how not to celebrate Halloween at work

Holidays at work can be landmines, and Halloween is no exception: Some of the normal rules don’t apply, but you’re still expected to remain professional even while doing things you’d never do on any other day, like wearing a costume or wrapping your desk in giant cobwebs. That can make the holiday tricky to navigate.

Here are four rules to remember in order to ensure that your Halloween week at work remains fright-free.

1. Tread carefully if you wear a costume to work. If your office is one that welcomes costumes, just be sure that you keep it work-appropriate. That means no costumes that are revealing or sexually provocative (save your naughty nurse costume for your off-work time when you’re not with coworkers), and no costumes with racist undertones (like caricatures of another ethnic group or dressing up as a member of a group that has been systemically oppressed). Most people these days know that blackface is offensive, but there are still plenty of American Indian or “gypsy” costumes out there; be thoughtful and sensitive about using some else’s ethnicity as a costume. Offending coworkers is not a fun way to celebrate the holiday.

In fact, employers who encourage costume-wearing would do well to give employees some guidance ahead of time. Yes, you can send someone home if their costume is too over-the-top, but doing that is likely to cause drama and hurt feelings; it’s better to just ward it off before it happens. And the larger the office, the greater the chance that someone is going to show up in something inappropriately sexy or outright offensive if you don’t set expectations ahead of time.

2. Don’t wear a costume to a job interview. If you’re interviewing this week, you might wonder if wearing a Halloween costume is a way to demonstrate your personality and come across as fun, but resist that impulse. While there are no doubt a small number of interviewers out there who would appreciate a candidate showing up in a costume, the majority of interviewers are likely to find it off-key and inappropriate for a formal business meeting (which is what an interview is). Moreover, you want to be taken seriously, which means that you want your interviewer’s focus to be on your qualifications, not on your costume.

3. Pranks should be opt-in. If you’re thinking about bring the “trick” part of treat-or-treat into your office, make sure that you know your audience before executing a prank. Not everyone likes being pranked, and some people outright hate it and will feel upset or alienated. In fact, I recently heard from someone whose coworker had put a fake spider on their boss’s shoulder – and the boss flipped out, screamed at her, and took the issue to HR. It’s safest to confine pranks to people who you know with certainty enjoy them – and to steer clear of pranks based on common phobias like spiders.

4. Go ahead and decorate – but remember how you’ll need to use your office. Some offices go all-out when it comes to Halloween decorations, and have an enormous amount of fun with it. But no matter who encouraging your office might be of decorations, make sure that you keep in mind what your role is and what you might need to use your office for while the decorations are up. For example, if you’re a manager, you probably don’t want to find yourself having to let someone go or having to give a client bad news from an office that’s covered from floor to ceiling in spider webs while a recording of spooky sounds and screams plays in the background.

And speaking of sounds, if you decorate your office or cubicle with anything sound-producing – like dolls that make creepy noises when people walk by or a recording of screams, howls, and other haunted house noises – make sure that you keep the volume low enough that it’s not going to provide the background soundtrack for your coworkers’ conference calls and meetings.

Beyond that, though, go forth and enjoy! Giving out the good types of candy to your coworkers might be just what you need to right your relationships; no one can resist mini candy bars.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 302 comments… read them below }

  1. Kyrielle*

    *grins* I have a miniature pumpkin on my desk (not carved, but I may use a Sharpie to make it a jack o’lantern…or I may not, it’s kind of cute as-is) this morning. And a “pumpkin pi” sign up. (A foam pumpkin with 3.14159… on it. Yes, I’m a geek.) And a bowl of candy.

    It feels so…lazy. But it’s not. Heavy Halloween decorations were a Thing in my old office (where the lab was frequently spider-webbed, spider-ed, and even had (really cheap plastic) fake severed limbs in it some years. Heck, I put tombstones in front of a couple monitors (attached to computers that were in fact, you guessed it, totally dead) one year.

    My new office? I think I have the most decorations of anyone. It’s not a Thing. And honestly, I’m kind of content with this; I’ll save my decorating energy for home this year. (But I have gotten positive comments on my pumpkin pi. This is the sort of group where that silly joke works well. Yay!)

    1. Kyrielle*

      (And I wouldn’t have the bowl of candy, except it’s leftovers from a parade the kids went to near the end of summer, and I needed it out of my house. I can’t eat it, they shouldn’t, and if no one wants it I will toss it in the trash. I figured I’d give it a chance first. I’m handing out non-food treats this year for trick or treaters to the house.)

    2. Cath in Canada*

      Off-topic but this made me smile as I remembered a Hallowe’en party from my grad school days. I hollowed out a pumpkin to use as a punch bowl (the vodka punch was, of course, dyed green), and drew jack o’lantern eyes and a mouth on the outside with a black sharpie. One of my roommates got totally wasted and spent about ten minutes staring at it in extreme close-up, trying to figure out why the liquid wasn’t draining out of the “holes”.

  2. Bend & Snap*

    Do people actually interview in costume?

    My current company does opt-in ToT for kiddos. I took my daughter and it was great fun but not disruptive to people who didn’t want to participate.

    My last workplace had “not mandatory” (mandatory) costumes, a month-long Guitar Hero tournament (Rocktober), kids’ ToT, Halloween happy hour, trivia afternoon, pizza lunch, etc. etc. etc. It was waaaaay too much.

    1. Kyrielle*

      … O.o Okay, your last workplace loved Halloween even more than my last workplace. Wow. Massive (but optional, for people’s cubicle/office!) decorating and an optional (actually optional) costume contest, plus usually an optional (actually) pot luck. But that was it.

      …well, and candy eyeballs in the lab staring up at people. *cough* That was me. Mind you, once I did it once I had to keep it up – because it turned out QA loved those little things. ;) Hehe. (Palmer’s – so filled with caramel, peanut butter, or fudge. Tasty, tasty little creepy eyeballs. They did not last long after being placed each year.)

    2. Kelly L.*

      I think someone asked a few years ago if it was a good idea!

      I’m big on silly headbands as a “costume” in the office. Cheap, and easily removed if I have to do something serious!

      1. Cath in Canada*

        I’m glad I invested in my go-to costume – a Princess Leia hoodie. With the hood down it just looks like a normal white hoodie; with the hood up, I’ve got the hair and am very recognizable! Perfect for work, especially with a professional-looking top underneath.

    3. INTP*

      I’ve never heard of someone going to an interview in costume, except on AAM (I think they were just asking if they should). However, the CTO at a previous job interviewed someone in full Scooby Doo costume. (The candidate’s panel also included a pirate, a greek goddess, and Steve Jobs.)

      1. Charityb*

        Was it Steve Jobs as in someone dressed like Steve Jobs or Steve Jobs as in, “the interviewer was for a job at Apple”?

      2. Nashira*

        Now I’m tempted to get a black turtleneck and go to work as a gender bent Steve Jobs on Friday. It’s the best costume, because it’s easy to pass it off as just clothes per my office’s standards

      3. ILurkaLot*

        I lurk daily but rarely have something to add that hasn’t been shared already…
        For my last job, my 2nd round in-person interview was held on Halloween and the whole office was decorated and my interviewers were all dressed up. One had a full painted face, one had a hoodie that zipped up over her face and made her look like a skeleton. It was the weirdest thing to be sitting across from these costumed folks in my nice suit.
        The first round in-person interview was held on their last day in an old office before moving to the new one, and everyone was in jeans and “painting t-shirts.” There were big signs on all the furniture in the interview room of who had purchased it and when it would be picked up. It was an interesting environment with fun coworkers :)

    4. Juli G.*

      I had an internal candidate interview in costume. I thought it was weird but my boss LOVED it. In the end, she was far and away the best candidate and got the offer.

      1. Ad Astra*

        If I were going to take the risk of interviewing in costume, I’d only do it as an internal candidate.

  3. INTP*

    I’d like to add, do NOT require employees to wear costumes unless it’s something they’d reasonably expect with their job description. I was reprimanded for not wearing one by a previous employer (apparently I “should have known” it was required since I did marketing and HR). I haven’t worn a costume since I was 12, I just don’t feel comfortable in them and have always been on a budget where $20 for an accessory and makeup to half-ass something would have been doable but absolutely something I’d never choose to spend willingly. Luckily I was gone by the next Halloween but if I were still at that job, I would not have been happy about having to dress up, and I really don’t see why I should have anyways. There were plenty of people in goofy costumes already, we didn’t need to dress up ourselves to encourage it as a morale thing.

    1. Allison*

      Woah, it never occurred to me that someone might be required to dress up. That’s dumb. I can see someone being considered a “poor team player” if their coworkers did a theme and they came in wearing normal work clothes, but to actually reprimand someone? No. Costumes should always be optional.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Although you’d think the co-workers would find some way to include people in the theme? “Hey, we’re doing an 80’s slasher flick theme, Wakeen, you can be the unsuspecting cop who doesn’t report the strange noises, here’s a flashlight to stick on your desk.”

        1. fposte*

          Oh, good idea. I could go for being the frightened townsperson who quiveringly stays away from trouble.

          1. neverjaunty*

            There you go. Or the oblivious shopper who forgets their keys, turns around to go home, and never knows how close they came to opening the Portal to the Realm of Very Bad Special Effects.

            1. fposte*

              Patrick Ness has a new book called _The Rest of Us Just Live Here_, about life in a supernatural town for the people who aren’t involved in the adventures.

