Sunday, 30 October 2011

Are Goth Halloween costumes offensive?

My last post about the article in Vogue Italia threw up this issue for me. I had always known that many non-Goths dabble in Goth fashion for Halloween, and to a certain extent I feel this is acceptable - there's no better place than your local alt store to source funky-coloured hair dyes, spider jewellery and fishnet tights for a Halloween-appropriate costume.

But I'm starting to think there's such a thing as a step too far. I turned my nose up last year at Poundland's Goth-branded make-up and accessories - these are bad-quality items which I feel it's unfair to brand as Goth, since most Goths would not wear poor quality make-up or rubber 'spikes', and what is the point of costume goods that don't accurately reflect that which they are meant to depict?

Pre-packaged Goth costumes are worse. Most of us are more likely to go 'awwwww!' at cute little kids in Goth or punk-styled Halloween costumes, and for young children I don't think it's a bad idea as it's a way for your teeny one to feel involved with what's going on at this time of year without running the risk of anything offensive or inappropriate (I may be on my own in this, but I just don't think that small children and fake blood are an appropriate combination).

But for adults, I'm really not sold on the whole idea. Again, there is the issue with quality - you can imagine the cringe-making moments when a Goth dressed up in their finest regalia for a night at the spooky club bumps into someone clad in a tacky polyester 'Goth' costume, smeared in ridiculous Crow wannabe make-up, who gets excited at meeting someone else in a 'Goth costume'. The embarrassment at having one's expensive velvets, elaborate make-up and overall look which took hours of time and effort compared to something in cheap panne that came out of a plastic bag in a supermarket must be quite something.

A Goth costume
Source: Google Images

An actual Goth, namely the stunning alt model ToxicTears (her blog over here)
Image used with permission.
If you compare the two images above you can see that the fabric of Toxic's dress is considerably higher quality than the thin, cheap fabric of the costume dress. A dress like Toxic's is usually chosen with time and care and therefore flatters the shape of the wearer, unlike the costume dress which is badly tailored and makes the poor model look thick-waisted. The accessories for the costume look like cheap scratchy lace and are highly unoriginal. And don't even get me started on that hemline!

OK, there are worse examples I could have chosen, but I think this one illustrates nicely the inferior fabrics, not to mention the lack of effort, that goes into 'Goth' costumes. The only useful thing about these costumes is that some have interestingly patterned mesh or lace fabrics that can be removed and used for other projects.

The second problem I have with this is that the idea of 'Goth costumes' draws that somewhat uncomfortable parallel between Goth and fancy dress. (A pet peeve of mine is that when I donate clothes to charity shops or sell them on eBay, people buy my expensive (but sadly too small) dresses and other items for fancy dress or Halloween.) It's bad enough that Whitby Gothic Weekend is frequently described in the UK press as a 'fancy dress event', but I don't particularly like the implication that the clothes I am devoted to and enjoy wearing every day are 'fancy dress'.

Sure, if you take the very literal meaning of the words 'fancy' and 'dress' - I own loads of fancy dresses! But for me they are not costumes, I am not dressing 'as' anything. The idea of putting on a costume is to make yourself look like something other than yourself, whereas Goths in all their finery are creating an ideal version of themselves. Goth clothing is an (admittedly fantastical) expression of self; everything from personality to aesthetic preferences to music taste and interests in the paranormal, a particular form of beauty (e.g. elegance or fetishistic), or a period of history can be depicted via Goth clothing. It's expressing oneself, not disguising oneself. Goth costumes also tend to play up the stereotypes we'd rather avoid - those of dark, sullen, mopey, tarty or even angry creatures who smear themselves with black lipstick and lurk about in corners.

Am I being too uptight about the rash of 'Goth costumes' on supermarket shelves? What do you guys think?


SaryWalrus said...

I agree completely. It's actually kind of embarrassing.

Anonymous said...

