From Candy Corny to Downright Porny

What I remember about Halloween as a kid is the task of finding an awesome costume made from stuff around the house, trick-or-treating with my little brothers, and then coming home to watch our dad eat our chocolate bars while he “looked for pins and razor blades”. I would then inventory the rest of my candy and twitch in my bed while the sugar wore off and sleep set in.

But I don’t remember ever buying a Halloween costume, and I certainly don’t remember asking my mom to sex it up a bit. I don’t think I really put together the whole concept of sexy until 10th grade or so.

Now I am raising my own daughter, there is simply NO WAY that I am letting her traipse around my neighborhood in something that sexualizes her and sends the message to those who view her that very young girls can be seen as sexy. In fact, I find that an extremely dangerous thing to do.

My daughter isn’t sexy. She’s five.

Last week she wanted to be Superhero Kitty Litter, this week she wants to be the Headless Horseman. She has no concept of “sexy”, and I am proud of the fact that she is five going on six, not five going on sixteen. Whatever costume we settle on, we will be sexy-free as we walk around the neighborhood begging for candy from the neighbors.

Follow the formula — short poofy skirt, tight bodice, leg wear that accentuates bare thigh. You’d have to be intentionally obtuse to not notice your kindergartner is dressed like a Halloween French maid.

Because how the hell is this a lion?? Or a leopard? Female Halloween costumes don’t look like the thing they are, they just look sexy. Or, baby sexy. And I hate a small part of myself for typing that, but what else do we call this phenomenon of parents thinking it is adorable to sex up their small children?

Child's Lion costume.

Child’s Lion costume.



Leg Avenue Adult Kitty










Let’s take a look at how much things have changed from when I was a girl to now:


Remember this – Halloween costumes generally run quite small, so older children are buying teen costumes and and teens are buying women’s costumes.

None of the above costumes on the right are overly terrible, especially when the child’s short skirt is paired with leggings. At least, I personally think it is fun to have our private parts covered while in public. The costumes on the right just kind of hint at and dabble in being sexy. They are but aren’t sexy. But they are for children. And children don’t need to be and aren’t supposed to be dabbling in sexy. On a holiday that celebrates being scary.

What do the teen versions of these three themes look like?

Riding Hood Teen Kyoto Kutie

Indian Costume









And the adult versions that teens would actually fit into?

geisha woman Sexy Pocahontas Sexy red riding hood









Here’s why this matters, and it isn’t just the overly simplistic “Well just don’t buy it!” that solves the problem. Let us also be clear, it isn’t an issue if adult women want to express their sexuality, they have every right to do so. But when nearly every costume for females of any age hints at sex, we must start questioning who is determining what is sexy for us and why in the world are we buying into it?

This matters because what girlhood looks like on the marketplace has changed drastically, and it is doing damage to our girls. It matters when girls’ Halloween costumes follow the track to sexy costumes instead of looking like the actual thing they are supposed to be. We need to examine why and how the sexy Halloween kids costume became the norm.

Girls are getting messages from every source that being sexy and hot should be their main focus because that is what gives them value. See the big picture: It is the Halloween costume + the song on the radio + the commercials on tv + magazine cover + the image on the billboard + the pop up on their phone + the character on the tv show + the starlet in Instagram, plus plus plus plus plus plus. It never really ends for our girls.

Our marketplace is a litmus test for our culture, and right now the message is that no age is too young to be sexy when it comes to our girls. Girls aren’t the problem, parents who buy these costumes that fit into the sexy formula because they think they are cute – those people are the problem. As well as the manufacturers of these costumes and the retailers who order and stock them. As the consumer we have the control to make healthier choices for our children.

Our girls are getting the message that “sexy” is what society wants and expects from them, at ages when they are developmentally too young to understand it. But I promise you they memorize the look, the body language and posturing, the voice, the pout, etc. They mimic someone else’s definition of sexy well before they are emotionally able to understand what they are doing. This mimicry shifts the way people react to them, either by returning sexually charged messages or slut-shaming girls who still believe in Santa Claus.

The Halloween costume industry offering little but sexy costumes to females of any age also sends the message to boys girls are just eye candy, and nothing more than sexual play things. By the by, it is also sending that same message to the group of teenage boys or adult male watching your little Lolita bounce down the sidewalk in her Sassy Sexy Sacagawea costume.

It is Halloween after all, and that last thought ought to scare the hell out of you.


