Back in the early ’80s, my brother went to a Halloween party dressed as Diana Ross; two of his friends made up the rest of the Supremes. Danny was a huge Motown fan, and he held those groups in deep reverence. It was a karaoke party, and he viewed his radically off-key performance of “Can’t Hurry Love” as a tribute to his favorite music.
And he thought it was hysterical because he was this huge, hairy white man dressed as a woman. A black woman. Yup. Not only did he have the wig, dress and fake boobs, he had the black face. There are pictures to prove it.
So, if he had decided back then to pursue a career in politics, there is no doubt that the pictures would have resurfaced and quashed any hopes he had of public service. The social justice warriors would have been on him like hair on soap.
Now, the last thing my brother ever wanted was a career in politics. He loathed the spotlight. He had a brief tenure as a school board member and the experience nearly traumatized him for life. So, that wasn’t an issue. But the last thing my brother was, was racist. He would grimace if he was exposed to a racial epithet and was disgusted when he’d hear stories of bigotry and intolerance. He would have been mortified to learn that many today would consider his Diana Ross tribute a racist act.
Times change; I get that. But he would have been a 20th century guy tried in a 21st century court. Not fair.
So, with Halloween nearly upon us, I decided to take a look back at some of my own Halloween costumes over the years to see if any of them might have triggered the ire of the overly politically correct crowd.
As a little kid, I was often saddled with store-bought costumes. My mother worked full time and lacked the time (and the imagination, bless her heart) to create anything homemade. So, I got a store-bought devil costume when I was about 5 years old and wore it for, like, five years running until it began to split at the seams. It was just a shiny red jumpsuit with a pointed tail replete with a plastic mask (with horns) that depicted old Beelzebub sporting a malevolent grin. I can’t count the number of times I rang a doorbell, only to have the lady of the house drop a Milky Way into my pillowcase while coquettishly exclaiming, “Oh, you little devil!”
In 1965, no one thought twice about my devilish ensemble. After all, it was Halloween! You were supposed to be dressed as ghouls, ghosties and monsters. But how do you think that costume would go over today? Would bible enthusiasts call child protective services to report that my parents were engaging their kid in satanic rituals? Would Facebook mom groups try to shame my mother not just for dressing a second grader as the devil, but for using a store-bought costume as well (in their minds, probably the bigger sin)?
As a sullen teen, dressing up for Halloween was no longer cool. I have no memories of costumes from that era—scary, politically incorrect or otherwise.
But after college, many newly minted adults love to host Halloween costume parties and I, for one, liked going to them. But no more store-bought attire for me!
My aunt, my mom’s sister, was the creative one in the family and one year she made me an octopus costume that she must have started sewing together back when I was still wearing the devil outfit. It was huge, with a big bulbous head and six tentacles with suction cups sewed on them (my own two real arms made for a total of eight).
I’m not sure what objections could have been raised over that costume but I’m sure the vegan crowd or PETA folks could have thought of something. However, it was fun to dance in. I could spin around quickly, and all the tentacles would fly outward thwacking anyone who got too close.
As I said, I never bought another costume, but I did rent one once. Trust me, rentals are cool. But I don’t know if my choice in costume was. It was that of an Arab sheik. It was simply a brightly colored pullover gown with a headdress. I had a mustache and little goatee at the time, which helped amplify the look.
Would that go over well today? Is it racist? Is it in poor taste because less-enlightened folks might equate an Arab sheik to a terrorist? I don’t know. Insert heavy sigh here.
But my favorite adult Halloween costume of all time had to be the time I went as Tinker Bell. Inspired by my brother, I thought that a big, hairy guy going as a tiny effeminate pixie would be unquestionably hysterical.
I borrowed a blonde wig from my mom (I never once saw her wear this wig). She and my dad used to square dance, so she also lent me a fuchsia-colored crinoline that served as my skirt. I wore a plastic tiara over the wig. On my feet was a pair of bright white Peds (mini socks with a little puffball on the heels).
But to top it all off, I thought, I would need pantyhose. How in the world, I wondered, could I find pantyhose that would fit a 240-pound dude?
“They have something called ‘Big Mama’s,’” my brother—he of the cross-dressing expertise—told me.
He was right. I found a pair of bright pink Big Mama’s pantyhose at the local supermarket (back then, it was Grand Union). And they fit. So, I thought.
I was a big hit at the party. I was indeed unquestionably hysterical. But as the night wore on, an unforeseen problem arose. The Big Mama’s were chafing. Badly.
I went into the bathroom to inspect. Two huge raspberry-colored rashes had appeared on both inner thighs. And they were beginning to hurt like, um, the devil. I removed the pantyhose immediately, which helped a little, then I made my excuses with the host (nothing about chafing) and wobbled home (I had walked there).
How would that costume hold up today? Would I be judged for appropriating a feminine icon? Would I be seen as poking fun at the LGBTQ community? I just don’t know anymore.
One other thing: They don’t make Big Mama’s pantyhose anymore, which I am sure shocks no one. I mean, they still make pantyhose in large sizes, just without the snarky, pejorative name.
You can still get a pair on eBay under the category of “vintage pantyhose.” (Who knew that was a thing?) I thought I’d tell you all this in case you’d like to re-create my Tinker Bell costume. But if you do, be forewarned: Instead of fairy dust, bring along a bottle of talcum powder.