This store requires javascript to be enabled for some features to work correctly.

Costume vs. Cultural Appropriation: The Do's and Don'ts of Halloween

Costume vs. Cultural Appropriation: The Do's and Don'ts of Halloween

Here We Go Again...

Geisha robes, feather headdresses, and sombreros somehow still make their way into the Halloween costume section every year, subsequently inciting an important conversation about cultural appropriation. These costumes dilute the rich cultural heritages of a multitude of demographics, essentially making monoliths of various identities. It is important to recognize these tropes are tied to centuries of violence against people of color, and perpetuating these stereotypes normalizes the dehumanization of these groups. We know most people don’t have this in mind when shopping for costumes, however we must start thinking critically about how we portray people of color as these “jokes” and stereotypes can cause real life harm. 

Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday in which people use altars to remember loved ones who have died. It is a very sacred holiday, and should not be used as a costume (as pictured above). 

What is Cultural Appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is defined by the Oxford dictionary as: “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” This phenomenon is personified through Kim Kardashian’s Fulani braids, Justin Beiber's “dreadlocks,” or popular fashion magazines renaming popular black hairstyles after they’ve been worn by mainstream celebs. Although a white or white passing individual may admire a particular ethnic group's hairstyles or cultural garbs, they should not appropriate their culture because they do not have to face the stigmas that the individuals of that group endure on a daily basis. Actions like these continue to “other” people of color by making their cultures something those of privilege can dabble in when it's convenient, rather than respected customs specific to certain identities. 

Kim Kardashian is pictured here in braids of the Fulani people  in Africa. Kardashian wrongly credited them to actress Bo Derek, a white woman who also appropriated the hairstyle in a film (photograph courtesy of Getty Images).  


Hashtags such as #IAmNotACostume and #WeAreNotYourCostume have pushed back against racist and racially insensitive costumes during Halloween. These campaigns have generated dialogues in workplaces, college campuses, and communities about what is appropriate to wear during spooky season. This rising societal awareness has also prompted many sports teams to stop using Native American culture for names and mascots.  

This costume essentializes Native American cultural traditions (which differs by region and tribe) into stereotypical imagery and clothing. 

So what is appropriate for Halloween? 

 The rich cultures and traditions of minority groups are not costumes, marginalized poc cannot take off their race (and the stigmas that come along with it) after the party’s over. When you are picking out your ensemble for Halloween, ask yourself if you are perpetuating harmful stereotypes that damage minority communities. If you are white, recognize your privilege and refrain from portraying those of a different sociocultural background. When portraying a public figure such as an entertainer, politician, or historical icon, do not use makeup to darken skin,  or wigs of a different hair texture (afro, dreadlock, and box braid wigs are not for playing dress up). Try to find key elements of that figure's persona to embody that person (clothing, accessories, etc)  rather than cultural identifiers (skin color, hair texture, traditional garb).

 Halloween should be fun and safe for everyone, do your part to ensure everybody can enjoy the holiday. 

Do’s and Don’ts 

Don’t: Use blackface to embody someone of a different race or ethnicity, as blackface has historically been used to dehumanize and make fun of black people. 

Julienne Hough pictured in blackface as the character Crazy Eyes from hit show Orange is the New Black. 

Do: Use key elements of a historical figure or celebrity’s persona to embody that person (clothing, accessories, etc). 

Two girls pictured above as historical figures, one as Amelia Earhart and the other as Rosa Parks. Photo courtesy of A Mighty Girl Costumes

Don't: Wear Native American traditional dress as a costume 

Real Housewives of Atlanta Star Kenya Moore pictured in a feather headdress. Photo Courtesy of Bravo TV Network. 

Do: Donate to Native American organizations focused on providing resources and legal advocacy to those in need. Nonprofit organizations we love: Native American Rights Fund (NARF), Native Wellness Institute, First Nations Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund

Photo courtesy of Getty Images 

Don’t: Buy wigs that emulate Black hairstyles, Black hair is often regarded as unprofessional and unkempt; wearing it for dress up only perpetuates it as “other.” 

Do: Play with your hair texture to create looks from your favorite decades such as the memorable teased looks from the 80’s. 

Taylor Dane photographed by Tim Roney for her single “Tell It to My Heart.”

Leave a comment