  1. I was Little Red Riding Hood, too, c. 1979 or so, think. 🙂 I had a store-bought costume, though, the kind with the plastic mask and elastic strap in the back, with cut-outs for eyes. Cheesy as it now sounds, I loved that costume as a kiddo…I think I wore it for two years!

    My girls are 2 1/2, slightly too big for “infant” costumes (usually up to 24 months). I wanted them to be ladybugs or butterflies or bumblebees, or some combination thereof…but every single costume I found in stores or online featured a net skirt and lots of lace and frills. I was looking for something way more furry / fuzzy / padded / roly-poly and cute. Repeat, my girls are 2 1/2.

    I finally found costumes to order, after an involved search. It’s crazy to realize how “unusual” my request must have been, judging by the selection in mainstream retail. ((sigh))

  2. Melissa, I love love LOVE your blog. I quite often do not love the subject matter, in a fairly drastic way, but in the last fortnight I have read the entire Pigtail Pals blog from top to toe and I’m now working my way through Peggy Orenstein’s. Almost everything you write about is a subject on which I have always had strong opinions, but I’ve never before connected up all the dots into a bigger picture of the new, emerging girlhood the way you do here. It’s terrifying stuff.

    In a moment of shameless self-promotion, I am going to link my most recent blog post:

    My blog is a personal one so it’s mostly not about the issues you discuss here, but some of the posts are, and this one is. Pigtail Pals was an enormous part of the inspiration for this so I think (hope) you might be interested to read.

    Thank you for your blog. You are legendary.

  3. Gee, I didn’t know they made stilletto moccasins.

  4. Great article Melissa. I just wrote on the same topic for a blog in my community. It’s sad that these costumes have become the status quo for our girls.

    • Just read your post, good work! It is disappointing it has become the status quo, and the girls are either too young or too sexualized already to see it.

  5. I’m going to try to tune in, but that is the time we put the kids to bed and I really suck at Twitter parties.

  6. I think your blog is great, and I am definitely on board with working against the sexualization of little girls. I’d also like to note that a white child dressing up as a person of a different ethnicity is harmful, too. It objectifies and exotifies people of color, including little girls of color, who will be inundated with negative stereotypes about their race and gender throughout their lives. Blogs like Native Appropriations offer examples of the harm that this type of “dress up” can perpetuate.

    • Hi –
      I completely agree with your comment, but in my case, I am of Native American heritage. My costume was part of a unit I was studying in school at the time, and it spurred an obsession with Native American culture that lasted for the next six years. I visited Reservations, and even participated in the Jingle Dance at an Ojibwe and Chippewa Pow wow. It was a wonderful way for me to explore in more depth a culture that was part of my lineage.

      • In a school in washington, kids weren’t allowed to be witches for halloween because it “objectified and exotifies” the Wiccan culture. Of course, I do not want to harm different ethnicities but i feel like the same argument can be used for nearly every halloween costume. and I was just wondering where do you draw the line? Costumes have always been about dressing like the stereotype. I really am not trying to be insensitive here. I definitely do not want my children to be racist in anyway. which is why I am trying to understand the harm. If my daughter had wanted to be an Indian, I wouldn’t have batted an eye. In fact, I would have preferred it to wanting to be Rumpunzel (her newest choice) because I would have seen it as a gateway to learning about a wonderful and unique culture. What am I missing?

        • I, too, am clueless, and I started here:
          Courtesy of

          I self-identify as white, but that’s largely because my grandfather tore up his Indian Status Card and set the tone of his family for generations to come. I’m certainly not offended by the concept of a Coast Salish Hallowe’en costume even if it’s imperfect, but an entire roomful of kids dedicated to the cheap PVC-and-polyester, saw-Disney’s-Pocahontas-once, what-do-you-mean-you-don’t-live-in-teepees version is a cognitive load no one should have to bear at a bloody party.

          Sometimes I’m happy this disease is eating my skin color. Sometimes not so much.

        • Taylor –
          To be honest, I don’t know really where to draw the line, because no matter what you do, someone will be offended. Banning witch costumes? I think that is a bit drastic. I always associate witches with European and Colonial folk lore (I grew up in the Appalachains), not modern day Wiccans.

          I think the best way to go about it is turn it into a learning experience for the child – She wants to be Cleopatra? Great! But do some research first so she understands the elements of her costume, and the role Cleopatra had in Egyptian history. She wants to be an “Indian”, or rather a Native American? First have her decide which tribe to focus on, as not all Native Americans are the same nor dress the same. She wants to be a Dakota Sioux Jingle dancer? That I can handle. She wants to be Sexy Sacagewa in stilletto moccasins? No.

