Every Halloween, the same dance plays out around costumes: one group calls a getup offensive and another cries foul.
This year, one such costume that hit a nerve has already been pulled from shelves.
Kmart stores in Australia were reportedly selling a “bride costume” for children aged four to six, which startled some customers who were reminded of literal child brides. A Change.org petition quickly garnered more than 500 signatures before closing.
“Tell Kmart this is beyond inappropriate and offensive,” wrote user Shannon B., who started the petition last weekend. “Each year, 12 million children (girls as young as 6 years old — the same size as this ‘costume’) are sold or married off by their family without their consent.”
The stores, which are defunct in Canada, no longer offer the costume. To some internet users, the outrage was overkill. A “let kids be kids” counter-petition to have the costume brought back to shelves was signed more than 3,600 times in two days. “It’s a costume. Untwist your knickers and get on with your life,” wrote one commenter on Change.org. “Stop making everything dirty and (realize) kids just want to play,” wrote another.
Offensive costumes are nothing new and cover the gamut, from store-bought Pocahontas outfits critics say trivialize Indigenous culture and history, to black and brown face paint worn for any number of race-swap costumes. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been embroiled in controversy for his use of blackface and brownface on multiple occasions. In one photo, he was dressed as Aladdin for an “Arabian Nights” themed party.
Costumes that rely on cultural appropriation are such a common trend that some Canadian universities have on-campus initiatives to quell the issue. A student group at Waterloo’s University of Wilfrid Laurier has run an “I Am Not A Costume” campaign for several years, including an online article explaining the issue. “Dressing as someone’s culture or identity for a night is a terrible costume idea. Get creative. Not offensive,” reads one graphic by the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group.
Among the racks of offensive costumes are also a trendy subsection of “sexy” costumes. Some of them go a little too far for internet users. Yandy, an online retailer focused on lingerie and swimwear, is selling the “Nicest Neighbour” costume, a feminine twist on children’s show host Fred Rogers that has been dubbed the “sexy Mr. Rogers costume.” The site is also selling “Miss Impeachment,” “Beyond Burger,” “Tater Thot” and “Sold Out Chicken Sandwich” outfits this year, all of which have garnered some attention online.
Costume options are seemingly endless as Halloween is a $1 billion industry in Canada, according to estimates by the Retail Council of Canada. Costumes are undoubtedly a major part of an industry that offends right to the bank year after year.