A Feminist’s Guide to Halloween

October 19, 2015

Halloween is nearly here, which means you can’t turn a corner without seeing ghosts, pumpkin lattes, and other scary things (just kidding, pumpkin lattes are delicious). But what is truly frightening — and won’t vanish with the post-holiday clearance candy — is the sexism that women encounter year-round. Not even on Halloween, a day that’s largely about escapism, can we break free from offensive stereotypes and labels. The general expectation for women to be scantily clad no matter the costume seems to leave us little choice in the matter of how much we actually want to bare.

So what are we to do if we don’t want to be sexy Mary Poppins this year? We can avoid dressing up altogether and stay at home eating mini Kit Kats and watching It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Or we can take costumes into our own hands and put the attention on influential, game-changing women (while still eating Kit Kats). Whether it’s a week or just a few hours until you need an outfit, here are 11 inspired ideas to get people talking — in a good way.

1. Amelia Earhart or Bessie Coleman

Amelia Earhart

Image via Flickr

Bessie Coleman

Image via Wikipedia

Both of these women were pioneers in aviation at a time when it was basically unfathomable for women to get anywhere near planes, let alone outshine men in them — but Earhart and Coleman did both anyway!

You’ll need: Black or brown slim-fitting pants (aka jodhpurs); a white, flowing scarf; brown or black moto jacket or trench; dark-colored tie; aviator hat and goggles; tall boots; and a smirk that shows you know how cool you are.

2. SCOTUS Lady Squad

Four women have served on the U.S. Supreme Court. From left: Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Sonia Sotomayor (the first Latina Supreme Court justice), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan. Image via Wikimedia Commons

From left: Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan. Image via Wikimedia Commons

When you’re dressing up with friends, there’s no more powerful group costume than the women of the Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan). And if you’re willing to go all in, just casually recreate the portrait of the women Supreme Court justices anytime you’re around a couch.

You’ll need: Black gowns, white collars or neckerchiefs, huge glasses (if you’re RBG), don’t-mess-with-us faces, and gavels. Optional: couch.

3. Breadwinner

A loaf of Wonder Bread

Image via Wikipedia

A hand holding several gold medals

Image via Wikipedia

This is no June Cleaver. Remind everyone that women can have it all (ahem, they are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of American families) as you embrace this feminist pun that’s easy to throw together when you’re strapped for time and resources. If you have access to a loaf of bread, you have a costume.

You’ll need: The aforementioned bread and some fake medals to wear. Because you’re a winner.

4. Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project

Mindy Kaling in character as Mindy Lahiri wearing a bright outfit and a yellow construction hat

Image via Facebook

She’s the unlikely (yet fabulous) feminist OBGYN who unabashedly puts her career first and owns her opinions in a way we should all strive for. Mindy shows that women can have their cake and eat it too, and then follow up that cake with a doughnut.

You’ll need: Basically your craziest, brightest patterned outfit — either a dress/blazer or a skirt/blouse combo that looks like it might clash, some bling, a brightly-colored purse, and rom-com talking points. Optional: White doctor’s coat, cake.

5. Christiane Amanpour

Christiane Amanpour Facebook cropped

Image via Facebook

The British-Iranian Amanpour is a journalist who’s won multiple Emmys, Peabodys, and other distinguished awards for reporting work that constantly raises the bar for everyone else — especially the men in her field.

You’ll need: A khaki safari/travel shirt, any color pants, earrings, notepad and pen, CNN badge, and your best British accent. Optional: Pretend you’re talking to a camera all night.

6. Clara Barton

Clara Barton

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Even though she was kind of busy founding the American Red Cross and helping wounded soldiers during the Civil War, Barton still managed to find time to support bestie Susan B. Anthony’s suffragist cause by hosting and speaking at large feminist gatherings.

You’ll need: A Civil War-era blue dress (alternatively, a long-sleeved denim dress), a white apron, a small red cross glued/sewn/drawn on the dress front near the neckline, hair parted down the middle and pulled back into a bun. Optional: Sign that reads “Votes for Women.”