          I think it can be a great way to explore another culture and try to better understand a group of peoples previously unknown to you. But I think the orignal point of blogromps comment was how sexualized the cultural costumes are, and why that is particularly damaging as girls of color are traditionally more sexualized in our culture to begin with.

  7. I’m hoping to make it to the chat tonight. Looking forward to the discussion.

  8. my daughter is 4 and she wants to be kitty for halloween. I have literally spent hours looking for a cat costume that is not “sexy kitty” to no avail and I am searching for costumes in size 4T for crying out loud.

    • My daughter was a kitty the year she was four. We did a black turtle neck, black leggings, white mittens, and kitty ears and tail. I used my own make up to make whiskers and a kitty nose for her. And then I ate all her candy.

  9. Last year my two year old was Hit Girl from the movie Kick Ass. I thought it was hysterical, and Hit Girl is an awesome roll model for my little girl. She’s not portrayed as “sexy” in any way, and even though she’s a killing machine, there’s no “ball buster” or PMS jokes or comments. She’s just a bad ass. I love her, in spite of her potty mouth. My kids will be Doctor Who, Rose Tyler and a dalek this year. All made from stuff around the house or stuff I’ll find at the thrift stores.

    Halloween is about pretending, about candy, about being silly-scared. Marketers have turned it into a f**k-fest, with EVERY costume for girls and women is a “sexy-something” .. unless you’re in plus sizes and then you can be the sexy-school marm’s dowdy principal, or the sexy cops frumpy captain. Ugh.

  10. There is a big difference between the old and new design of costume.. The new one is better because it is more colorful..

  11. I love this post. I also have noticed how skimpy costumes have gotten. I wanted to get my almost 3 yr old a strawberry shortcake costume, but I couldn’t believe how skimpy a costume for a toddler was. I was strawberry shortcake as a child and it was a long costume the I think was made of vinyl or something similar. Even trying to find a costume for myself is hard. I know that it is different being that they are adult costumes, but a lot of teenagers are adult size. I bought a fairy costume that is actually bigger than my size and I can’t wear it. The picture showed it hitting a few inches above the knees, and it barely hits 2 inches below exposing me. It’s sad that costumes have become so “trashy”

  12. I enjoyed reading your post… I also enjoyed your red riding hood costume.. See the enhancements, from 1981 to 2011…

  13. i totally agree with you. it’sa shame that media and popindustry wants to make bitches from the little girls. they aren’t objects and they have nothing to do with sex yet. and there are a lot of dangerous people outside, so im afraid this tendence leads not in the good sirection.

  14. Yes, and you know that some doors will be opened by sexual perverts….

  15. I agree, our kids are exposed to too much sexuality and by the time they are teenagers (or often earlier) they might think that looking like a bitch is totally normal. No wonder why the number of sexual perverts increase!

  16. I would like to know of the designer that would mix sexuality with a child’s Halloween costume! I think that it’s very warped! I don’t care what the trend of society is, there is no way I would allow a sexually exposed costume, no matter how little. Especially with the sick pervs that are out there. Anyone ever see those dateline shows for the internet. I am one of the old school dad’s who will keep my child a virgin util forty years old!

  17. All of the factors of life today are evolving and even the kids are exposed to some things that are supposed to be not their field…

  18. Companies installing into our minds that no age is too young to be sexy are going beyond. There will be a time that my kids would be concerned with being sexy but as of now I want to maintain the cute and innocent image.

  19. This was the first year I really noticed little girl costumes being so trashy, and I have to admit — when I was browsing costumes earlier this week, my jaw was hanging open. I can’t believe this stuff even _exists_. And worse: that a parent would actually buy on for his or her daughter.

  20. nicole says:

    here will be a time that my kids would be concerned with being sexy but as of now I want to maintain the cute and innocent image.they aren’t objects and they have nothing to do with sex yet. and there are a lot of dangerous people outside, so im afraid this tendence leads not in the good sirection.

  21. Something we’ve done is use Etsy for costumes. There are handmade, remade, and ‘by request’ options there. It is a bit more pricey (although not compared to some of the boutique costume sites) but it’s an option.

  22. I completely agree. I was just looking at a recent pic from a relative of mine. It was her 8 yo daughter and 5 yo cousin dressed as the white and black ballerinas from “Black Swan”. I thought their actual costumes were cute and appropriate, it was the idea of what they were portraying. Parents need to wake up.

