How to avoid problematic costumes on Halloween

Elena Waldman

Fear manifests in different ways as people grow older. For many, youthful phobias of killer clowns naturally transform into the fear of being accused of sexual assault or perhaps even being held accountable for posting insensitive tweets to millions of people.

Some radicals suggest the easiest way to escape the horrors of today’s ‘cancel’ culture is to avoid assaulting people or to practice treating everyone with basic respect and dignity. However, this might prove unbearably difficult for some individuals.


Halloween is a time for people to embrace their freedom of expression, but here are here are a few ways to avoid

halloween costumes on display
Shelves of Halloween costumes on display. During Halloween there are many costume options that are not offensive. (Abby Flitton | Collegian)

problematic or overdone costumes this year.

Not a costume: Cultural appropriation of Indigenous People

Native American people have been brutalized and oppressed since the foundation of this country and concerns about the appropriation of Indigenous culture are justified. Rather than support businesses that commodify Native culture, people should opt support and learn about Indigenous people in non-exploitative ways

A costume: Television personality and food expert Guy Fieri

Nothing screams “Flavortown” like a frosted tip and goatee. A cultural icon since the early 2000s, Guy Fieri sports a look that will distinguish any trick-or-treater from the crowd.

Not a costume: Dressing up as the opposite gender

Challenging heteronormative ideals of gender isn’t the least bit subversive and if anything, it shows a lack of understanding of individuals who do not identify as cisgender. Dressing up as the opposite sex as a cheeky costume isn’t edgy or funny—especially when transphobia is already very present in America. 

A costume: RAM orientation leader

For the rambunctious few, this costume will give people an excuse to be as loud and energetic as they please without being judged.


Not a costume: Donald Trump

As a general rule, it’s always good to remember Halloween parties are not appropriate venues for people to rehearse their Saturday Night Live auditions. Yes, the current president is a former reality television star. Yes, many people find him comically ridiculous. Does that mean people want to see yet another Trump impression to add to the already existing black hole of white-guy celebrity impersonations? This may not be an offensive costume, but it is certainly offensive to force your peers into pity-chuckling at your mediocre comedy routine.

A costume: Nostalgic childhood cartoon characters

A generation who practically grew up on cartoons has no excuse to dress as Tom Cruise in Risky Business for the third year in a row. With an endless list of cartoon characters from Spongebob to the Powerpuff Girls, the television industry has created enough cosplay ideas to last a lifetime.

Not a costume: Caitlyn Jenner

halloween costumes on display
Shelves of Halloween costumes on display. During Halloween there are many costume options that are not offensive. (Abby Flitton | Collegian)

Let’s get one thing clear: dressing up as a celebrity someone admires is fine. Ironically dressing up as a celebrity someone dislikes is also fine. Dressing up as a celebrity to poke fun at the fact that they are a trans person is not fine.

A costume: Singer and producer of 2009 hit single “Fireflies”, Owl City

All someone needs for this costume is a million fireflies and a jar—simple, yet original.

Not a costume: Cultural appropriation of POC’s

Everyone loves a cultural icon and expressing admiration for a popular figure is a good way to pay tribute to some of the greats. There has been much debate surrounding whether or not it is okay for white people to dress up as a popular figure of color. People should make sure this is done in good taste though, because expression of appreciation can easily turn into appropriation if certain cultural boundaries are not respected. 

Aside from being problematic, many costume ideas can just be repetitive and tired. This Halloween, people should strive for individuality rather than controversy.

Elena Waldman can be reached at and on Twitter @waldmanelena.