No, I don't think that you are being uptight at all. You are actually being incredibly tolerant, pointing out issues in quality as the main cause of your discontent.

I would go farther with this and say that what these "normal" people are doing by being "Goth" for Halloween is far more offensive than the quality of the clothes and makeup. In my obnoxious phase I actually went to a Halloween party dressed up like a everyday person. Folks told me time and time again that I wasn't in costume. I pointed out that in comparison to my everyday Goth dress this costume of normal girl clothing IS a costume. Quite a few people were offended by the idea that I thought their normal dress was a "costume," that it didn't have value, depth, etc. When I pointed out that some of them were dressed like I do everyday, they scoffed. The point was made.

I get offended because how we dress everyday ISN'T a costume. As people we deeply associate ourselves with the things we choose to wear. Clothing says something about who we are and how we want the world to perceive us. It's a very powerful social statement; so dressing up as a "Goth" for Halloween in crappy store bought costumes and horrible Crow-esque makeup is about making fun and satire, not a deep respect for the people in the subculture. Think about it this way: when people dress up as Snookie from Jersey Shore is it to make fun of her or to emulate her?

I'll admit, when I was 7 or 8 I dressed up as a punk rocker. This was 1980/81. I remember taking regular clothes and altering them like I saw the punk rockers do. We spent a lot of time in the East Village, NYC when I was a kid because Mom still had family there. Punk rockers were a normal and intriguing sight for me. I thought they were the best thing in the world and desperately wanted to be one, hence why I was one for Halloween. It was a safe time to "be" a punk rocker in my Catholic School world. And they thought it was a costume! HA! It was a beginning of a beautiful relationship with individuality and experimentation.

Toxic Tears said...

It actually doesn't bother me that much as along as its all done in good fun.

What you have to remember is - Its not just the goth costumes that are cheap and not at all accurate, unless you are a BIG halloween fan and go out of your way to make something really amazing yourself, any halloween costume you buy will be cheap and a bit tacky.

I mean take any nurse or geisha costume, chances are it won't be even vaguely accurate.

The reason it doesn't bother me too much is because MOST of the time these people aren't trying to be offensive, they've got the office halloween party coming up or something and they just quickly pop in to buy whats most likely a deliberately tacky costume.

Now if people were buying goth costumes and believing it was accurate and it actually made them goth, that would be another matter.

Goth tip for halloween - Dress up! That way no one will think your everyday dress is merely a costume. Besides, dressing up is fun!^O^

(Yayy its me.OwO) Haha

The Gothic Gentleman said...

I'm with you, I object to our culture being presumed a dress up. We don't wear costumes, we wear outfits that we have carefully chosen. I can't help but wonder what other (sub)cultures would say if we had costumes to dress up as them for a day?

SkeleDuck said...

I guess I've been lucky to avoid seeing any 'goth costumes' - I hope it stays that way. I can't bring myself to be a little hypocritical, as I didn't raise an eyebrow when the local biker pub hosted a fancy dress 'Punk Night'.

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, what does everyone think of chav halloween costumes? Not quite as widespread as goth costumes but I've seen a fair amount of them out there.

For the most part I find 'goth' costumes and accessories quite amusing because most of they time they just seem so clueless. Generally I don't think the most of people who dress goth for halloween mean any offense, but the ones who dress to perpetuate negative stereotypes (violence, self-harm (yes, I've once seen an 'emo' costume complete with penned on 'cuts'), promiscuity etc) really piss me off. So long as they're doing it respectfully and with an open mind then I don't have a problem with it. I've actually found that some of the people I know who've done the goth/vampire thing for halloween really love the look, but just don't have the courage to wear it all year round.

Cherish said...

This is one area to which I'm glad Australia is low on Halloween...Unfortunately the internet has it covered with a new variety of hideous 'Goth' costumes...