              1. VintageLydia USA*

                A friend of mine just produced a web series with the same premise (only they’re villagers in a D&D style setting.)

      2. A is for A*

        I have worked for company’s where it is a requirement for my department to dress up. But it’s a little different. We provide Recreational Therapy to nursing home and assisted living residents. Staff in the department typically must dress up to add to the festivity on the day of the Halloween parties. Always clean costumes. We work together on them sometimes, and staff are more than welcome to borrow anything out of the activity closets to make costumes.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          In that case, it would be fun. In fact, I’d love a workplace where I got to dress up, but only if I knew everybody else was doing it too. I don’t want to be the only one.

          At NonProfit Job, we had a Halloween party with a costume contest and one of the employees, who was small and thin, dressed in her son’s clothes with a stocking cap and carried his skateboard. She was a skate rat. She won the contest–it was great. I couldn’t think of anything, but I had some novelty Halloween tats and so I wore my regular clothes, put on pale makeup and lipstick, and stuck a fake bullet hole in the middle of my forehead. Everyone was like, “Why aren’t you dressed u–gah!!” :)

      3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        The only exceptions should be jobs where entertaining or amusing others is part of your job description – like the nursing home staff below, or elementary school teachers, or potentially retail workers/waitstaff in some kinds of shops or restaurants. Although even then it should be okay to be low-key (like just cat ears and eyeliner whiskers, or wear all black and pop on a witch hat), and you have to excuse people who don’t celebrate Halloween for religious reasons.

        1. Al Lo*

          I work for a music organization that has 450 members from ages 3 to adult, and the weekend before Halloween every year is our big works-in-progress fall showcase for our entire membership, and costumes are welcome. That’s when I dress up for work, not on Halloween itself, and it’s a blast with a couple hundred people in varying degrees of creative costumes.

          Yesterday, I wore this great corseted coat (that I already owned) with a pair of leggings, and had a little sparkly top hat fascinator, and this temporary tattoo mask. Virtually no effort and lots of compliments.

          1. Arjay*

            That mask is beautiful! I always struggle with masks since I wear glasses 100% of the time. Last year I was batgirl, and I just drew the mask-shape vaguely on my face, but this opens up a whole new world!

    2. Bostonian*

      There are also a few people who don’t celebrate Halloween on religious grounds. I think it’s usually an objection to the witches and ghosts and other supernatural stuff rather than costumes per se, but it’s much easier to just make costumes optional rather than having to hash out what the line should be about who has to wear what.

      I agree with the commenter upthread who mentioned silly headbands. I’ve also seen costumes that consisted of a funny nametag (one math professor had a sting of numbers and was “a piece of pi”). Low key and easily removed is the way to go in an office.

      1. WriterAnon*

        I was going to bring up this element too. Growing up in the South I knew folks from a lot of denominations that didn’t celebrate Halloween.

      2. Ad Astra*

        There are also some denominations that simply don’t celebrate holidays, or only celebrate religious holidays. To be honest, I’m confused by people who object to Halloween on the witchcraft/ghost grounds. Tons of holidays (even Easter) borrow from Pagan tradition, but as far as I know Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only group that rejects all celebrations with Pagan elements. Everyone else is somehow equating candy and costumes with devil worship.

        But religious objection is still something to consider at work, even if you roll your eyes about it at home.

        1. TV Researcher*

          Not work-related, but when I was a kid, I distinctly remember getting reprimanded by my Rabbi because lots of kids were absent from Hebrew School in order to go trick-or-treating. Maybe 15 kids showed up out of 50-60. He was upset because Halloween was not a Jewish holiday (though, it’s not like it’s a Christian holiday either), and why he yelled at the people who did show up instead of saving his ire for those who skipped out, I’ll never know.

          1. Winter is Coming*

            Same deal, every once in a while we’ll get a sermon at Mass about missing church. Um, hello? We’re here!!

          2. Allison*

            That’s a little silly. I mean, it’s silly that he directed his anger at the kids who did show up, but it’s also a little out of touch with reality to expect that kids will skip trick-or-treating for something like Hebrew School, or CCD, or soccer practice, ballet class, etc.

            I did have to miss trick-or-treating one year because I was a cheerleader for youth football and we had a game that night, and while I did manage to hit up a few houses in my uniform right after it just wasn’t the same and I was super bummed. Missing trick-or-treating sucks for kids, let ’em go if you can help it.

            1. Ad Astra*

              Maybe I’m ridiculous, but the only reason a child under 12 should miss trick-or-treating is if they’re sick. Who schedules non-Halloween activities for kids on Halloween?

              1. Sue Donem*

                Or major snowstorms. The one time I missed trick-or-treating was the year we got 3 feet of snow on Halloween night and because we lived out in the country, there were no neighbors close by enough to visit. My parents had a lot of fun telling 7-year-old me and my 3-year-old brother we couldn’t go trick-or-treating that year. (/sarcasm) I was FURIOUS, and my mom said she’d never seen a kid so angry and that if looks could kill, she would have been dead.

                Also, agreed about non-Halloween kid activities on Halloween. Who schedules that stuff, anyway?

            2. Chinook*

              “little out of touch with reality to expect that kids will skip trick-or-treating for something like Hebrew School, or CCD, or soccer practice, ballet class, etc. ”

              Isn’t there also the reality that things like soccer practice and ballet class may be cancelled because the majority will be out trick or treating?

          3. Chinook*

            “. He was upset because Halloween was not a Jewish holiday (though, it’s not like it’s a Christian holiday either), ”

            Ehh…As a Catholic, it isn’t a religious holiday but the next day is a holy day (All Saint’s Day) as is the Nov. 2 (All Soul’s Day, or is the reverse?). I actually can understand your rabbi pointing out that it is a Christian holiday because it does exist in the same way Christmas Eve does – not a holiday but exists because of one.

            1. F.*

              Nov. 1 is All Saints’ Day and Nov. 2 is All Souls’ Day. About 20 years ago, our Catholic church scheduled a family costume party for Nov. 1. The theme was “Come as Your Favorite Saint”. I went as St. Francis of Assisi (protector of animals) and safety-pinned my sons’ animal-like beanie babies to my sweatsuit arms and across my shoulders, like the animals were sitting in my arms. My husband went as St. Peter (the fisherman), dressed in his old fishing hat with lures and his fishing license attached and carried my son’s half-size Snoopy fishing pole with a bobber but no hook. My elder son, who was about age 7, has the middle name James, so he went at St. James who wrote the Epistle (letter) of St. James in the Bible. We helped him write out the first couple of lines of the epistle into a spiral notebook which he carried around with a pencil. My younger son, age 4, has the middle name of Joseph and went as St. Joseph (the Carpenter). He wore his daddy’s old tool belt with his plastic hammer, saw, screwdriver and wrench and a real tape measure which he used to go around measuring everything in sight at the party. We made it into a religious lesson for the boys by researching the lives of their saints, and everyone had a good time at the party.

        2. Career Counselorette*

          One of my classmates was saying that growing up her family didn’t celebrate Halloween on religious grounds, but that her church did something called “Halleluween” and the kids dressed up as angels and they did some kind of pageant that way. My groans were a mile high.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Jesus Ween. Google it; it’s a thing.

            Not mocking people’s beliefs; they can do whatever they like, but this one just absolutely cracks me up. I think it’s the name.

            1. Melissa*

              Ok, really, the person that came up with Jesus Ween doesn’t have a friend that could say, “Friend. Don’t…. just…anything but Jesus Ween.”
              (I strive to be that friend.)

            2. Chinook*

              Okay, Jesus-ween suddenly makes the Saints Eve party my church is having sound so less dorky. Plus, when you dress up as a saint, you still can do the gore (St. Barthalomew is portrayed in are as carrying his own skin).

          2. Allison*

            Have you heard of hell houses? Some churches do special religious “haunted houses” that scare kids about the dangers of sin. I saw a documentary about one on Netflix, they did scenes depicting kids doing drugs, committing suicide, getting AIDS from being gay, almost dying from the abortion pill, and then the final room is all those people in hell.

            1. fposte*

              Okay, now I want to do a secular version of that. “Boooo!! I’m the 401k you’ve never gotten around to opening!” “Your unfinished craft project has resulted on the tragic maiming of a small child!” “I’m your beloved aunt, dying in torments because you didn’t call me on my birthday.” “Run! The sludge from the crevice next to the stove has become animate and is taking over the world!”

              1. Nashira*

                And this is why drinking and AMA aren’t always activities to do at the same time. My poor nose!

            2. ArtsAdmin4Life*

              There are now theater companies (at least one in Chicago in the last few years) that do them as a joke!

            3. Anonylicious*

              I went to those a couple of times growing up. Never thought much about it, being from the Bible Belt, until I grew up and my friends from other parts of the country were thoroughly weirded out by the idea.

          3. NotAllCanadians*

            On the other side of the spectrum Halloween (Samhain) is the big holiday for most Pagans and Wiccans but you don’t see us complaining about people turning it into a candy fest! (As a practicing Wiccan and a Halloween lover, I love both sides! Gimme that candy and scary movies!)

            1. AnonEMoose*

              So, you may appreciate that I saw “Jesus ween” and thought “Hmmm…sounds more appropriate for Beltane.”

      3. INTP*

        I’ve decided that my go-to if I’m forced to dress up in the near future will be Katniss Everdeen. I have the boots, military jacket, long braid, and RBF already, and can just look for a $5 bow and arrow toy thing.