7. Serena or Venus Williams

Venus and Serena Williams

Image via Methodshop, Flickr Creative Commons

These powerful sisters each killed it again this year, scooping up titles and reminding everyone why they’re the queens of the court. More important though, they’re champions of each other above everything else. Whichever Williams sister you choose to channel — or grab a friend and go as a duo! — you can’t lose.

You’ll need: A white tennis dress, a white visor or sport headband, tennis racket, hair pulled back, big or long earrings. Optional: Carry around a giant silver platter and stick a Wimbledon label on it.

8. Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace painting

Portrait by Alfred Edward Chalon, 1838

Essentially the world’s first computer programmer, Lovelace was a 21st-century woman stuck in a 19th-century man’s world (some things never change…). A mere woman, she pointed out to Charles Babbage that his analytical engine invention was great and everything, but it could actually do way more than he — or anyone — thought. Oh, snap.

You’ll need: If your Victorian gown is at the cleaners, go for a floor-length dress in purple or white instead. Also find a shawl and white evening gloves, and pull your hair into two buns on the sides of your head and tie a yellow ribbon around like you would a headband. Optional: Carry around a calculator.

9. $10 Bill


You’re right, this one isn’t a woman, but it’s easy enough, and everyone will marvel at how politically relevant you are. In case you somehow missed it, a woman is (finally) going to be on some paper money: the new $10 bill. This year, it could be you!

You’ll need: Either cardboard, lots of time, and a friend who’s an art major, or just dress in all green and attach money signs to yourself. If you go with the second option, make sure to add a giant 10 to your shirt and your cheeks (or more accurately, an 8, but, details).

10. Voting Booth

Voting booth

Image via Mortimer62, Flickr Creative Commons

A voting booth is also not a woman, but reminding everyone that women belong in the voting booth (and on the ballot) is always important.

You’ll need: A medium-sized cardboard box with the top flaps and one side completely removed. If you want to get super crafty, you can wallpaper the inside of the booth with fake ballots. Next, get a thin wooden rod and attach red tissue paper to each end (like curtains) and hang the rod across the open side of the box. Now you can wear your booth!

11. Julia Child

Julia Child cooks alongside another chef in a vintage photo

Image via Glenn Dettwiler, Flickr Creative Commons

Not only was she a spy, she followed up that career by running a successful business based on her popular cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking (still as much of a staple in kitchens as milk is) and her television cooking shows. Somewhere in there she also won an Emmy and went on to become the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame.

You’ll need: A floral-print dress, an apron, a wig that resembles Julia’s perm (or just curl and pin your hair), a string of pearls, and a mixing bowl and spoon. Make sure you’re always smiling.

This post was written by AAUW Editorial Assistant Elizabeth Escobar.


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Bessie Coleman and her plane, 1922

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Bessie Coleman, Amelia Earhart, Dora Dougherty — read their inspiring stories.

AAUWguest By:   |   October 19, 2015


  1. Avatar AAUW Staff Only says:

    Rosette, that costume sounds great! I hope you’ll enter our official Feminist Halloween Costume Contest. Details here: http://www.aauw.org/2016/10/26/feminist-halloween-contest. We’re awarding prizes in two categories: Best Individual Costume and Best Group Costume.

  2. Avatar Rosette Dawson says:

    Oh, easy. I already have a lab coat (left over from STEM career). Along with sets of test tubes and other equipment left over from teaching CSI courses to middle school kids, a couple of microscopes… a badge left over from Association for Women in Computing (early 1980’s)… I can probably dig up some punch cards. I even have cookie cutters (home made) for punch card and computer… hmm, maybe my treats can be ‘computer themed’ cookies.

  3. Avatar Mary Pollock says:

    These are just brilliant! Keep up the good work creating these images with messages. Kudos!

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