The origins of the sexy Halloween costume

Short hemlines, tight leggings and cleavage-bearing dresses — those are not components of your grandmother’s Halloween costumes.

Those styles are typical when it comes to current Halloween costumes. Anything from a beloved cartoon character to a public service worker is recreated with a sexy twist, a trend that would shock those who first began celebrating the spooky holiday.

Halloween costumes first gained strong popularity in the early 20th century when outfits were simple and often made of paper cache or black clothing, according to TIME Magazine. Even when the holiday adapted to focus on children and trick-or-treating, sexy costumes were still nowhere to be found.

Sierra Holt, a second-year graduate student studying apparel, textiles and merchandising, said adult costumes as they are known today connect back to the ’70s when the trend of homemade costumes declined following the second wave of feminism. As women began leaving the house, sewing skills, along with the free time to make garments, lessened.

“A lot of people just don’t have the time or the skill to create any of these costumes, so that’s where we see the connection of people actually buying their costumes,” Holt said.

Manufacturers took over the business of making Halloween costumes, realizing they could make money off of a demand for cheap and easy-to-find costumes. But they also gained control over what costumes were made and how it affected society.

The sexual revolution of the ’70s brought about a more widely accepted sexualized image of women.

“We went from this really conservative idea of what women should wear to women starting to embrace tighter clothing, shorter clothing,” Holt said.

As society changed to allow women more freedom of expression, manufacturers used that growing sexual image to their advantage by creating sexy costumes.

“Sex sells,” Haesun Park-Poaps, an associate professor of human and consumer sciences, said.

When the sexy costumes proved to be more popular, manufacturers in turn created more.

“They make what consumers want, and consumers have a better response to those, so that’s why they make more,” Park-Poaps said. “It’s a reciprocal relationship … they want what consumers want.”

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