Take Back Halloween: Historical, Cultural, Empowered Costumes for Women

Just got back from judging the Costume Contest at Nerd-o-Ween 2013.  Fun!!  This annual party, sponsored by the Chicago Nerd Social Club, always has the best costumes.  🙂

While searching for my own costume ideas, I came across Take Back Halloween.  I agree with this uplifting organization; women’s Halloween costumes can serve purposes other than looking sexy.  Sure, sexy costumes are fun, but why not honor your heritage?  Become a historically-accurate queen?  Embody a goddess?  Take Back Halloween offers no-sew tutorials to help girls become deities, cultural figures, vintage celebrities, monarchs, and more.

Here are a few of my favorite writeups: Frida Kahlo, Isis, Marie Curie, Queen Mab, and the Trung Sisters.  The selections on Take Back Halloween get pretty obscure, but each option comes with historical info.  Thus, you can drop some sick knowledge when someone asks, “Lol, what are YOU supposed to be??”

Additionally, Take Back Halloween has  a Kickstarter campaign running for six more days.  While it has already met its initial goal, more cash can only do good things for the site.  Please consider donating.

Anne Bonny Halloween Costume

Anne Bonny

I reached out to TBH’s founder, Suzanne Scoggins.  She was very generous with her time.  Ms. Scoggins told me a lot about Take Back Halloween‘s origins, its viewpoint, the costume selection process, and fundraising.  Read on:
Geek Girl Chicago:  I understand that Take Back Halloween is meant to widen women’s options for costumes.  There’s a LOT of sexy out there!  It can be frustrating; is there a specific moment or costume that really sent you over the edge?

Suzanne Scoggins: Yep. I think of it as my “Gollum moment.”  I was reading an online forum where a college woman was fretting about Halloween. What she really wanted to do was go as Gollum, and she’d worked out a very cool costume.  She was afraid to do it, because she knew she’d be ridiculed for not sexing it up. That just floored me. That’s when I realized that things had really taken a turn. I mean, if a gal can’t get her Gollum on at Halloween, when can she?


GGC: Have you seen any Halloween costumes this year that are particularly offensive?  The thorn in my side, for example, is a pink Spider-Man costume that is making the rounds. Why the color swap?? Argh!

SS: The ones that exasperate me every year are the occupational costumes. It would be really great to be able to use a pre-made costume for one of our famous women- an astronaut costume, or an admiral costume… not a sexy astronaut, not an admiral in a miniskirt and fishnets… just a regular costume.  Good luck finding such a thing!

Aside from that particular irritation, one costume that kind of freaked me out this year was the sexy Robin, as in Batman and Robin. The costume is just a strapless leotard with fishnets and a mask.  I used to dress up as Robin when I was a kid… very freaky to see what it has been turned into.

A costume I really, really hated from a year or two ago was Sexy Joan of Arc.  Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for refusing to wear women’s clothes. So hey, let’s put her in a push-up bra and a sexy skirt!


GGC: What is your selection process for which costumes to break down on Take Back Halloween? 

SS: Basically, we’re working from a master list of important women in history and mythology.  You saw that the parent of this thing is the Real History Project, right?  That’s where I’m coming from- as a writer and educator on women’s history.  With the Halloween site, we’re encouraging people to discover that history by connecting with their heritage.  Our list of Great Women is filtered through an American population demographic. God, that sounds like a computer algorithm. Okay, let me explain:

What I mean about demographics is that we’re trying to make it so that (eventually) every American woman can find her own heritage reflected and validated. For example, millions of Americans have Chinese ancestry.  So, we have a couple of key Chinese goddesses and two Chinese queens in our catalog- the great Empress Wu Zetian, and Fu Hao… and we plan to add more Chinese figures, like Huang Daopo, and Mulan, and Chang’e.  But still, we’re talking about a minority of our overall costume catalog.  That’s because our perspective isn’t Chinese-centric or even neutral or anthropologist-from-Mars; it’s American.

The American viewpoint isn’t because we’re jingoistic; it’s just a practical matter. We’re in the U.S. and that’s our primary audience, so to focus our writing and our sourcing, we assume an American viewpoint

Additions to the costume catalog are also a question of time, feasibility, popularity, and artistic inspiration. And sometimes, personal inspiration. For example, if you plotted all our first year costumes on a globe, you’d be looking at a map of my relatives!


GGC: Congratulations on your successful Kickstarter campaign!  How will the funds be divided/used?

SS: Most of it just goes towards hosting and maintaining the site. The actual cost of running Take Back Halloween is far more than we could hope to raise on Kickstarter. The hosting and maintenance is thousands of dollars a year. The creative side is at least 2000 person-hours a year- costume design, research, writing, graphic design, pictures, sourcing, all that stuff… We just need to be able to defray the cash outlay so we don’t go broke.  So, everything we raise from Kickstarter first goes to the server costs, then software, then monthly fees, and on like that.  We really need to pay for a major site overhaul, a rewrite of the code base for responsiveness and security issues.


GGC: It’s cool that backers will get to vote on costumes; are there plans for making the ones that aren’t winners? Can your fans submit even more suggestions?

SS: Losers today may be winners tomorrow! In fact, most of the costumes we’re introducing this coming year were also-rans in the voting last year.

We have an ongoing list of possible costume candidates- that master list I talked about, plus suggestions from readers.  And yes, readers submit suggestions to us all the time, which is great. We love to hear from people. When we bring up costumes for a vote, it’s based on a combination of things: what our readers have asked for, what we think will work, and holes we need to fill in our catalog.

Ching Shih Halloween Costume

Ching Shih


Fabulous.  Some of the costumes on Take Back Halloween are so simple that you could put them together well before the 31st!  Once again, check out the Kickstarter.  If you decide to portray any of the incredible women featured, share pictures below.  I’d also love to hear about any of your costume plans for Halloween 2013- even the sexy ones.

Have a spooktacular weekend, geeks!


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