        I didn’t even think about the religious thing – this was on the west coast, where it’s far less common for people to publicly abstain from holidays on religious grounds, but still another reason why it’s dumb to expect people to dress up when their jobs don’t require it.

      4. Terri*

        We don’t celebrate Halloween. Halloween is all about death not just “witches and ghosts” Don’t people notice how many people die on Halloween, and how the costumes they wear are representing death. Movies about killing each other. I wouldn’t understand people even asking us to wear a headband when it’s against our beliefs and religion. I work with kids, and still will not put my beliefs to the side on Halloween. That’s why we all sign papers that we can not be judged against our color,race,religion etc. when we applied for the job. Stay safe and God bless

    3. Jo*

      In this situation I would wear normal suit attire, and add a superman logo t-shirt underneath. When challenged – I am Clark Kent!

      1. Sue Donem*

        A friend of mine did that costume one year–it was great! It was also very convenient, as he wore it to work on Halloween day and then just unbuttoned the jacket and added the fake black glasses when going out later. No going home to change or hauling around a costume for after-work festivities needed!

      2. James M*

        If there’s a way to make velcro sound like tearing fabric, you can modify that suit so you can perform the “super shirt tear” to expose the logo underneath.

      3. Chinook*

        My go to now would be Felicity Smoak/Oracle – throw on my glasses, put my hair in a pony tail and start bossing people around on the phone. :0

    4. Solidus Pilcrow*

      In that situation, I’d go with the Wednesday Addam’s line, “I’m a homicidal maniac. They look like everyone else.”

    5. AdAgencyChick*

      Unggggghhhh. There’s an agency in my industry that sees Halloween costumes as a way of expressing your creativity. Which means not only are you pressured into wearing one, you have to *make* it so you can prove you’re creative.

      I started there in the middle of October, and pleaded a prior commitment for the date of their Halloween party. It was a terrible place to work in general, and I quit three months before I would have had to deal with that the next Halloween.

      1. BenAdminGeek*

        Yeah…. because clients are always calling you up and saying “Can you please design some awesome Halloween costumes for our next big marketing blitz?”

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Gah, that URL makes it sound like a list of ethnic costume suggestions. It’s not; it’s a poster campaign from university students against ethnic stereotype costumes.

  4. Ad Astra*

    I am very much in favor of bringing food to the office for Halloween. I’m not really in favor of any other office Halloween celebrations, because I’m trying to work here.

  5. Stephanie*

    I’ll also add: make your costume something easily removable if a big wig customer shows up or you need to have a serious meeting with someone. I’d have trouble taking say, a PIP discussion seriously were my boss dressed as a cat.

    1. Rat in the Sugar*

      Or dress up as a character who wears regular clothes! I’m recycling my Velma costume this year, and it’s great for converting to work clothes. Put down the magnifying glass, wipe the freckles off, stop saying “Jinkies!” and–tah-dah! Just wearing a regular old sweater and skirt!
      Surely there must be lots of other characters like this, that just wear a distinctive outfit of clothes rather than an actual “costume”…

      1. Bekx*

        At old job I wore a supergirl t-shirt and put on dress pants, a blazer, and glasses and said I was Kara Kent. I know comic Kara would never be caught dead in that outfit, but I figured it was good enough for my coworkers.

      2. Arielle*

        Heh, I’m wearing an orange sweater and tweed skirt today and my coworker just told me I look like Velma. (I also wear glasses which probably helps the resemblance.) Costume without even trying for the win!

        1. Rat in the Sugar*

          …which was impossible for me to find, so I had to sub out a regular sweater of the appropriate mustard color, unfortunately. :(

    2. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

      When I’m in the office on Halloween I always “go as” a giraffe… which is just a headband with little giraffe ears and horns (and if I’ve been extra ambitious I’ve had some blue hard candy before the party, because someone inevitably asks if my tongue is blue). It’s discrete and easily pops off!

      1. Turanga Leela*

        The headband/hat costume is my go-to in professional life. I never want to risk being pulled into court unexpectedly and having to explain why I’m dressed as Darth Vader.

    3. Kyrielle*

      And make sure you can work in it. Last year, a couple coworkers really wanted me to wear my planned Halloween-night costume into the office, and I flatly refused. It was Peter Pan’s Shadow, complete with a head-to-toe black morph suit. You can’t drive safely or even see well enough to read through one of those. Fine for sitting at home handing out candy. Terrible for the office!

      (Awesomely fun costume for looks, will probably never do again given the “can’t see” part – I didn’t get to enjoy the costumes that came to my door very much, because I could only half see them! And it scared the littlest kids.)

      1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

        That sounds like a really awesome costume! (though yeah, not great for work)

        1. Kyrielle*

          It was. My boys, and the older kids, loved it. (2-3 and under, though, just saw “all black figure” and didn’t know about the Shadow. Alas.) Black felt hat, black felt belt, black felt “dagger” sheathed at (sewn to!) the belt, and ta-da. Fairly easy to put together, if hard to see in.

        1. Snork Maiden*

          “Company big-wig” would be a great costume. Just make sure the head honcho is *for sure* in meetings all day across the country.

    4. Koko*

      That could have easily been an episode of The Office – Michael firing someone while dressed as a vampire with plastic fangs and heavy face makeup.

      1. Sue Donem*

        It was an Office episode, only without Michael in costume, IIRC. He had to fire someone on Halloween because he’d put it off all month, despite being told at the beginning of October that he needed to let someone go by month’s end. (I could see him doing the firing in costume, however.)

        It was also an episode of The Big C; the HR rep fired someone while still wearing elf ears, and the person who was fired told the rep that next time she fired someone on Halloween, she should “take off the f–king elf ears first”.

    5. AnonymousaurusRex*

      Last Halloween I did an interview with Donald Rumsfeld’s assistant while wearing a giant squirrel costume. I was definitely happy it was a phone interview. ;)

  6. Adam*

    I’m kinda torn on the whole notion of celebrating Halloween at work. I love the holiday, but if I were running a company or in HR I think I would flat out forget to do anything for Halloween in the office out of flat not caring. Plus my general rule for most costumes at work or somewhere similar is if it takes more than 5-10 minutes to get into it’s not worth the trouble.

      1. Adam*

        That’s probably true in a lot of cases. At my org it can be hard to discern where ideas originate so people default to looking at the higher ups first.

  7. Allison*

    Almost every job I’ve had has encouraged teams to come up with a costume theme; I’ve seen movie themes like Alice in Wonderland, Star Wars, Disney characters, minions, and last year I did a Harry Potter theme with two guys in my department. And in my first job my team and I were all Waldo, just a cluster of Waldos. I didn’t wear a costume to work at my last job, but that’s because I didn’t work that day, I had to travel down to another state for a speaking gig, so I never really saw how that office handled Halloween. Seems like it’s a good way to prevent inappropriate costumes as well as a way to encourage team cohesion. This year I was pretty tempted to go rogue, my team’s costume is kinda silly, but I’m wearing so many costumes this month, one “bad” costume won’t matter.

    1. xarcady*

      One year my department came as the employees from Office Space, which required multiple watching of the movie on our parts, in order to get the right catch words and phrases down. The sacrifices we make for our jobs.

    2. Snork Maiden*

      Dress up as Waldo, and then use it as an excuse to leave the office and wander around the entire city! Try to keep your shoes on though, for health and safety reasons.

    3. Bagworm*

      I do have to say that my favorite Halloween at work was when I worked in the trust department at a bank. While banks in general (and usually trust department’s in particular) tend to have a pretty conservative reputation, our trust department was known to be a bit rebellious (we were always “getting in trouble” for not playing well with other departments). Anyway, all the trust officers (including the department’s VP) dressed up as members of the Village People and actually performed YMCA a few times during the day (while being video recorded, no less). While I don’t think Halloween costumes should ever be required (officially or through any kind of social or management pressure) it was an awfully fun, if rather surreal, experience.

    4. A Non*

      My favorite team “costume” was from a few years ago in 2012. They decorated their cubes with signs warning that the rapture was coming, and then laid out full sets of clothing on the chairs and the floor. I believe they completed the effect by leaving work early that day. :-D

  8. AMG*

    I wonder what Alison’s thoughts are about the Dia de los Muertos painted faces/stickers. I bought these and am planning on wearing them taking my kids ToT (not at work). Are these along the same lines of Indian or Gypsy costumes? I hope it’s okay….

    1. PEBCAK*

      They are cultural appropriation just like any of the other ones you mentioned. Google it and you will see quite a few explanations of why.

      1. Anx*

        I’m actually sort of glad I was let go from my previous job. I was a server at a newly opening restaurant. My resume highlighted experience I had in a party-and-tourism-heavy region of the country and the rest of my resume makes me seem probably more extroverted than I really am. I looked pretty cute during my interview.

        But once I started, I wore my glasses instead of sunglasses, wore my hair up plainly, and was probably the only woman wearing long pants. I also was a little timid around the tables (their words). I was first approached about it after opening weekend and let go immediately.

        Come to find, they did a group sugar skill costume of mostly white, non-Latina women for Halloween. Months later, they were slammed with serving a minor (not underage adult, but a minor). I was probably timid in part because I was concerned about overserving and management seemed not to care at all.

        I definitely wasn’t the right fit. I would have been mortified to be dressed in sugar skull costumes, but I don’t think I could have said anything. I was already way too serious for the position.

