'Mail-in ballot' and 'hand sanitizer': Halloween costume makers get creative

Priya Elan
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Michael Perez/AP</span>
Photograph: Michael Perez/AP

2020 has been a tumultuous year full of massive change, and more than the usual amount of disaster and trauma. But it has been a gift to makers of Halloween costumes.

With many people celebrating the holiday from the comfort of Zoom screens at home, it’s an excuse to explore a swathe of new dress-up options meeting the challenge of what feels a uniquely difficult time.

“We wanted Halloween to be an escape from the madness,” said Pilar Quintana-Williams, vice-president of merchandising at online fashion retailer Yandy who, this year, is shifting their focus away from the usual nurses, pirates, ninjas and cowgirls but instead are selling costumes pulled directly from the pandemic: Hand sanitiser, banana bread and mail-in ballot.

“I wanted our customers to look at our costumes and laugh. We all need one right now,” Quintana-Williams said. “We concentrated on what people were doing during quarantine.”

Although the company has costumes referencing real-life people (“Donald T Rumpshaker” and “Tiger Queen” based on Joe Exotic), they steered away from specifics, which adds to the comedy value of the costumes.

“I don’t always like to concentrate on just a character,” she said. This year, of note, is “hand sanitizer” a light-green body suit worn under a clear vinyl skirt, with the words “Kills 99% of germs” printed across it.

“This made our list early on,” said Quintana-Williams, who started to look at topical ideas during the summer. She added: “People are really loving this since it has been a big part of their lives. It’s the bestseller this year.”

However, their best-selling topical costume of all time is “fake news” – a tank dress, featuring a news print design and the word “FAKE!” on the front in red.

Other inventive costumes include “banned app” (a two-piece featuring a logo very similar to TikTok’s – Trump famously said he wanted to get rid of the app) and “banana bread” (a tube dress with a silver back and a brown front with banana shape details).

“People I know who can’t boil water were making banana bread out of boredom. I think many people could relate to this costume,” she said.

But there is a political edge to 2020 too. “The election is impacting Americans more than ever so we wanted to encourage people to mail in those ballots and support the USPS.” Their “mail-in ballot” costume is a tube dress, featuring two “I voted” stickers, a “first-class mail” print and an “official ballot enclosed” red stamp.

But there were limits to what costumes they would make during the time of a global pandemic that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and caused untold misery around the world. “Obviously Covid itself was not something we wanted to go near. There is nothing sexy about it,” she said.

Last month artist Jason Adcock debuted a “Karen” mask on social media. “Who are u gonna be for Halloween? The scariest monster of 2020 KAREN!,” he wrote on Facebook.

Although Adcock says the mask, which he began working on in August, is “not based on one actual person,” he says: “I have worked in retail most of my life, so I have seen a lot of Karens in the wild.”

The mask, which was selling for $180 a piece, quickly sold out on Etsy from its initial run. “It has sold extremely well: in just over five weeks I’ve sold almost 100.”

Adcock adds that it’s no coincidence that the mask has become popular during election time. “We all know this person and they’re out in full force right now, because of this circus of an election in the USA,” he said. “A Karen is scary because they are a real-life monster.”