I agree with your points entirely, it
s just foolish of the mainstream to make ugly costumes of Goth and attempt to advertise them...and also the idea of fake blood on small children doesn't fit well with me either. :)

Angel of Darkness said...

I'd have to say that I do agree. I suppose that is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, I have found the "Goth costume" to annoy me more than once. I also think that it makes goths seem like they are just people who like to dress up for Halloween all year around, which it not true at all.

Mira said...

There are also pre-packaged hippie, punk and flapper costumes; it's not just the goth subculture that has this. I'm not generally too offended unless the intent is obviously mean-spirited, but I can see why others would be.

Traicetrak said...

Depends on why the person is dressing in goth costume. I understand there are those who feel mimicked by it, but I'm sure there are individuals out there who admire the style, but feel too timid to indulge in it until Halloween comes along. I know Halloween was a sort of launching pad for me when I dressed as Amy Lee one Halloween. I had so much fun with it because I realized this was how I wished to dress pretty much all the time. Of course, I did my research and didn't buy off the rack. I'm with Toxic Tears and Mira on putting it in perspective with other costumes. I walked into Party City this weekend for a pair of gloves and fake blood, and felt a surge of pity for all the folks gathered in front of the picture wall trying to figure out what was available. They miss out on all the creative fun and pay too much money for it! Even the ones putting some effort into it are pretty much flying blind (like I was several years ago) and bound to make some faux pas, so I think they should be indulged. If their effort is sincere, then they'd probably appreciate some advice.

But then there are those who clearly intend to be condescending. That bothers me because I don't like meanness, period. Some people just think of Halloween as an excuse to be disrespectful and let their mean spirits show, doesn't really matter what group they target any particular year.

Minakitty (Mary) said...

Many sentiments that I have on the subject have already been expressed by others, but another issue I have apart from the fact that we are not wearing costumes (!) is when people would come to our club as "goths" with horrible attitudes in tow. I do admit in my heavier clubbing days I and others would be territorial about the one place we could go without harassment, only to have it invaded by "temps" acting like they own it.

I also had similar problems when I worked at HT. People assumed it was a Halloween store (comparable quality in many ways...), and would gleefully proclaim to the goth employees they were going to be "us" for Halloween. Gee, thanks... :P

Dark Fantomzy said...

Yeah, "Goth costumes" are annoying, but I do agree with Traicetrack, Toxic Tears and Mira on perspective with other costumes. It really does depend on the individual.

Vulcan_Butterfly said...

When I was in highschool, someone dressed up as me for Halloween. I didn't know whether I should be flattered or pissed off, lol!

Bane said...

In general, goth costumes don't offend me. I think most people who dress up as a goth for Halloween are not doing it to make fun. Do they really understand what goth is? No. They're not trying to BE goth, they're trying to LOOK goth. They don't understand enough about the culture to make the connection between the two. They might be ignorant, but usually they're not trying to be malicious. I think intentions matter.

If the point of Halloween costumes is to dress up as someone you're not, how can that be accomplished without offending the person/group you're dressing up as? For example, one might dress as a cowboy for Halloween. But there are lots of people whose everyday style is jeans, western boots and cowboy hats.

Let's say I wear scrubs for Halloween. Should nurses and doctors be offended? If I wear an evening gown, should beauty pageant contestants be offended? If I wear a racecar driver jumpsuit, should NASCAR drivers be offended? If I wear a hideous muu-muu, should Mrs. Roper be offended? Okay, the last one is a joke... But the point is that it would be hard to dress up as anyone without causing offense.

I don't like to see goth treated as a costume. In fact, I find it somewhat annoying. But it doesn't offend me.

SugarRat said...

I understand completely your point of that goth isn't a costume- but have you thought about the fact that SOME people (I don't use word normal people because normal is something way else to define) may FIND dressing up as a goth a new exciting different kind of thing- because normally they do not dress up such a way? And usually those people who buy the supermarket goth costumes- they see and can define if someone is really a goth and make the difference between costume goths and "real goths". But again cultures differ and so does people and not everyone understand. So why not those people have their fun as dressing up as goth? why to take it as offense?