      2. OriginalEmma*

        I see lots of those items around now and as much as I’d love to buy one, thinking something is cool is not a good enough reason to engage in cultural appropriation. In fact, that’s a hallmark of such appropriation.

    2. Bostonian*

      In my mind this hinges on whether you have any connection to Dia do los Muertos. Before you bought the supplies, could you explain why people paint their faces on that day, and what it signifies? If it’s part of your family or cultural tradition, then it’s your call and you can totally go for it. If not, be aware that it’s a holiday with real emotional and spiritual significance for many people – I went to the big parade in San Francisco a couple of times, and tons of people set up altars outside their homes or in the neighborhood park for relatives who had died.

      It’s a bit harder than the “Gypsy” costume for me (which is a no-brainer to avoid) because the holiday does involve people dressing up with the intent of looking ghoulish, and it’s right around Halloween anyway. But I’d still probably err on the side of not doing it, since I don’t really understand the significance of the traditions and wouldn’t know what sort of statement I might be making unintentionally.

    3. MEP*

      I’m Mexican and I don’t find Dia de los Muertos costumes offensive on people of different races. It’s a costume when Mexicans wear it, so I don’t see a problem with it. Now if you put on a serape, a big hat and a mustache and went as “Frito Bandito” or something, I would find it offensive. My opinion is my own, though.

      1. Ad Astra*

        It’s a costume when Mexicans wear it, so I don’t see a problem with it.

        I think that’s the key here. This isn’t reducing an entire ethnicity to an unflattering stereotype; it’s participating in a tradition from a culture outside your own. There are probably some people who have a problem even with that, but even those people can see that celebrating Dia de los Muertos isn’t equivalent to dressing up as the Frito Bandito.

        (Side note: Apparently, the Frito Bandito is still used in advertisements in Mexico. Can anyone confirm? I’ve heard anecdotally than Hispanic Americans found the caricature offensive, but many Mexican nationals saw him as a goofy character, not an unflattering depiction of themselves.)

        1. neverjaunty*

          But are you actually participating in that culture, or are you just copying something that’s a cultural practice as a way of dressing up? I think there’s a bit of a difference between face-painting your kids to join in a Day of the Dead parade or cultural event, and doing it on Halloween for trick-or-treating, which isn’t the same holiday at all.

          1. LBK*

            Yeah, painting your face on an unrelated day to attend unrelated events doesn’t really sound like “participating in a tradition.” You aren’t participating any more than you’d be participating in Christmas by going as Santa.

          2. Ad Astra*

            That’s an interesting point. I’m not the official arbiter of what is and isn’t offensive, but I’m really curious about what the consensus would be among Mexicans.

        2. MEP*

          Frito Bandito-type mascots are still used in Mexican advertising, as well as caricatures of other ethnicities. I just saw the packaging for some “Japanese nuts” at the flea market this weekend and WOW. Embarrassing. Many people just aren’t sensitive to it, but I think that’s changing, especially with the younger generation.

      2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I’m with MEP…as a latina I am not offended by Dia de los Muertos costumes for Halloween.

        I have seen some make-up artists on youtube do some incredible sugar-skull facepaint that I wish I could pull off.

        Honestly, I am much more offended by the lazy mexican, illegal alien, and cholo/chola costumes that I see.

        1. Treena*

          Question for you! About 5 years ago, a latina friend of mine dressed up as a chola and I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t think I had a right to say anything about it. While was never herself a chola, she’s from East LA.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I think it would depend on the friend…but I would probably call them out on it, like “dude, we don’t people to see us a stereotype, totally not cool.”

            About half my extended family lives in non-gentrified parts of East LA and the other half is from places like Palos Verdes and the OC, so I know how different my life would be if not for a few simple opportunities.

            I see it as the same things as my friends who are white who dress up as “white trash,” even though it’s not a race issue you are still poking fun at the circumstances someone was born into. So for me even through racially it wouldn’t be offensive, I would still find the costume insensitive.

            I re-typed this about 10 times! I hope it makes sense!

    4. Turanga Leela*

      FWIW, from a non-Hispanic white woman who spends a lot of time thinking about this: I don’t think this is on the level of dressing up as a Native American, an Arab, a Mexican, or anything else where the costume is just, “Hey, I’m a person of this other ethnicity!” That’s pretty clear-cut, and nobody should be doing that at this point (although people do).

      This is subtler, and I’d say it’s your call. Understand that some people might be offended, and decide how much that bothers you. A lot of costumes will have elements that will be offensive to someone, and it’s not always obvious where to draw the line.

    5. neverjaunty*

      This isn’t meant to sound harsh, but would you do a Halloween costume where you smeared black makeup on your forehead to dress up as a Catholic celebrating Ash Wednesday?

      I think it’s great if you want your kids to learn more about the holiday; I know one large city near me regularly has a festival where people bring their kids to make sugar skulls, learn about the meaning of ofrendas, and that kind of thing.

      1. Chinook*

        “This isn’t meant to sound harsh, but would you do a Halloween costume where you smeared black makeup on your forehead to dress up as a Catholic celebrating Ash Wednesday?”

        Luckily I haven’t seen that but I have seen plenty of pregnant nun costumes which I find it bad taste.

    6. AMG*

      Thanks, everyone. Definitely something to think about. For me, I am white and would be a non-participant in the actual Dia de los Muertos celebration. It would be my Halloween costume. It comes from a love of the culture–I have a minor in Spanish and adore the idea of the holiday and what it represents.

      1. LBK*

        Eh, that’s still kind of off putting to me, although I’m having trouble articulating why. I think it’s because when an outfit has a specific cultural connection, it’s not really appropriate to use that outfit as a costume on another holiday. The best comparison I can come up with is that people don’t generally dress up as Santa or the Easter Bunny for Halloween because those costumes have specific contexts and meanings. If you love Christmas, you show that appreciation at Christmas by indulging in the traditions that apply to that holiday.

        Likewise, the sugar skull makeup is specific to an event that has a cultural meaning, and a better way to show appreciation would be by celebrating the actual holiday, not by using a piece of that holiday as a costume for another event. It feels a little…I dunno, condescending to celebrate it externally for an unrelated holiday? Like “look at these alien creatures and their cute little traditions!”

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I wasn’t going to chime in on this because it isn’t something I feel strongly about either way, but this is a genuine question on how you see this.

          I have an old friend who is now more of a FB friend who is white, non-Hispanic. Her partner is Mexican. They live in TX. My friend speaks Spanish fluently and is very involved in Mexican culture (she teaches in Spanish in a dual language school). I’ve recently seen her post some cute sugar skull things she liked, including workout shirts and boxing gloves. I kind of feel like she has enough cultural street cred to wear these things if she wants, and is a very culturally sensitive person who would not wear them if they were considered offensive to Mexican heritage, but I’m having a hard time seeing how hijacking these Dia de los Muertos symbols for workout gear is worse than a white person wearing them for Halloween.

          I almost see it as how biker culture was hijacked and preteen girls were running around with skull tank tops a few years back. Yes, I do get that one is religious and one has a street gang history, but the point is that a symbol becomes secular and mainstream and it’s acceptable for anyone to wear it with none of it’s original connotation.

          Am I completely off base on this? I guess I’ve seen people in other religious Halloween costumes — my son’s friend was the Pope one year — and I’ve personally been the Easter bunny for Halloween (my parents are the worst at costumes). I don’t see it as a terrible thing to do.

          1. Ad Astra*

            I agree with you, but I can also see how someone wouldn’t. There are plenty of people who find Pope/priest/nun costumes to be pretty offensive. I have some Irish heritage and I don’t particularly mind when someone dresses up as an offensive Irish stereotype, but I recognize that’s not quite the same thing.

          2. Kate M*

            I’m not going to comment on your friend, because honestly I’m white and can’t speak for other cultures and races, so I think that would be better for someone else to do.

            But to your other points – I do know that some people wouldn’t like others dressing up as the Pope or a nun or something, so I probably wouldn’t ever do it. But the difference (here in the US at least), is that one culture is privileged, and one isn’t. Christianity (and Catholicism) is practiced by a very high percentage of people in the US – most of our elected officials are Christian, just about everyone in power is, and a lot of people actually face discrimination if they aren’t Christian. So it’s sort of a “punching upwards” thing, which is a lot different to me than appropriating something from a culture that doesn’t have those same privileges in the US. It’s people liking parts of a culture without actually liking the people from that culture (like wearing Dia de los Muertos costumes while complaining that Mexicans are taking all our jobs, or loving rap and hip hop while simultaneously being really racist). And even if you do love the culture and try your very best not to be racist, it’s still using someone’s culture in a way it was not intended to be used.

            This is the same reason why your biker analogy isn’t relevant – being a biker isn’t the same as experiencing discrimination based on religion/race/ethnicity/orientation, etc.

            As for the Easter bunny – that isn’t a religious symbol at all. It’s sort of like Santa Claus – it’s the secular addition to a religious holiday.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              I hadn’t really thought about it from a discrimination perspective, so you do bring up an interesting point there.

