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The ‘Sexy’ Halloween Costumes That Controversy Cannot Kill
Changing sensibilities mean ‘sexy’ Halloween costumes, from nurses to Meghan Markle, are under threat. But you won't notice a lack of flesh-revealing outfits online and in stores.
Like pretending to enjoy candy corn and scrambling to find an apple-picking partner, keeping up with “sexy” Halloween costumes has become a requisite October activity.
In simpler times, there were a few staples. Want to show off your legs? Pull out the plaid skirt that lives in the back of your closet and be a naughty schoolgirl. Got boobs and a feather duster? Congratulations, you’re a French maid!
But then social media joined the party, turning every night into a photo op that lasts forever on Instagram. Combine the pressure to look good with the fact that being considered basic in black cat ears is a fate worse than anyone knowing you regularly drink pumpkin spice lattes, and you have to step up your “sexspiration.”
Retailers have curated their revealing lineups with aplomb, and even the least alluring motifs can get the fleshy treatment.
The MILF of all Halloween sexy costume retailers is Yandy, a Phoenix, Arizona-based retailer. The site is known for its topical get-ups, such as a Stormy Daniels-inspired red mini-dress that features fake plastic boobs. (Prospective buyers, keep in mind its accompanying mushroom prop is not included.)
This sartorial free-for-all is also erupting at a time of nervousness, and sometimes outright online condemnation, around certain outfits causing cultural offense.
When asked about the snafu, Thompson deferred to a previous apology the company released in response to the backlash. “That statement was put out, and we directly addressed the response and feedback that we received across all genders, and all people,” Thompson said. “We made the decision to pull it, and we stand by that decision as a company.”
But “sexy” costumes persist. Do you look upon the Chinese takeout you gorged all alone at 2 a.m. with shame? Then you obviously haven’t seen how the retailer Dolls Kill toothsome spin on the container will “have ya lookin’ like a snack.”
Or, just say yaaas to an addiction-themed “Pill Head” costume. The faded orange, strapless tube dress resembles a prescription drug bottle, so you can raise awareness for both #BeBest and how fab your arms look.
FashionNova, one of the most-Googled labels and a favorite of Cardi B, even lets our pets get in on the PG-13 fun. If your pup has got it and you want to flaunt it, go ahead and dress them in a frilled pirate frock.
When it comes to mixing T&A with cultural commentary, Yandy is a real lodestar. For those who would like to trick or treat as the New York Times anonymous op-ed author? All you need is $49.95, which will buy you a newspaper-printed bodycon dress and Groucho Marx glasses.
Even Meghan Markle, with her homely banana bread and penchant for modest Givenchy boatnecks, has earned a place on Yandy’s virtual shelves. For one night only, shoppers can be their own “American Princess”—though the leggy look would not pass a palace sniff test, especially when worn without queen-approved pantyhose.
Yandy Director of Brand Marketing Alicia Thompson explained her team’s pitching process to The Daily Beast.
“The day after Halloween every year, our VP of Merchandising Pilar (Quintana-Williams) starts a new spreadsheet,” Thompson said. “We’ll drop in ideas throughout the year. Pilar’s job is to go through and see which of these ideas really translates well. We want something that’s very distinct and clearly identifiable, so it lands for the viewer and the customer.”
While Thompson doesn’t like to call her site’s shoppers a “Yandy girl,” the company “for sure” knows its customers. According to Thompson, the site does well on “both coasts” as well as a few “tentpole cities” such as Las Vegas and Chicago, where nightlife reigns.
Year-round, Yandy sells lingerie that skews to an older demographic (25 to 45) but come Halloween, 18- to 34-year-olds are the primary targets.
Although costumes that go viral are often modeled on sample-sized women, Thompson said the site offers more. “Plus [size] always does really well for us, and each year we up our game,” she said. “We focus on them and make sure that category gets all the love it deserves.”
Even as discussions of cultural appropriation abound, many Halloween retailers sell Native American-inspired costumes that sexualize indigenous women.
According to a 2016 report by the Department of Justice, 85 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native Women have experienced a form of violence, with 56 percent reporting sexual assault.
In a 2017 Cosmopolitan profile, Yandy CEO Jeff Watton revealed that the company made $150,000 in 2016 on Native American-inspired costumes. Despite protests, a recently trending #CancelYandy hashtag, and a Change.org petition demanding the site stop making the designs, the brand still sells over 40 of them. (Thompson would not comment to The Daily Beast on the matter.)
Jodi Lewis, a buyer for New York superstore Halloween Adventure, said she was offended by the Handmaid costume. “The things they do with women in that show plays with my head, personally, so I was like, ‘No, that’s not right.’”
For Lewis, the moment was indicative of a general trend where shoppers are cold-shouldering hot costumes. “Sexy costumes are not as popular as they were 10 or 15 years ago,” said Lewis, who has worked in the field for 25 years.
“Ten years ago, they could have ‘sexified’ anything,” she went on. “But now, politically correct people are just not digging these sexy costumes. The workplace is different, the way people dress is different, and it trends down to the costumes.”
Lewis cited a 2015 “sexy” Caitlyn Jenner as a tipping point for many people. The white corset and shorts was modeled after Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover.
While Jenner was OK with the parody, telling the Today show, “I can’t get too upset about that kind of stuff,” it drew controversy.
“We had to pull it off the shelves, because people said the industry was picking on her,” Lewis said.
It’s easy to draw conclusions about whether or not #MeToo, or a backlash against a bare-all fashion culture, contributes to what may be the least sexy Halloween in recent memory.
But those theories will have to remain conceptual. The Daily Beast reached out to a handful of retail analysts, and none was able to give concrete data on sexy costumes.
“With Donald Trump coming into office and whatnot, the [desire for] ‘sexification’ is just going down,” Lewis mused. That said, in 2015 Donald Trump got his own Yandy costume in the form of Donna T. Rumpshaker.
It’s worth noting that for 2018, Ms. Rumpshaker’s original asking price of $69.95 has been lowered to $47.99. “Now that he’s in office I don’t think anyone is laughing as hard,” Yandy’s vice president of merchandising told Cosmopolitan.
A recent poll of Today show viewers proved that sexy costume exhaustion has hit the ’burbs. According to the data, 62 percent of parents “agree they’re tired of seeing little kids dressed up in skimpy outfits while trick-or-treating.” (Though it prompts the question... what neighborhood do the other 38 percent live in, and can we not stop there for candy?)
If sex is selling less, 2018 has proved that girl power can rack up the sales, too. A rep from Pinterest told The Daily Beast that searches for “BFF costume” inspiration is up 170 percent in 2018.
Lewis agreed, adding, “People are more into family costumes, group costumes—we have a lot of group costumes for teenagers and college kids.”
Oh, and one more thing: “Pineapples are hot now; who knows why?”
So, for 2019, perhaps get ready for the “sexy pineapple.”