How to Be Thoughtful and Respectful with Office Costumes
I've always loved Halloween. As a kid, I was that girl who went all out, planning my costume months in advance—some years I even wore a different outfit each day for "Hallo-week."
As an adult, I still love Halloween, but there's no doubt that it's become an increasingly complex holiday. While I highly doubt that anyone intends to offend others when they pick their costume, it happens all the time. And not every Halloween costume faux pas is cut and dry.
Similar to microaggressions, most Halloween costumes gone wrong are the result of ignorance on behalf of the perpetrator. I'm speaking from experience here — it was brought to my attention recently that one of my costumes from years past could be seen as reinforcing unfair cultural stereotypes, and it was a truly eye-opening experience for me.
Never in a million years did I intend to offend anyone with my costume, and to think that no one mentioned this to me when I wore it is all the more mortifying. Although this was a few years ago now, I've always considered myself to be pretty attuned to issues relating to D&I — after all, it's what I do for a living now… so how did I miss the mark on this one?
I've come to realize that I was so focused on crafting a witty costume that I didn't spend enough time considering how others might perceive it. Just because you haven't meant to offend someone doesn't mean their feelings aren't valid.
So in order to help other well-meaning folks avoid similar pitfalls, I've taken what I learned from this experience (and a bit of online research) to share some tips for ensuring you're making a smart and respectful costume choice!
Here are some questions to ask yourself before you settle on a costume, as well as some things to avoid so you don't inadvertently offend your coworkers. After all, dressing up as someone or something else is not an excuse to disguise racism/sexism/discrimination with, "But it's just a costume!"
When you choose a costume (especially if it's a costume to wear to work), ask yourself the following:
- Am I reinforcing cultural/racial/gender stereotypes or making fun of a group of people?
- Will my costume prevent me or those around me from functioning safely and efficiently during the day?
If you've answered yes to either of those questions, you should probably choose another look. And when in doubt, ask someone from a different background what they think — they may help you see things from a different perspective.
If you're putting together a last-minute costume to celebrate tomorrow, be sure to steer clear of these Halloween costume mistakes. And try one of my 10 suggestions below for looking fabulous at the office this Halloween!
Things NOT to do:
- Dress like your favorite politician
- You're going to work to work, not to get into a heated debate with your coworker about their Trump costume. There are LOADS of "punny" politics-related costumes that won't offend/alienate coworkers who don't share your beliefs, including Rosie The Riveter, the Declaration of Independence, or even Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation.
- Forget cultural significance
- Certain costumes have been popular for years (dressing like a Native American, gypsy, Geisha, etc.) — but just because you've seen them done doesn't mean they're a good idea to keep doing. As we grow as a society, so does our understanding of what may be offensive to others, and why would you want your costume to hurt someone else? There may not be mal-intent behind these costumes, but no one wants to see their own culture hyperbolized into someone else's costume.
- Disregard the office dress code
- The office Halloween party is not the place to break out your sexiest costume or break health code violations. Check-in with whoever is planning your office festivities prior to the event and see what the dress code is for the occasion. Some companies may not allow full masks, face paint, or costumes at all, so it's important to make sure you're in compliance. If your company doesn't allow costumes per se, head over to your local Walmart or Target and pick up a cute headband, earrings, or holiday tee-shirt.
If you're still wondering what all might be considered offensive, you can check out other online resources to better understand Halloween costumes that have missed the mark in the past so you can avoid those same mistakes.
Ultimately, if you think your costume is teetering on the line of what is acceptable, just put it away. Better safe than sorry.
10 fun ideas for work-appropriate costumes you can pull together in under ten minutes!
Have other ideas? Let us know in the comments!
A 3-hole punch version of yourself!
This Jim-inspired costume never gets old.
Arthur, the beloved cartoon Aardvark!
All you need is jeans, a yellow sweater, a pair of glasses, and some construction paper to make your own ears.
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Super easy if you already have to wear a button down and blazer to work! Just add a t-shirt underneath and you're good to go.
You can even get your coworkers in on the fun and ask them to share more post-its for your board!
Pigs in a Blanket
This sounds so much more difficult than it is! just find your favorite blanket (or large scarf) - make some cute pink pig ears, tape on a pink nose, and you're done! Plus this will keep you warm in your office that's probably always too cold!
Whether you do it by yourself or with a group, the key is having fun with a low key costume!