              1. Bagworm*

                Ok. Just having to chime in again about how much I love the community of commenters on this blog. I always learn so much and people are (almost always) respectful and receptive. It’s just so rare to find that kind of dialogue (anywhere but especially on the internet) and I really think it’s the only way we’re ever going to see real improvement in our society. Ok, done gushing. :-)

            2. Chinook*

              “Christianity (and Catholicism) is practiced by a very high percentage of people in the US – most of our elected officials are Christian, just about everyone in power is, and a lot of people actually face discrimination if they aren’t Christian. ”

              While I would agree that Christianity does have a position of power, I would argue that Catholicism doesn’t belong in that group, especially in an American context (in Canada, it would). But, there is also a fine line when portraying a religious figure or symbol. Dress up as a pope, nun or priest – no problem. Dress up as a pope with devil horns or tail, a pregnant nun or as a priest who offers candy to boys (of which I have seen all three) you are most definitely making political commentary of a hateful nature.

              1. Connie-Lynne*

                Catholicism totally has a position of power — maybe not as much as certain other Christian religions, but definitely still power; look how much they’ve managed to influence the dialogue on bodily autonomy for women and marriage for gay people.

                Nuns, priests, and the pope are emblems of this power. While costumes showing them offensively (pregnant nuns, Pope Benedict as Darth Vader) are incredibly tasteless and tacky, they don’t “punch down.” They’re still out of place anywhere political commentary would be inappropriate (ie, work). And I personally find them tired and trite — generally worn by people who are trying to be “edgy” but honestly that sort of thing hasn’t been edgy since at *least* the 1960s.

                Wearing sugar skull makeup when you don’t know what La Catrina is or anything about how this was a subversive way for indigenous cultures to continue their religious practice *while being oppressed by Catholic ‘colonists’* is practically the definition of cultural appropriation. Just because it’s cool or you’re fascinated by / have a great love of a particular culture doesn’t make it any less offensive. It just means you’re engaging in “pedestal” racism instead of “underheel” racism.

            3. steve g*

              I have the exact opposite take living in nyc. I’d say at least 60 percent of all of the people I’ve ever met here are atheist, the other 30 believe something but don’t practice, and the remainder are split up between all of the religions. Being christian here can cause you a lot of crap. A Lot of people asking you “why” at parties and such, as if it’s some crazy thing. So dressing up as a preist is most definitely not a “punching up” thing, it’s more like “let’s make fun of the only religion we are allowed to make fun of” and I’m really surprised that you feel the way you do and the commenterariat apparently agrees, because people here are always calling out offending people based on religion, race, gender, etc.

              1. LBK*

                Oh come on, that may be true in a particularly non-religious microcosm, but by and large Christianity is the ruling power in the US and far from a persecuted group. Just look at how many people are successfully running for President on Christian platforms and how heavily Christianity is involved in the discussion of lawmaking decisions.

              2. Connie-Lynne*

                This may be your personal experience, but Wikipedia reports the following statistics about NYC:

                “Christianity (59%), particularly Catholicism (33%), was the most prevalently practiced religion in New York as of 2014,[69] followed by Judaism, with approximately 1.1 million Jews (יהודי) in New York City,[70][71] about 8% of the population.[72]”

              3. F.*

                I agree with you, Steve, so not all of the commenters here think it is okay to insult or make fun of another culture or religion just because it is currently socially acceptable to do so. And I practice no religion.

              4. BuildMeUp*

                I don’t think Kate M is saying “making fun of Christianity is totally okay and everyone should do it!” She’s saying that it’s *different* than, say, wearing a Native American costume, because you’re not appropriating the culture of a minority with a history of oppression.

                I’m sorry you had the experience of people asking you questions at parties, because I’m sure that wasn’t fun, but that’s really not comparable to what people who are members of actual oppressed minorities have been through.

                1. Kate M*

                  Yeah, I was raised Presbyterian and still by in large associate myself with that. So I’m not advocating for people going out and tearing people down for sincerely held beliefs (that don’t hurt anyone else). But oppressed people and cultures satirizing their oppressors is not the same as oppressors taking shots at the people they are marginalizing. If someone makes fun of the religion I was raised in…what exactly is going to happen? It’s not going to impact my ability (as a straight person) to get married. It’s not putting me in danger. All of the laws and the people making them and upholding them are basically based on my religion, so someone making fun of my religion isn’t going to have a huge impact on me. Whereas someone making fun of someone’s religion or culture that is already dealing with prejudice in the US can feed into that prejudice and make life harder or more dangerous for those people.

                  Being asked questions at a party is not oppression. And like others have mentioned, NYC is still majority Christian.

                  And I agree with others – I wouldn’t dress up in any religious garb meant to satirize it, because it does seem trite at this point, and I just don’t want to go down that road. But that and cultural appropriation of non-dominant cultures isn’t the same thing.

          3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            Honestly, I am way more bothered at the commercialization of my culture than people dressing up for Halloween.

            Seeing $4.99 bride and groom bobble heads at Walgreens make me cringe more than seeing the costumes at the spirit store.

            But AnotherAlison is right, this is the newest thing to become trendy and I am starting to see the skulls on everything.

          4. LBK*

            I am absolutely not an expert and frankly I tend to lean more towards your side – that at some point things blend into mainstream culture enough that it’s hard to argue that one culture still has a claim on it, particularly in a place like the US where arguably there’s no part of our mainstream cultural tradition that didn’t come from somewhere else at some point.

            At the same time, though, I know my perspective is skewed as a white person who doesn’t really have culture that gets appropriated. The most relatable situation I can think of for myself is when (some) straight people come to gay bars and I have very strong feelings about that. As such I think I can understand how it can be so sensitive for some people to feel a real, important element of their life is being treated as kitsch, as something optional for you to consume temporarily rather than a genuine aspect of who you are.

            I also think you have to be careful using the “some people in X group don’t care so it’s not an issue” measuring stick since a) some people obviously do care, and b) a lot of the people who don’t care are just as uninformed of the cultural damage of appropriation as people outside of their group, they’re just privileged enough in other ways to have not been confronted with its impact.

            1. Bagworm*

              Can I ask about your feelings about straight people in gay bars? I’m just curious because I’m bisexual and have gotten some pretty straightforward hate being in a gay bar with my opposite sex partner but it’s a bar I’ve frequented for years and one of my favorites and where all my friends are since I hardly have any close friends that are in heterosexual relationships. (Of course, I’ve always had some pretty strong feelings about heterosexual men asking me to come home with them and their girlfriends but I’m not sure that’s so much a heterosexual thing as it is just not a thing I think you look for in most bars but maybe I’m out of touch.)

              1. Nashira*

                Being attracted to multiple genders, in gay spaces, gets complicated as hell. Biphobia is a thing, as is the assumption that having a non-same sex partner means poof! you’re straight! Even though… Just ugh nooooo it doesn’t.

                Who is hating on you at the bars? Is it your friends or randoms? If the latter, honestly, I dunno what you can do without making a scene. Proving that you’re still queer is such a screwed up thing to have to do, especially if your partner is being respectful and not centering themself. It’s lose/lose. Is it possible to ask your friends to shield you or play interference when someone else gets pissy?

                1. Bagworm*

                  Thanks for the comments. It’s totally strangers (and not super common so sorry if I made it sound like it was). I’ve been over other people making assumptions about me for a long time but I do want to understand and make sure I’m not disrespectful of others. As with most things, just complicated. Appreciate the suggestions.

              2. LBK*

                (Alison, this is long and not really on topic, so feel free to remove and we can take the discussion elsewhere.)

                There’s a few elements to it. On some level, it’s an intrusion into a safe space. Gay bars are really important because they serve as refuges for people to completely be themselves. I’m pretty comfortable being who I am now, but when I first came out those spaces were critical for me, even living in a gay-friendly city, attending a gay-friendly college and being surrounded by friends and family who supported me. This isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of respectful, non-judgmental straight people (one of my best friends and frequent clubbing partners is a straight woman) but there’s always an element of uncertainty about how you’re being perceived when there’s straight strangers around. That’s particularly true for people still coming to terms with their sexuality who are petrified of being judged or perceived a certain way for it.

                Part of the reason for that discomfort beyond the judgment is also the voyeuristic aspect of straight people going to gay bars, which is particularly common with bachelorette parties and a big reason they’re frequently banned. There’s people who treat a gay bar like a zoo: a special place to go to see something they don’t normally see. Many don’t state it so consciously, but it comes out in the benevolently offensive comments about how they love gay bars and gay guys so much, you’re all so cute, I have a gay cousin, etc. not realizing that they’re talking to us like we’re Beanie Babies to be collected and stored in a trophy case.

                Finally, gay bars are places free of straight privilege. The freedom to express opposite-sex attraction and affection is one a lot of straight people take for granted, so coming to one of the few places where gay people have the same freedom and showing same-sex affection there kind of feels like rubbing that privilege in our faces. I hesitate to include this aspect because it’s kind of sexist but I’ve seen it play out often enough that it’s also worth mentioning: straight bars tend to be one of the few places where female privilege exists (ie where women get preferential treatment) and sometimes not having that at gay (male) bars is a jarring transition, which can get ugly when alcohol is involved.

                The straight privilege element is probably why people are giving you hate for being there with an opposite-sex partner, since arguably you could go do that at a place that’s not designed for gay people. Of course, that’s not really fair to you given that you are bisexual and a gay bar should be a safe place for all types of queerness, but a) I assume most of these people aren’t coming up to you and asking if you’re bi, ergo they’re just assuming you’re straight and not respecting their space, and b) frankly, the gay community is generally pretty terrible to bisexual people, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they were still not happy about seeing you there.

      2. Kate M*

        It’s really good that you’re thinking about this ahead of time and are open to feedback. I agree with others – I wouldn’t do it. You can love a culture and be informed about it, and still end up doing culturally appropriated things. It’s like white people who date people from other races – just because you’re loving and accepting of your partner doesn’t mean that nothing you do can be racist.

