Beyond the Costume

As we pick out our feather boas, witch hats and alien antennae in preparation for the Halloween dance this Saturday, it is important that we, as members of a community as large and diverse as Andover, be mindful of the potential impact of our costumes.

Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students, sent an email to the student body on Tuesday that outlined some standards students should consider when selecting a costume. She wrote, “As you look ahead to these festive occasions, if you choose to wear a costume, please consider carefully the costume you choose… This is [an] opportunity to have fun and be spirited – it is not an invitation to be hurtful, insensitive, ignorant and/or offensive.”

Elliott attached to the email a flow chart from St. Luke’s School, a private day school for grades five to 12 in New Canaan, CT., that provided guidelines for respectful costumes. A bubble in the center of the chart reads, “Is my costume appropriate for school?” The chart branches out to several more questions regarding cultural appropriation, scariness and sexual propriety.

While these are equally pressing issues, we would like to focus on the notion of sexual propriety. Through the use of words generally used to describe women, like “sexy” and “sassy,” the flowchart suggests that its expectations of “appropriate” attire are directed solely at female students. We cannot hold one gender to certain standards of modesty from which others are exempt. Why is it funny and acceptable for male students to show skin as part of a costume, while female students dressed in similarly revealing fashion are deemed “promiscuous”? We need to further examine these notions of supposed propriety, and the double standards that pepper our cultural vernacular.

Moreover, the very notion that a female’s outward appearance and attire choices indicate anything about her personality or sexual behavior is fundamentally damaging. When we tell girls that dressing a certain way implies something about their behavior, we run the risk of teaching them that others’ treatment of them can be justified by a clothing choice. We are a high school community, and sexualizing female students based on their choice of dress is unfair and logically unsound.

The email Elliott wrote to us was a good first step in addressing the challenges of Halloween costumes, encouraging us to question the impact and intentions of our Halloween dress on the overall community. But we believe the ideas expressed in the flowchart concerning students’ bodies were unfair and problematic, and furthermore, that these conversations should extend beyond just an email. We need to reach deeper, using this opportunity to consider why we almost exclusively judge and condemn the attire of our female classmates.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXXVIII.