D12

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