15 Totally Offensive Halloween Costumes to Avoid For Halloween — Now and Forever

Sam Escobar, Marci Robin
·8 min read
Photo credit: Disney / Halloweencostumes.com
Photo credit: Disney / Halloweencostumes.com

From Good Housekeeping

I love just about everything about Halloween. Dressing up in fanciful Halloween costumes, eating truly ill-advised amounts of candy, carving a pumpkin after I make my partner scoop the guts out for me — candy corn aside, what's not to like? As we all start brainstorming our Halloween outfits, it's worth taking a second to do a quick gut-check and make sure you're choosing to dress up in a way that won't impede anyone else's celebration. As we realize every year, far too many people (celebrities included) have crossed the line with completely inappropriate, harmful, and offensive Halloween costumes. Years ago, a man showed up in blackface to a costume party I was attending. My friends and I left just about immediately, after it became apparent that others in attendance weren't as offended as we were. The fact that I didn't confront the offending partygoer still haunts me today.

That one's an obvious no-no, but other costumes that cross the line might not seem as clear. Events like mass shootings, natural disasters, and movements like #MeToo should not be referenced, turned into a joke, or used as inspiration for costumes. Whether or not you find these concepts personally offensive, it's a cruel choice that reminds countless others of trauma and heartache. Cultural beliefs and subcultures you don't belong to aren't a costume, they are a way of life that deserve respect. So, take a second and check out the Halloween costumes you should avoid this year (and every year). Instead, choose an outfit that's fun, lighthearted, or scary in a way that won't make someone relive a traumatic event – and don't forget to eat your weight in candy.

1. A Holocaust victim

Photo credit: HalloweenCostumes.com
Photo credit: HalloweenCostumes.com

As hard as it may be to believe, more than one celebrity has been called out for dressing up as a Nazi for Halloween. I can't believe we have to say this, but dressing up as a Holocaust victim is just as bad. Several retailers have come under fire for selling an "Anne Frank" costume for little girls. Many places pulled it off the shelves after customers complained, but others still offer it as "World War II Evacuee Girl" or "Child's 1940s Girl Costume." The Holocaust is a historical event we should remember with sadness, not costume party fodder.

2. Anything involving blackface

Photo credit: courtesy of Fun World
Photo credit: courtesy of Fun World

Let's get one thing straight: Blackface is never OK. Never. Ever. Not under any circumstances. But while the offensive practice includes literally painting your face a shade that isn't your own skin color, it also goes deeper than that. Dressing up in outfits that reinforce racist stereotypes is also a form of blackface. For example, if you identify as a white person, avoid stereotyping any other cultures that aren't yours, even if you intend to pay homage to a specific person. Yes, that means we should all steer clear of such caricatures like Julianne Hough's "Crazy Eyes" costume and Luann de Lesseps's Diana Ross costume.

3. Transphobic costumes

Photo credit: Party City
Photo credit: Party City

If your outfit makes fun of a marginalized group of people, it's definitely a no-no. Take this "tranny granny" costume. It was pulled from Walmart after consumers pointed out that not only does it mock transgender women, but also uses a transphobic slur. In general, dressing up as a gender presentation other than your own is not a great idea. Trans people aren't a joke, and these costumes aren't funny.

4. The COVID-19 pandemic

Photo credit: courtesy of JeffZhang
Photo credit: courtesy of JeffZhang

A pandemic that has killed over 100,000 people (and rising) in the United States alone isn't a costume, it's a tragedy that has significantly disrupted many people's lives. Resist the impulse to dress up in a medical hazard suit, anything resembling a virus, or as a victim of the virus itself. Generic doctor and nurse costumes, fine. Specific costumes that reference the pandemic, not so much.

5. Body-shaming and objectifying costumes

Photo credit: Trendy Halloween
Photo credit: Trendy Halloween

When it comes to disrespecting women, this costume goes wrong on several levels. It not only reduces women to sex objects, but it turns a woman's weight into a joke. If you wouldn't say it to a friend, it isn't a good Halloween costume. Outfits that make fun of people's size, objectify human beings, or otherwise make light of a person's lived experience are all bad ideas.

