My mom is a talented sewist, as I’ve mentioned here many times. The Wonder Woman costume she made for me was worn TO NURSERY SCHOOL as often as possible until it quite literally fell apart. During my horse-obsessed phase, she created an ingenious Black Beauty costume for me with a black body suit, hooves, and a cloth flap-mask of her own design. She’s basically a genius.
Then when I was 10 or so, she suggested we do a series of great women costumes. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but also didn’t have any other ideas, so I was game. I think we started with Scarlett O’Hara, who might be fictional and definitely had her character faults and but was also one of the first grown women in literature that I immediately identified as a badass. We did the green and white barbecue party dress from the first few scenes of the film. Then there was Cleopatra, with a fantastic gold lame snake-shaped headband with jeweled eyes, and Elizabeth I, a costume that involved spray painting bow-tie pasta gold and gluing it to the bodice of my dress.
After that, Mom got busy with grad school and I mostly lost interest. But I remember feeling so proud of my amazing costumes, and even prouder that they allowed me to take on the persona of famously strong and wise women for those three Halloweens. And in retrospect, I’ve gotta give kudos to my mom for nudging me to think about what it meant to be a strong, wise woman in history and literature. I’m sure she had no hidden agenda, other than the general mind-expanding stuff that most parents strive for. But those costumes, and the experience of making them with her,* laid some great, early groundwork for my feminist leanings to take root.
I suspect that much of the rhetoric you’ll read today will be about the dangers of over-sexualized women’s costumes, or say how kids’ costumes push gender binaries, or bring to light other important ideas that now – unfortunately – come part and parcel with Halloween itself. But I wanted to focus on a bright spot in my own costume-clad history. Not because it’s more important, but because I think that this holiday – one that encourages us to take on alternate personas temporarily – can still be overwhelmingly positive. Can still encourage girls and young women to dream and aspire. Can still ask us to think about what it means to be a strong, wise woman … and consider which strong, wise women we’d most like to be. Even if only for a single candy-filled evening.
*To be clear, I spray painted a few pieces of pasta. Mom did the rest. But I was still pretty convinced I was helping.