Forget mini-skirts and cleavage; it’s time for women to Take Back Halloween

in Non-Fiction by

Every year, it seems that female Halloween costumes get smaller and smaller. From a tiny Mickey Mouse to a skintight pizza, it’s almost impossible to find a female costume that hasn’t been sexed-up to the point of ridiculousness. (Seriously, who in their right mind would want to be a “sexy” lobster?)

Thank god for Suzanne Scoggins, the creator of the popular website, Take Back Halloween. She has made it her mission to show women that there are options beyond dressing as a skimpy crustacean. From women of historical importance to goddesses and pop culture icons, Suzanne creates costumes that are beautiful, unique, and – most importantly – empower the women who wear them. We had the pleasure of chatting with Suzanne about her site and what she’s doing to help girls and women reclaim their Halloween night.

scogginsBookTrib: Can you tell us a little more about the site? Why focus Take Back Halloween specifically on women?

Suzanne Scoggins: Ultimately I’d say it’s about putting creativity and variety back into Halloween. Right now, women’s commercial Halloween costumes are depressingly limited. Basically there’s one outfit: a miniskirt and cleavage. That’s what all the costumes are. Manufacturers change out the colors and add weird little accessories here and here, but it’s basically the same costume. You want to be a police officer? Miniskirt and cleavage.  Firefighter? Miniskirt and cleavage. Joan of Arc? Miniskirt and cleavage. It’s ridiculous. It puts women in a very narrow box – the “you must be sexy for Halloween or stay home” box—and I don’t like boxes.

BT: How did you come up with the idea to start the site?

SS: It was actually the collision of two things in my life—two separate train tracks, if you will. On the one hand, I’m a former actor and I love costumes, I love Halloween, all that stuff. And as Halloween for women has become increasingly restricted, I became the costume idea person for my friends, helping them think up who to be and how to make their own costumes.  You know: use your Mom’s prom dress and a tiara to be the young Queen Elizabeth II; make a Greek chiton out of a bedsheet to be Athena; that sort of thing.

The second train track was that I work in women’s history and I’m always interested in ways to popularize the knowledge of important women. There are still people who say things like, “women have never invented anything,” or “there are no women geniuses,” which is crazy wrong. So it suddenly occurred to me to do a Halloween site with instructions on how people could make their own costumes for the great women of history. Two birds with one stone.

I have to say: nobody I knew thought it would be popular at all. But from the very first year it’s been phenomenal. The traffic kills the server every single year, no matter how much juice we throw on it in advance.

BT: From Mae West to Catherine the Great, most of your costumes feature strong women in history or literature. What are some of your favorite costumes from the site?

SS: I love them all. Every time we do a new costume, it becomes my new favorite. I do love Catherine the Great—that costume turned out so well, I think. It just looks beautiful. I’m also really happy with our new Nefertiti costume. That was hard as heck to figure out. I thought the blue crown would be easy at first, but no. Every attempt looked like a kindergarten reject. What we ended up with is a gorgeous blue satin lampshade—yes! A lampshade! And it looks phenomenal, I think. I’m also very happy with the new Inanna-Ishtar costume, because I’ve wanted to do that for years. The stumbling block has always been the headgear, because Inanna’s crown is made of curving horns. I never could figure out how to do it, until this year when Maleficent came out, and suddenly Disney was flooding the stores with costume horns. You spray paint those suckers gold and turn them inwards and—viola! You’ve got an ancient Sumerian divine crown.

BT: Every year you host a costume contest with a variety of prizes. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

SS: It’s funny, because the costume contest was an afterthought. I’m not really a competitive person myself, so at first it didn’t even occur to me to have a contest. But people were like, “come on, have a contest!  It’ll be fun!” So we did it as a lark, and lo and behold, people loved it.  What I realized is that it’s not always about the competition, though some people are into that. But for a lot of folks, it’s just a chance to share their costumes and celebrate as a group. It’s like Halloween show-and-tell.  I love seeing what people come up with.

BT: What does the future look like for Take Back Halloween?

SS: People write to me all the time asking for even more costumes, so at this point there’s no end in sight. And we’ve had some interest in turning it into a book, which I think would be really cool.

Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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