The Surprising (And Sexy) History Of Halloween
Instead, a few smart parents got the idea of buying off the destructive pranksters with parties, and costuming became a big part of those parties.’ And yes, this is where the phrase ‘trick or treat’ comes from.
But, fever pitch for the festival didn’t hit mass proportions until post-war. It was a combination of things – the growth of safe suburban neighbourhoods, the end of sugar rationing and ergo the expansion of confectionary companies, the increase in single-parent households with less available time to make handmade costumes and an appetite for the growing mass-produced cheap ready-made clothing – in the 1950s that made Halloween into a day of delight for kids.
A perfect storm of events in the 1970s took Halloween out of the cosy enclaves of church halls and sanitised suburbs and into the streets. In this decade of sexual-liberation, Hollywood got hold of the horror film genre and fueled money into tawdy but camp films like Rocky Horror Picture Show but also cult scare classics like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Exorcist and The Wicker Man. Meanwhile, in New York’s Greenwich Village the combustible combination of cheap rent meant low-income families lived side-by-side with the queer community that occupied this enclave of the city. It was here that the door-to-door parade of dressed-up kids inspired a neighbourhood party that brought drag artists out into the daylight. Soon de facto gay districts across the US – West Hollywood, the Castro etc – saw a similar set of events took place.
But, the sexy cat concept didn’t really take a grip until the 90s, thinks Morton. ‘It’s likely that they represent the holiday’s transition from a festival celebrated mainly by children – as it was until the 1970s – to something co-opted more and more by adults,’ she says. Whether it’s little boys dressed as superheroes and little girls in princess costumes, Morton thinks the act of costume gendering has been mainstream since the mid-century, but at the end of the 20th Century, something took hold.
Possibly it was an economic impetus, thinks popular culture studies Professor Jack Santino. ‘Halloween has always been about breaking taboos, all those images of death adorning houses; gay parades, political parodies, and so forth,’ he says, ‘ Here the night offers an occasion to flaunt one’s sexuality in a way not condoned by the everyday norms. Plus, the commercial Halloween industry has done their best to capitalize and commodify virtually every folk tradition.’
‘It’s easy,’ says Georgia a self-professed sexy Halloween dresser. ‘I tend to go for an outfit that’s easy to whip together the night before. Typically, these end up being “sexy” costumes because it will just be my regular going-out clothes with a fancy dress twist. To be honest, I despise the rhetoric around Halloween costumes so if anything I like to prove a point that wearing less clothes has no bearing on my sexual desires or history.’
The sexy cat, if you will, like all more costumes says more about the wearer than they may think. ‘Although you are hiding behind a mask during Halloween, it may reveal more of yourself than you are conscious of,’ divulges Baetsen. ‘Previous psychological research on the meanings behind costume choices has revealed that turning into a sexy Jessica Rabbit can stand for a celebration of repressed sexuality, Cinderella can represent your lost innocence or beauty, and Zombie Joe can show your fascination with the macabre.’
So before you hate on the trope for sexy Halloween costumes too much, consider this: Halloween gives us the opportunity to push our sartorial personality to the forefront and express our sexuality in a safe environment. There’s more to that sexy cat costume than meets the eye.
Read more awesome fashion and cultural content on Grazia