    • Deanna –
      I was so suprised when I heard that was made into children’s costumes. Being a prima ballerina for Halloween is one thing. Black Swan on kids is totally wrong.

  23. happy halloween night all

  24. My family doesn’t celebrate the occassion – however when my daughter visits with relatives she’s been allowed to wear a costume (their house – their rules kinda deal). The costume choices in the stores and online were so risque she was too bothered to select just one, then was so worried she stopped home to have me see the options. By the time the conversation started – my daughter just opted not to go. I felt bad but very glad she knew it wasn’t appropriate to wear fishnet ANYTHING – she wanted to be a cheerleader and didn’t understand why all the costumes were so grown up. Sadly, I had NO EXPLANATION for her and told her it was WAY more fun to start creating your own like a week in advance like I did when I was younger (and I HAD options that were age appropriate). Sadly, its not just costumes – weeding thru the low-riders and skinny jeans to get to the cute and body appropriate cargo’s or straight leg (regular waist) jeans – has become a chore all its own!

  25. I’m a new reader of your blog and I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. My boyfriend and I walked into Party City and he said (he has two daughters, ages 9 and 8, plus mine who are 10 and 6), “When did Halloween become so slutty?” I have a pre-teen daughter who strays from anything that shows off her body, yet her clothing size dictates that a Tween costume was our only option. So, after declaring her choice of costume this year “Zombie Bride”, we hit the Goodwill, found a wedding dress, and did awesome makeup instead. Thank you for putting it out there!

  26. 2 years ago when I was 18, I wanted to be Little Red Riding Hood for Halloween. I searched for weeks on end, not just in stores but also online. I figured that, though the adult costumes were provocative, I could fit into tween sizes and those should be more innocent. I was totally wrong. I ended up having to use a dress I already owned and make my own cape out of flannel from Hobby Lobby.

  27. I first wanted to say how much I appriciate someone finally adresses this upmoming problem. Here in Europe little girls are also becoming more and more “womenized” at a very early age. I think this also has to do with the videoclips on the popular music channels.
    It’s real easy to say “Well if you don’t like it, don’t buy it!”, but unfortunatly this is not the way it works.

    Sorry for my misspelled English here and there..;)

  28. I too am grateful that you are bringing attention to this topic. I don’t have any children of my own, but every Halloween i am mortified by the outfits on the young girls who come around trick or treating!

  29. What bothers me here, is while a good point is made, this article doesn’t even point out the cultural appropriation of these costumes. DX

    • That is addressed in the post.

    • Lily –
      My apologies, my comment above is incorrect. Your observation about the cultural appropriation was not addressed in this post, which was meant to promote a twitter chat. The cultural issue did come up during the chat, and during facebook discussions. I feel like I have written about it, though, because I distinctly remember doing some research on Inuit and Native American traditional women’s dress. I think I wrote about the sexualization of ethnic women as a guest post? Either way, it is something that does need to be addressed, and I will make sure to cover that angle when this year’s costumes roll out.

  30. Alexandra ridden says:

    Part of the answer to why these costumes are skimpy sexy is dead easy. . . same reason they run small. . . WAY cheaper to manufacture as they need so much less fabric so the manufacturers can save while still charging a mint for an outfit that will be worn once and thrown a way.

    I learned to sew specifically so I could make the costumes I wanted to wear – and that my daughter wanted to wear. (she has a thing for costumes being screen accurate.) The fave with all her friends is a leopard jumpsuit (a sleep suit with hood, ears and tail. Cost a lot more than a shop bought costume but it get’s treated ROUGH!!! a LOT! and stands up to it


  1. […] be too sexy, and they can’t be sexy too soon,” says Melissa Wardy, founder of Pigtail Pals, a clothing line for adventurous girls, who has blogged about sexy Halloween costumes. […]

  2. […] be too sexy, and they can’t be sexy too soon,” says Melissa Wardy, founder of Pigtail Pals, a clothing line for adventurous girls, who has blogged about sexy Halloween costumes. […]

  3. […] of eye-opening articles and posts on the disturbing nature of sexy children’s costumes. From Pigtail Pals to CNN, people are talking about how deeply troubling it is for our kids – our girls – to be […]

  4. […] be too sexy, and they can’t be sexy too soon,” says Melissa Wardy, founder of Pigtail Pals, a clothing line for adventurous girls, who has blogged about sexy Halloween costumes. […]

  5. […] with this in mind: Our girls are receiving messages through media and retail outlets that no age is too young to be sexy. The popular costumes today are also sending a harmful image to young boys of what girls their age […]

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