I myself am not 27/7 a goth but I do give out clues that I'm more into the scene and culture than average somebody may be. We had my school's Halloween party and I can say we had at least 6 men dressing up as jack skellingtons and 8 men as Eric Draven and 5 girls as Morticia... without forgetting all the vampires which I didn't even bother to count! I was just excited that someone as non into gothic culture take the time to dress up into those they are characters after all and therefore part of costume factories products. Cheap yes but so what? I myself went out looking like this last night: and a girl who had just black wig, black simple dress from a supermarket some black jewelry with the black make up came up to me because she defined me instantly as something more than average person who dressed up as a goth. And in her opinion her dressing up was just for fun for halloween. And we talked about can goth be a costume? and she told me what I wrote in the beginning: it's something entirely different and something some people would never do without it being a occasion such as halloween or something. where as to some it's a life style but people don't take offense of it so why should we take it as offense/annoyance if someone dresses up into a goth costume? If we would dress up in plain t-shirt and jeans on halloween saying that we are dressed in as the "normal people" because we are goth normally would anyone really care? not very likely because it's just a costume for fun. People ain't stupid and can define goths from supermarket goth costumes.

And what about halloween? For ages people have dressed up as "gothic lords and ladies" Something dark and mysterious, something entirely Different than what they would normally do. I wonder what nurses think of nurse costumes or ghosts about ghosts costumes? what about people from 70's or 80's and they see people who dress up as 70-80's people? Halloween is a marketed holiday: what ever the crowd and people get fascinated it will sell well so why not to take the chance of it and make it into costumes?

After all it's something different than what some people would wear daily basis and therefore a good idea for costume.

Anonymous said...

It all depends on the wearer's intention. If they are wearing it to mock Goths, or to imply that it is a costume we wear everyday, then it shall be taken offensively by me. But if they truly enjoy the costume, the general fashion, and simply want to do it for something new, they should go for it! Maybe they are in cheaper quality, but then again, aren't all pre-packaged Halloween costumes?

Little Black Car said...

I'm with Mistress Of The Decay: Intention matters. Making fun of people is never cool, but if it's just a costume, no big deal.

Worth an entire blog post? Yes, I think you're being a little uptight.

Do you eat oatmeal? You know that Quaker oats has nothing to do with Quakers and has, from its inception, cashed in on the popular perception of Quakers as plain, simple, and honest. Which is nice, but, boy, do those of us who actually are Quakers get tired of being asked if we eat oatmeal and drive cars. Don't get me started on ideas about how we dress (here's a wig that's "perfect for William Penn", and possibly for Marilyn Monroe, too, from the looks of it). I once had a teacher who didn't believe me because she thought we'd died out as a religion.

A small group of Quakers tried to sue over this decades ago, which I think was silly. Every single group is going to be misinterpreted by a lot of other people who don't get it. If you take it all personally, you'll burn yourself out. Unless it's actively malicious, let it go.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely on store bought costumes, however is it still offensive for someone gothicly inclined,such as myself, to goth up their friends for Halloween?

Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely on store bought costumes, however is it still offensive for someone gothicly inclined,such as myself, to goth up their friends for Halloween?

Mel said...

I'm not fond of them. In fact they mis-represent what Goths are. There are still people who think of goth, as demonic, treacherous, anti-social, psychpathic, and someone as a potential Manson killer. It would be the same as me coming to Halloween as a slave, or a member of the KKK.
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Anonymous said...

That basically describes me. I love the goth look and I feel like it looks good on me (which is a rare feeling due to my low self-esteem) but since I hate drawing attention, I don't wear those kinds of clothes every day. I'm also afraid of offending actual goths since I'm not super into the whole subculture with music and such. I just really admire the beauty of it.

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