Age-appropriate Halloween costumes can pose a battle

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Sexy nurses and scantily clad vamps of all kinds come out at night on Halloween, showing off a different take on a holiday once thought to be just for kids. But when young people choose costumes, what they pick out could make a parent’s hair stand on end.

Emma Cook, a Gardner-Edgerton High School senior, went to Fun and Games, 830 Mass., to shop for a costume with her friend, sophomore Shelby Britton.

Cook and Britton planned to avoid the route some classmates would take, who would dress up in “a lot of slutty stuff,” they say.

A display behind a counter re-imagines baseball players and pirates with short skirts and runs to rather mature takes on childhood figures like princesses and fairies. At Fun and Games, these are not immediately available to customers. There is a catalog on the counter to browse.

Cook says many girls her age would dress up for Halloween in that fashion. “A little bit skimpier sometimes.”

Fun and Games owner Kyle Billings says it’s the store policy to keep the more mature outfits behind the counter. If parental guidance is needed, the father of three is happy to give it.

“Most of them know not to go that route,” Billings says. “And if they don’t know, then we’ll just tell them, ‘It’s not going to work’. Or they’ll have to come in and pick something out with their family. My employees know, and usually it’s pretty easy to determine the age of these people.”

At the college level, how to toe the line between appropriate and too risqué is a common theme, says Patricia Hawley, associate professor of social psychology at Kansas University. She’s addressed the topic of young women dressing up like sex kittens in several of her classes and found that some women are frustrated with the options available to them for Halloween costumes.

“If you look for a commercially prepared Halloween costume, ninety-nine-point-nine percent of them are vamped-up,” she says. “You just get vamp after vamp after vamp. Even things that are non-vampy, like Dorothy from the ‘Wizard of Oz.’ Strawberry Shortcake.”

But there is a reason why those costumes are made available.

“Market forces are very strong,” Hawley says. “That means women are choosing them. Women are buying them.”

She says that women were effectively voting with their wallets, and that when other options are made available, they don’t sell as well. “That’s capitalism,” she adds.

That sexualized costumes might have an appeal to adolescents as well as college students did not greatly surprise Hawley.

“What’s interesting about Halloween, and in part what makes it so appealing to adults of all ages is that you have an opportunity to test alternate identities,” Hawley says. “And so when you are of that age group, one of the alternate identities that you may like to toy around with is this vamped-up alternate identity.”

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