December 4, 2021
Halloween costumes hang on the racks of a Dollarama store in Cambridge, Ont. on Oct. 17, 2021. (Merissa Busato/Conestoga journalism)

With Halloween lurking around the corner like a ghost in a haunted house, costumes are starting to be snatched off the shelves. Whether it’s one to give a fright or one that’s comfy all night, the possibilities are endless – maybe a princess, someone from Star Wars, or a horror movie character. But some costumes offend by mocking someone else’s culture.

While there are some classic Halloween characters seen every year such as witches and vampires, pop culture plays a role in what costumes fly off the shelves.

Ursula Holzhauser, manager of Party City in Cambridge, notes that costumes that always sell for any age group are super heroes or anything Star Wars related.

“Superman, Superwoman, Wonder Woman, you know…Whatever’s popular is what’s on TV,” she said. “Like, the Venom costumes we’re all sold out of in our store. Parents are trying to find those everywhere.”

And if you’ve been planning to go as characters from the Super Mario franchise, it may only be one mustachioed man fighting Bowser this Halloween.

“Mario Brothers [are popular], but we have no Luigi left,” Holzhauser said.

Women’s costume choices this year have mostly been, “all over the place,” and inflatable costumes for men have been rising in popularity. Money Heist masks have also been a go-to purchase for many this year.

Party City’s website also lists Top Gun, Ghostbusters, Cruella de Vil, Shang Chi, Black Widow, Paw Patrol and Harley Quinn as their bestseller costumes for 2021. Other websites like Spirit Halloween show similar results.

In comparison to last year, cowboy costumes have become less common, Holzhauser noticed – their reign over Halloween attire has come to a halt.

However, group or partner costumes continue to be a choice for many dressing up.

Michael Harkness, a Bachelor of Design student at Conestoga College, has selected a partner costume with his friend: Heat Miser and Snow Miser.

“We picked it since I look like Snow Miser, and vice versa,” Harkness said. “And, of course, because they’re brothers; we’re so close we early are too.”

Around this time of year, many cultures tend to have their traditional regalia turned into commercialized versions for costumes. Most often seen are Japanese “Geisha Girls,” Indigenous “chiefs” or “Indian princesses.”

Renee Nova, who is Inuk, refers to the “We’re a Culture, Not Costume” 2011 campaign.

“People don’t understand that the costumes are a stereotype of our culture,” she said. “Selling a hatchet with a chief costume only further perpetuates the idea that we’re violent, or ‘savages.’ It puts us in danger, and it makes people not take us as seriously.”

Other aspects of the costumes, like the feather headdresses, are also disrespectful; in Indigenous culture, the feathers are earned. The costumes also lump all Indigenous cultures together – mixing and matching regalia from different Indigenous groups, misrepresenting them even further.

While stores and costume buyers have gotten the hint after backlash over the years, there’s still a few stragglers who continue.

“If you want to pick a character from popular media that is a different race or culture than your own, and the only way to look like them is by cultural appropriation, then maybe just pick another costume,” Nova said. “It’s one night for you, but the effects of your offensive caricature last years on us.”

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