        Since it has very strong spiritual/religious connections, and is a serious thing to some people, I think it would be kind of tone deaf to do. (I know some Mexican people have said they don’t mind, and that’s fine for them, but we as white people don’t get to just decide that it’s not cultural appropriation). There are a million Halloween costumes that are possible to come up with, so I think it would be really easy to find another that doesn’t appropriate someone else’s culture.

    7. AMG*

      Thanks, everyone. I’m not going to wear it. It’s just not worth offending someone. I think I wanted it to be okay because I didn’t want to admit that I made an error in judgment by buying it in the first place. And while many people wouldn’t be fazed by it, I’m worried about the one who would.

  9. Common Sense is not common*

    They put the damper on costumes here after someone wore a grim reaper costume to work. At a hospital. Yeah, there were complaints from patients and family members.

    1. LBK*

      Good lord. I’m hoping the person was just being thoughtless and didn’t realize the optics of being a Grim Reaper in a hospital…but I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than if it were an intentional joke.

    2. Ad Astra*

      You know, the Grim Reaper is such a common costume that I’m surprised this doesn’t happen more often. Horrifying, though.

    3. Malissa*

      When I volunteered at a hospital the grim reaper, angels, and devils were all on the banned costume list.
      Apparently these costumes caused way too much confusion in the surgery recovery room.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        I can definitely see this causing a lot of confusion and very much upset in the recovery room!

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I can imagine waking up from my gallbladder operation and seeing the Grim Reaper standing at the foot of my bed. I’m hard to scare, but that might do it. 0_0

      3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Frankly, I think costumes in general don’t mix with people who are coming out of anesthesia! I might be pretty alarmed if I were waking up from surgery and saw a giant guinea pig, or a space alien. Keep the costumes for the fully-conscious!

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          Oh, wow, yes, speaking as someone who hallucinated in the recovery room, any costumes there are probably not a good thing!

          Side note: eternally grateful to the kind man (I don’t know what role he played) in the OR who asked me if I knew what good place I would dream about, just before I went under. Because of him I hallucinated in the recovery room that I was in one of my favorite spaces from earlier in my life, with one of my best friends sitting next to me. I was so grateful to have had someone “direct” my woozy brain that way. I would definitely have registered a scary costume or presence.

          1. Kelly L.*

            My BF had surgery last year and watched one of the Mummy sequels just before being put under. Yup, elaborate nightmare about the Egyptian pantheon.

    4. Barney Stinson*

      I fully understand why that costume choice was a poor one, and that’s why I feel horrible for laughing at this.

      I’m trying very hard to stop.

      1. Cath in Canada*

        Same here!

        I used to guilty-laugh at the hospital built next to the creepy old cemetery in Newcastle, too. Imagine looking out of your ward’s window and seeing nothing but graves!

          1. Cath in Canada*

            I can’t remember the name but it’s in Fenham. I had to walk past it to get to my boyfriend’s place; it’s on a stretch of road with a super creepy graveyard on one side and the moor on the other. I always tried to walk calmly along that stretch when I was walking in the dark, but invariably ended up running! One time I got startled by a fox (they make such an eerie noise) and ran faster than I’ve ever run in my life.

            Just looked at a map of my old ‘hood and it’s part of the Newcastle General Hospital campus. The cemetery’s on Studley Terrace; the hospital’s set further back from that street, but has windows that overlook the cemetery.

      1. TheLazyB (UK)*

        OT but I was in the library today and they had a display of books by dead authors. Terry Prattchett was on there. Disrespectful, or am i overreacting??

        Gotta love/hate Halloween :(

        1. Wehaf*

          Why would it be disrespectful to put a book by a dead author in a display of books by dead authors? Or are you reacting to the whole idea of a display of books by dead authors? I’m trying to see what exactly the disrespect is and I don’t see any likely candidates.

    5. Amber Rose*

      I know it’s not the same thing, but I’m reminded of the dude who put a grim reaper costume on a drone and chased people in the park and I can’t help but laugh.

      Totally inappropriate. Still funny.

    6. steve g*

      This is making me roll my eyes. There are a 1000 things to complain about in the hospital, this is not one of them. We all know it is a costume, and the reaper is a fake thing. Please say someone wasn’t actually reprimanded for this!

        1. Jean*

          Or trying to hold yourself together after a long day (or a series of long days) caring for and worrying about your loved one who is lying in the hospital bed like a sack of wet towels. Oy.

      1. Mookie*

        If a friend or relative’s just died (has nearly died, is in the process of dying), I probably wouldn’t find it very amusing.

      2. So Very Anonymous*

        You know, while I see the humor of a grim reaper costume in a hospital, it’s a kind of dark-sitcom humor that doesn’t belong in real life. People who are in the hospital or dealing with loved ones in the hospital don’t need this kind of visual. Being in the hospital is a scary experience, especially when it’s after visiting hours and you’re pretty much just alone with your thoughts and likely also medicated. Your whole life is knocked off balance. Same for anyone who has loved ones in the hospital. They’re hugely emotional experiences; everything takes on more emotional weight. If I’d seen someone walking the halls dressed that way after my dad’s massive heart attack and near-death-experience, I would have complained — no way would I have wanted him seeing that, and I would expect a hospital to protect someone in that condition from that kind of visual.

  10. AnotherAlison*

    My 6th grader wanted a regular costume this year. He got some space man costume that has a full coverall suit and helmet. I’m fine with it, but I’m kind of surprised. . .my older son was only about the FREE CANDY by that age and just threw on a mullet wig and whatever else was laying around the house for his costume.

    All that to say, it’s so foreign to me that adult people voluntarily put on costumes. : ) I have a hard enough time making sure I’m comfortable with my look in normal work clothes. I definitely couldn’t get comfortable with wearing a costume to my office. My office does celebrate (you might think engineers wouldn’t), but I don’t join in. Unless you want to give me free candy.

    1. F.*

      I doubt the engineers in my office even know that it’s Halloween, and they certainly don’t care. We’re too busy working! We also do not decorate for or celebrate Christmas. Our company’s owner is Jewish, we have employees who are many different denominations of Christian, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and those of no religion. We look like a miniature United Nations with employees from all over the world.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I used to live in Santa Cruz, CA and Halloween was HUGE there. They had all kinds of costume contests with huge prizes and pub crawls and Halloween parties. My friends and I went to one at our favorite bar (a large venue that had bands occasionally), and it was absolutely packed. I had an old ball gown I wore in music school for recitals and a dance, so I just dressed in that and wore jewels in my hair and was a princess. Usually, a werewolf in chains (yep, wore that to school once) is more my speed, but I just felt like being girly that Halloween. My boss and her husband went as pirate and his wench. :)

      I also have a ton of nerd friends who cosplay. I’ve only done that once, at a con–I felt awkward as hell, and with some of the effort the other people put into it, my costume just felt lame.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I do know it is done : )

          Of course, there are many of you on this thread, the people in my office, and then the cosplay and ren fest people I know. . .I was Beth and my husband was Dog the Bounty Hunter one year, and that is the only time I’ve dressed up since I was 11. My parents wouldn’t let me trick or treat or dress up after that year.

          Not that I couldn’t rebel and embrace dressing up now, but it’s just not me. It’s so far out of my comfort zone, that it’s hard for me to grasp how some people are more comfortable that way.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I often feel outdone by other people’s costumes. I have neither the time nor the inclination to make an elaborate cosplay, and my attempts just feel half-hearted and pathetic.

            I love Halloween–where I live, it’s just for kids, and there aren’t any adult parties (or none that I’m invited to), and people get butthurt about scary stuff. I wish I had something to do, since it’s on Saturday, but no. They’re letting us wear stuff and decorate at work if we want (there’s a contest), but everyone here is boring and no one will do it.

      1. Connie-Lynne*


        I went to UC Santa Cruz for two years and you are so right. It’s ridiculously huge in that town.

        It’s also OTT in San Francisco, where I live right now. I’m so tired of justifying my lack of desire to wear a costume that I’ve taken to telling people “I’m going as ‘the nice lady who gives out light-up blinky stuff.'”

  11. xarcady*

    My office is doing the following:

    Monday: Halloween treats and cider available in the morning.
    Tuesday: Halloween trivia game.
    Wednesday: Scary movies in the lunch room.
    Thursday: A lunchtime Halloween bingo game.
    Friday: Judging cubical decor for those who decided to decorate.

    This is apparently toned down quite a bit from previous years.

    We can wear costumes to work on Friday if we want to. Since my boss is trying to get the entire department to join in, even us temps, I will use my fall-back costume. In real life, my name is Mary. So I carry a stuffed toy lamb around all day. About 50% of my co-workers get it. It’s about as minimalist as you can get for a costume, and not embarrassing if you have to stop at the store on the way home.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      not embarrassing if you have to stop at the store on the way home.

      Reminds me of the time my husband and older son wore costume wigs to go into Wal-Mart. I cannot remember why we had the wigs, because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Halloween. That was embarrassing.

      Your fall-back costume is my kind of costume.

      1. alter_ego*

        Right after I got my drivers licence, I hit a mailbox by accident. So I had to go up and ring the doorbell to give them money/apologize. Which would be embarrassing enough, except that my friend and I were on our way to a princess themed birthday party. It was not Halloween, and we were both in floor length gowns and tiaras. I’m pretty sure the woman who answered the door to us thought she was on some kind of prank show.

