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Fancy dress for kids ‘sexy’?

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hallowe'en clothing, gender,Toddlers’ ‘naughty’ leopard costume pulled, but gender stereotypes are still defining make-believe.

Last week US retail giant Wallmart pulled a ‘naughty leopard’ Halloween costume from its shelves after parents complained it was sexualising young girls.

The black and purple leopard print and lace dress with matching ears was designed for two year-olds and although the outfit itself was no more offensive than many others on the market, it was the name that drew the biggest objections.

The problem is if you put ‘naughty’ in front of just about anything these days, it becomes a ‘sexy’ fancy dress costume for adult women.
Try ‘naughty leopard’ in Google images.

In fact, just google ‘fancy dress costumes for women’ and the images are pretty similar. It seems fancy dress for women today equals sexy.

I’ve seen sexy soldier, sexy cowgirl, sexy geisha, sexy bear(?!) and, possibly the worst one; the sexy fireman. See it in all its glory here. I’m afraid it’s only available in sizes 8-12, because anything larger obviously can’t be ‘sexy’.

You might want to compare this to the men’s fireman costume here, which looks more like, well, someone who could actually fight a fire.

Women’s fancy dress costumes, from the sailor to the superhero, are all variations on a theme; a miniskirt and bustier, or the ‘wench’ look. Who’d have thought it could be adapted to so many outfits?

Halloween, whatever you might think of it, is supposed to be a celebration of all things ghoulish and supernatural, and if men want to dress up they can make themselves look hideous, whereas women must still look hot.

For kids, dressing up is part of growing up; you can pretend to be anything you wan to be.

But if you’re buying off-the-shelf, ‘anything’ must still conform to gender stereotypes.

After only a brief search online I’ve unearthed several Halloween costumes aimed at girls which are less fiendish and more fluffy (read: sickly and slightly inappropriate):

The can can cutie (a bit Moulin Rouge), pumpkin princess (making ugly food pretty), captain cuteness (a pirate who would presumably prefer to steal your heart than your treasure), the sweetie devil (because even evil personified needs to look good), glamour witch (no more green skin or warts), and bad kitty (whore) vs cute kitty (the good girl).

Of all the dress-up themes you can think of, Halloween really does have the potential to be the most gender-neutral; ghosts and monsters, pumpkins and cats could all be suited to little boys or little girls, but even our home-grown supermarkets are marketing blatantly gender-specific costumes that underline the damsel in distress attitude.

Asda’s costumes for girls are variations on the frilly ‘wench’ dress (yes, from age three up), including the rainbow witch, cobweb witch, cat witch, light up witch and dark angel.

Compare these to the boys‘ costumes of superheroes and villains.

Tesco has a questionable ‘Black Swan‘ ballerina outfit which targets girls from three to 14.

I’m pretty sure the film is a 15 and has some quite adult themes (sex, sexual harassment, lesbianism and possibly murder), but hey, it looks pretty and feminine, so it’s fine to dress your three-year-old as the sexually-charged opposite to Natalie Portman’s virginal white swan.

Interestingly a lot of the outfits categorised by Tesco as as boys‘ could easily be marketed as unisex, but there are no gender-neutral options, as even at three years old boys must be boys and girls must be girls.

Back in the 80s I remember going to our village carnival dressed as Peter Pan, accompanied by my younger sister as Mr Bump. It was a miss-match of outfits we chose ourselves, which no doubt our parents found hilarious, but we weren’t constrained by taffeta frills.

In a country which has come a long way in progressing equality since I was born in the 1970s, it seems odd that boys’ and girls’ clothes are becoming more and more gender-specific, and this is accentuated in fancy dress.

There are enough pressures on grown women to conform to gender stereotypes; we shouldn’t be encouraging children to do the same, particularly when they’re playing make-believe.

  1. That’s the reason for girls to be put under such pressure to conform to repressive gender stereotypes – the slut or the saint – because our society has lurched back into accepting male chauvinism as the dominant political force. Women and girls are not doing well in this country, as anyone who has been subjected to chauvinistic violence will tell you. A chauvinistic press and police force will not tell you any different either.

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