6. Cultural stereotypes

Photo credit: Disney
Photo credit: Disney

When someone dresses up as a member of a culture that isn't their own, particularly in an exaggerated or "humorous" way, it comes off as cultural appropriation at best, or making fun of other cultures if egregious enough. If you or your child intend to pay homage to a beloved Disney character (hint: Moana or Pocohantas), take care to dress with racial and cultural sensitivity, focusing on costuming linked to a specific character, not dressing as a generalization of someone else's culture. Skip the mustache and poncho combo, the Native American headdresses, the kimono, the grass skirt and coconut top. Easy gut check: If your costume would be an offensive sports mascot, it's a no-go.

7. A terrorist

Photo credit: courtesy of Spirit Halloween
Photo credit: courtesy of Spirit Halloween

Do we even have to say this? Dressing up as Osama bin Laden, Dylan Roof, or even a generic member of ISIS are all in extremely poor taste. This falls under the same heading as making light of tragedy, so steer clear. While we're at it, let's cross dictators like Hitler or anything that involves the Confederate Flag off the list too.

8. Zombie versions of recently deceased celebrities

Photo credit: courtesy of ebay
Photo credit: courtesy of ebay

We get it, you want to pay tribute to one of your dearly departed favs. Go wild with your best Ziggy Stardust, your Purple Rain homage, or even an Amy Winehouse bouffant. But don't, we repeat, do not add zombie makeup. It's always too soon to wear someone's corpse.

9. An eating disorder

A few years ago, an online store took the heat for released a costume called"Anna Rexia." The incredibly poor-taste outfit included a skeleton dress with a measuring tape belt to "cinch the waist." Not only is it a truly terrible pun, it also trivializes eating disorders, which are no laughing matter.

10. Animal cruelty

Photo credit: Costumeish via Mashable
Photo credit: Costumeish via Mashable

Remember that awful dentist who slaughtered Cecil the lion and this terrible costume that resulted? Yeah, don't do this. See also: costumes depicting anyone big-game hunting, those that involve animal shelters and euthanasia, or any that you wouldn't want your children to see.

11. A mentally ill person

Photo credit: courtesy of Halloweencostumes.com
Photo credit: courtesy of Halloweencostumes.com

Sometimes, offensive stereotypes creep into our lexicon without even thinking about it. How often have we all called a difficult person "crazy" without thinking about how the term might feel to someone living with mental illness? Halloween costumes that make light of mental institutions are the same deal. Wearing a straightjacket, or any other equipment typically associated with the institutionalization of people with mental illness, trivializes that experience.

12. Sexual harassment

Photo credit: Spirit Halloween
Photo credit: Spirit Halloween

The #MeToo movement should have awoken us all to how unfunny sexual harassment jokes really are, but just in case, let us remind you. Someone exposing themselves on non-consenting viewers isn't just in poor taste; it's a very real and traumatic form of sexual harassment. These kinds of costumes are straight-up offensive and may even trigger those who have suffered harassment themselves. Don't risk it.

13. A homeless person

Photo credit: courtesy of eBay
Photo credit: courtesy of eBay

For decades, dressing up as a "hobo" has been seen as a harmless outfit. But in the U.S. alone, thousands of people struggle with homelessness every day. It's not a cute look. Instead of smudging dirt on your kids' faces and dressing them in old clothes, teach them about the homeless crisis in the United States and then find them an adorable costume that doesn't play on anyone else's suffering.

14. A national tragedy

Remember those two people who dressed up as the Twin Towers after 9/11? Yeah, just don't. That also goes for the Boston Marathon bombing, mass shootings, and the current COVID-19 pandemic. We'll say it one more time: Tragedy is not a costume.

15. The Black Lives Matter movement

Photo credit: courtesy of Amazon
Photo credit: courtesy of Amazon

We're in the middle of a racial justice movement in our country, and that's a powerful moment. But that doesn't mean you should turn it into a Halloween costume, even in tribute to those doing the work on the ground. Wearing a T-shirt that shows your support to a protest, vigil, or just around town is one thing. But don't try and turn the current fight for racial equality into a current events-themed outfit for your Halloween gathering or worse, emblazon the slogan on an otherwise-unrelated kids' outfit. That's offensive, not supportive.

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