    2. Spice for this*

      Your company sounds great!
      I used to work for a company that had similar activities for Halloween. I worked at the corporate office (11 buildings) and my building housed: customer service, accounting, collections and bank levies. I worked in the accounting department and one year we were a western town (complete with a bank, saloon, sheriffs office, etc.). The managers would walk around our building and give each department a score. It was really fun and the winning department got breakfast served to them by the management team. I really miss it!

    3. Harriet Vane Wimsey*

      This and the other post today about employees not being able to bring their own *$&#$&% fork to eat their lunch and (I think an older post) about someone leaving poop in the restroom convinces me that that the world of work is increasingly becoming infantalized! Wow. When did work become nonstop entertainment and my employer has to take care of my every need? Pay a fair salary and benefits and I’ll supply my own fun and supplies. (Except lots of coffee, of course. Goes without saying.

      1. F.*

        Welcome to another adult! We are rare creatures here and subject to much derision at times, as you will soon find out. Pull up a bowl of popcorn and enjoy!

    4. Kelly L.*

      Speaking of stopping at the store, one of my favorite Halloween memories was of stopping at the liquor store in full Bellatrix Lestrange getup. Why, yes, clerk, this unassuming blonde lady on my ID is really me, as I stand here in a disheveled black wig and billowing black dress…

  12. Brett*

    #1 Tread carefully with your outside of work costume too. Last July, a local politician who was being criticized by members of a certain trade union, put out a $1k bounty on twitter for any pictures of union members in inappropriate Halloween costumes. She posted the results to twitter, some of them were clearly old polaroids. Local protesters have also been making requests to social media for costume photos of employees of target companies or agencies. I have done elaborate costumes in the past for Halloween just to hand out candy (we’re a full-size candy bar house!) , but this trend is making me rethinking wearing any costume at all.

    1. Rat in the Sugar*

      Wait, so they were taking pictures of people who were just at Halloween parties and trick or treating with their kids?? That’s messed up; your whole life shouldn’t have to be work appropriate.

      1. Anx*

        I’m wondering if it was less about being work-appropriate, and more about being culturally insensitive. I would feel a little uneasy if members of my local government were going as g*psys or misogynistic costumes. They may not be at work, but it still speaks to their views on marginalized populations.

        1. steve g*

          How can a costume be misogynistic? Misogyny is targeted against women from a man, so unless the man forces a women to wear something….otherwise the woman wore it voluntarily

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Costumes can be misogynistic if they reflect misogynistic stereotypes. Misogyny isn’t just about forcing women to do something; it’s also about attitudes and biases.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Of course they can wear whatever they want, but that doesn’t mean they can do it free of judgment. Just like men, if they wear something offensive, there are consequences to that, in terms of how people think of them.

      2. Brett*

        The pictures were almost all people at bars and private halloween parties, though a few were of people trick or treating with their kids (and without the kids edited out).

        The costumes were definitely culturally insensitive and/or inappropriate. But they were just union workers, not members of local government at all. Though if you are a teacher or police officer in our local area, you would be crazy to dress up in any costume whatsoever for Halloween, much less an inappropriate one.

      3. Ad Astra*

        I hate the idea of actively trying to get people in trouble, but there are definitely some costumes that reflect so poorly on a person that it’s impossible to trust their judgment once you’ve seen them in it. I certainly wouldn’t care if someone wore a costume that was too sexy or gory or even political outside the office, but the truly racist or misogynistic costumes would be an issue for me.

        Obviously, some jobs open you up to more scrutiny than others.

    2. Allison*

      There’ve been a lot of sororities and fraternities that’ve gotten in trouble for costume parties with offensive themes, and in general people are urging their friends and acquaintances to avoid insensitive costumes. So even if you’re just going to a bar or a friend’s party, and you’re an average Joe that the media’s not gonna pay attention to, do you really need to be an insensitive jerk? There are so many non-offensive but still totally awesome costumes out there that you can have just as much fun wearing.

  13. anonanonanon*

    My last company went all out for Halloween. They decorated all the hallways and floors and had different rooms for games, “haunted houses”, pumpkin decorating, candy, etc and invited families and kids to spend the day. No one could ever request the day off because it was considered a team building experience. It was kind of a ridiculous waste of time. But at least they gave us free beer and wine during the work day (and it was good beer, so there’s that).

    The themes were always kept a secret, though, and people went crazy with decorations because the group that had the best floor or room decorations would get $200 to spend on dinner or lunch in the city and two free comp days. Which, admittedly, are pretty decent prizes. But to decorate, you had to have meetings during the work day to “plan” and decorate before or after work. No thanks. The company gave a budget for decorations, food, attractions, games. It was so stupid (and again, such a waste). But Halloween was our big yearly company holiday party in lieu of a holiday party.

    The themes were always unveiled the morning you arrived to work, and while we had some pretty cool ones over the years, I will never forgive them for the year they did Harry Potter and my floor, of course, was the Chamber of Secrets. Seeing a long, printout image of a basilisk trailing along the wall was bad enough, but finding our cubes and my desk draped with those long, large rubber snakes sent me into the worst panic attack I’ve ever had.

  14. Stranger than fiction*

    We just got the email last Friday that we’re welcome to wear an office appropriate costume – that’s it, no guidelines.

    And, OMG, dolls that make creepy noises?! That would be my own personal idea of hell.

    1. Emily*

      I’ve been going back and forth on whether my costume is work appropriate. It includes a mini-skirt with a tail on it. If I don’t wear the mini-skirt, I have no tail – which wouldn’t ruin the whole costume but it’d be better with the tail.

      I wear thick opaque leggings and stretchy skinny jeans to my office job pretty much all winter long. So on one hand it seems like if I wore those under the mini-skirt, I’m no less modest than I am day to day. But so much of inappropriateness is contextual…like the way a mid-length skirt can seem racier than a shorter one if the mid-length one exposes a garter belt and the shorter one doesn’t. I’m worried that by putting the mini-skirt over top of my usual bottoms, it’ll still contextually look inappropriately sexy, but I can’t decide if I’m overthinking it.

      What do other commenters think?

      1. Bostonian*

        I’ve seen a lot of things this year saying “If you have to ask if your Halloween costume is racist, then it’s probably racist.” I think a similar saying applies: If you have to ask if your costume is inappropriate for work, it probably is.

        1. Allison*

          Yeah, probably this. When I worked for an office that had a dress code, our costumes had to follow the casual Friday dress code – so jeans were fine, but things like shorts, mini skirts, tank tops, etc. weren’t allowed. Without a dress code, you gotta make the call yourself, but if you wouldn’t normally wear a skirt that short to work, it’s too short for dress-up day.

          1. blackcat*

            But I’d think a miniskirt over skinny jeans would probably be okay if the skinny jeans would be okay…

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I think I would fall on the inappropriate side. Now, if you had a regular tweed mini skirt over opaque tights, I would say that was okay for work. I think adding the tail to it does make it racier.

      3. Ad Astra*

        This is definitely a know-your-office situation, but I think it might be appropriate. Wearing leggings (the kind that some people wear as pants) under the skirt instead of tights or panty hose will go a long way. I would be most concerned about the length of the skirt, which of course is hard to judge without seeing it. And of course flats would be a better choice than heels here.

        Would you be willing to buy a new tail and attach it to a longer skirt or a pair of pants?

      4. A Non*

        I think it’d depend a lot on how tight the skirt is – whether it’s a normal skirt that is also short, or if it’s the butt-hugging “imagine what I’ve got in here” type.

  15. Agile Phalanges*

    Oh man. I thought of this site and the Halloween threads we’ve had in the past when I was at an event this past weekend, and saw someone not only dressed in full “Indian” regalia, but also blackface paint. Wow. There were actually a trio of people dressed as Native Americans, but only the one had face paint.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      It’s kind of horrifying to think about now, but my parents dressed me up as both an “Indian” and a “gypsy” when I was a kid. These were not controversial costumes 1980s. I know they were not trying to be racists, just cheap, and yes, being white people in an almost 100% white neighborhood, I’m sure we were culturally insensitive. My “gypsy” outfit was a pink mu-mu with a bunch of costume jewelry and a black wig that was actually cut from a cousin’s old Halloween mask. The “Indian” happened because my mom had an old microsuede brown dress.

      *slowly realizing why I don’t do Halloween*

      1. Ad Astra*

        I think there are a lot of people even today who don’t realize that “Gypsy” costumes are caricatures of an actual culture and ethnicity. I was an adult when I learned about the Romani people, and I literally only hear about them during discussions about cultural sensitivity. For whatever reason, it’s a widely misunderstood group in the U.S.

        When I went to Rome in high school, tons of people warned me to “watch out for Gypsies.” They didn’t mean watch out for Romani specifically; they meant watch out for pickpockets and beggars and swindlers. It was years later that I realized the implication, and I’m still mortified.

          1. Creag an Tuire*

            Seconded. It didn’t help that mom liked the song “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves”. Oh Cher, how many accidental racists did you create?

        1. Turanga Leela*

          Some of my otherwise open-minded relatives have told me that they don’t trust Gypsies. I think they actually meant the ethnic group. Why this seemed like an acceptable thing to say is beyond me.

      2. LaraW*

        I dressed as a gypsy several times. I don’t remember much of my costume except that I had a lot of jewelry and I got to wear makeup.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yup, I’m guilty of this one too, before I knew better. I’ve always been partial to broomstick skirts and peasant blouses anyway, and I just wore all of them at once. I feel at least some relief that at least my teenage self left her hair and skin their normal hues.

      3. Allison*

        As a kid I went as Jasmine one year, and Esmeralda another year. Didn’t know any better. Then I settled on a “gypsy” costume when I was in middle school, and I think I wore it to school once in high school as well, because my mom vetoed all the costumes I actually wanted to wear, calling them “too slutty” and the gypsy was the only one I kinda liked that she didn’t hate. So really, neither of us liked it, but it was a decent compromise.

        1. LBK*

          Hm, now I’m curious – is dressing as a character who’s from another ethnicity inherently racist even if you’re not painting your skin? On the surface dressing as Jasmine or Esmeralda (or Pocahontas) doesn’t sound bad to me anymore than being any other Disney princess but I suppose that would entail donning a stereotypical outfit. Is it any different if you’re dressing as a specific person rather than generically going as an Arab/Romani/Native American?

          1. Ad Astra*

            I guess the problem is that Disney’s portrayals of Jasmine, Esmerelda and Pocahontas are all kind of racist, which makes the costumes kind of racist. But I’m definitely less likely to take offense to a child in a Disney character costume than I would to a child dressed as an Arab princess, a Gypsy, or a generic Native American.

            1. LBK*

              Yeah, I was mulling that point over as well – that it isn’t so much dressing as character of another race but dressing as one who’s kind of a racist stereotype that would be the problem there. I’m trying to gauge if I would feel as icky about a Mulan costume and I don’t think I would.

          2. Rat in the Sugar*

            Personally I would say that it’s fine to dress as a specific person, but not specifically the ethnic Disney princesses since their stories got very twisted around to make the movies kid-appropriate. (I mean, if you look at the original story, dressing up as Pocahontas isn’t really any better than dressing up as Anne Frank…)
            But I feel like if it’s an ethnic character who is totally fictional and doesn’t have a real story or person behind them, then it would be fine to dress as that specific character as long as you don’t paint yourself. (I actually mentioned this in a comment below, too.)

          3. Natalie*

            For practically all real people and non-stereotypical characters, I think you can make a non-offensive costume. Just identify whatever is truly identifiable about their outfit and accessories and skip the makeup, “ethnic” wigs, etc. Disney, of course, relied on stereotypes for their older films so this wouldn’t work for, say, Tiger Lily from Peter Pan.

            (As a sidenote, IMO if you have to resort to blackface you’ve failed at costuming as well as not being racist.)

        1. Ad Astra*

          I knew a human being named Gypsy when I was a kid. She was the only 6-year-old who was allowed to dye her hair pink.

      4. Natalie*

        I just watched Friday the 13th (released in 1980) the other day. Hadn’t seen it in years, and apparently I forgot the part where one of the kids is dancing around in a stereotypical feather headdress for no clear reason. It was jarring.

      5. Chinook*

        “It’s kind of horrifying to think about now, but my parents dressed me up as both an “Indian” and a “gypsy” when I was a kid. These were not controversial costumes 1980s.”

        I can top that. I have a picture of the year I was dressed as an Indian when I was 6. Trick or treating would have involved visiting the Cardinals, Belcourts and Twinns (all Cree families) who made up the rest of my neighbourhood and whose kids I all played with and went to school with. Then again, maybe they were okay with it because my preschool graduation ceremony involved fake feathers tied on a headband and the preschool was run by the local Cree band?

        On the plus side, no one on my family dressed up like that once we moved back south.

        1. steve g*

          I get that the Native American costume is a stereotype, but not how that automatically goes to “offensive” or racist. Scouts still have a lot of native American motifs worked into their ceremonies, etc. They have a society called Order of the Arrow where the leaders dress up as Native Americans + wore the bells + drums to the initiation ceremony around a fire, after a day and half of fasting/work/sleeping on the ground. The order of the arrow ideals are building strength through pain/deferrence of pleasure and the stories in the OA book pull from native American legends.

          I thought this would be a positive way to learn about history, but apparentlty it is offensive!

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s reducing Native Americans to a caricature of their culture. Plus, the elements used in that type of costume usually have a deep sacred significance to Native people. Add to that that we’re in a country where Native Americans have been subjected to horrific violence and oppression — and continue to face racism today — by the same cultural group that now wants to dress up as them as a costume, and hopefully you begin to see the problem.

            1. blackcat*

              If there’s any group that REALLY shouldn’t have their identity appropriated by white Americans, it’s a group that the US government committed genocide against. 90+% of Native Americans were eliminated from the US, many unintentionally, but many, many intentionally. Until quite recently, the US government committed cultural genocide by removing native children from their homes to “educate” them away from their families.

              So I’d put it in line with a white German person dressing up as a stereotypical Jew. It’s an extra special level of offensive and inappropriate.

          2. Connie-Lynne*

            Are you unaware of all the objections by various Native Americans to Order of the Arrow? Just google “Order of the Arrow racist.”

          3. Rana*

            The other thing is that if you genuinely want to learn about Native American people and cultures (note the plural!) you’re better served by going to actual Native events (like powwows and sings and similar gatherings).

            The problem, as Alison notes, is that things like the Scouts’ traditions are really just over-simplified notions of Indianness, not really accurate recreactions of specific cultures. Those activities would look rather strange to Tlingit people, for example, or to the Kumeyaay, or any number of Native peoples whose cultures fell outside of the Plains traditions that became the basis of our modern caricatured “Indians” with the tipis, big headdresses, leather fringe, etc.

            1. So Very Anonymous*

              Yeah, Scouting has a long history of appropriating and/or just plain making up Native American/Native American-like traditions. They’re not reliable sources for any actual Native American histories or cultures.

  16. lrs*

    I posted last year, but my work goes all out. Every team puts together a theme with costumes, decor, activities and treats and there are prizes associated with each one. There is a “Boo Crew” who plans overall events like a mummy wrapping contest, photo booth and inflatable sumo wrestling (new this year)? Pizza is provided for the whole company for lunch (~500 people). My group barely participates and I came in dressed up last year and that somehow volunteered me planning for the group this year. I’m spending my time at work this week making the costumes and testing out our own photobooth.

  17. Amber Rose*

    At a previous retail job, my husband was bribed by his boss with about $50 worth of “points” to wear a Tinkerbell costume. I still have the pictures. :D

    My government job let us wear costumes (I worked 8 hours in a corset, and won the prize for best costume because I am pro) and we had a pumpkin decorating contest.

    This year we are allowed/encouraged to dress up but it’s just for fun and I’m not sure who else will so I’m going to bring my bag of assorted hats and masks and just swap between them all day.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Although it’s been brought to my attention that my martial arts shirt combined with black pants make me look jedi-like (more so if I add a robe), and I’m planning on buying a battle grade lightsaber anyway… :)

  18. Manders*

    I’ve always been a bit bummed that my current office doesn’t decorate for any holidays, because we’re a doctor’s office and we have an office skeleton. I’ve always wanted to dress him up in a witch outfit, or a santa hat, or bunny ears…

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Could you do it anyway?

      An occupational medical clinic here has a small skeleton on the counter where you go to check out–they said (as I was playing with it, ha ha) that people are always rearranging its legs, arms, etc. I haven’t been in there at Halloween, but I’d bet money they dress that thing up.

      1. Manders*

        Unfortunately, my boss uses it for legal exhibits and we have a lot of claimants and attorneys visiting, so we have to keep things looking professional. If he only ever saw patients I bet I could do it.

  19. Anonymous Educator*

    Most people these days know that blackface is offensive

    I like to think this is true, but I’m not sure about that.

    1. Heather*

      Agreed. I just read in the news this morning about a teacher who’s in trouble for covering himself in what looks like brown paint for his Kanye West costume. It’s….you would say…#problematic.

    2. LBK*

      I think people know, but they don’t realize what qualifies as blackface – ie, they don’t think of it as “blackface” if they’re dressing up as a black character and they paint their face.

      1. TheVet*

        The part that bothers me about that argument is that legions of black, brown, and yellow people manage to dress themselves up as white characters year in and year out without resorting to slathering themselves in NC15 for impact.

    3. Rat in the Sugar*

      Gyaaah, I had a big argument with my boss and coworker’s last year when I made a comment about Paula Dean’s son wearing brownface to dress as Ricky Ricardo. Their argument? “He’s dressing up as a specific character so it’s okay! If he had dressed as Ricky Ricardo but not painted his face people like you would still say he was racist!” I wouldn’t, for the record, but I just kind of ended the conversation and don’t bring things like that up anymore. I’m just too deep in the South, I guess.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I have seen people of color also argue that, that portraying characters/people is different from the original blackface. I…can understand that, but I am not them, and I would not use a costume that required me to wear makeup to alter my skin tone to any other one naturally occurring in humans.

    4. J*

      “Offensive” is completely subjective, and I think people mostly avoid dressing as a black person to avoid ire from other white people.

      1. LBK*

        Google “minstrel shows”. This is not the “PC police” or “white guilt” or whatever causing people to decide something isn’t okay on behalf of another race. There is a specific, disgustingly racist history of white people wearing blackface in the US as a means of mocking, degrading and erasing black people.

        And “offensive” may be subjective, but that doesn’t mean you just get to decide that nothing should be offensive to anyway and that people who do take offense to something are objectively wrong – because, as you say, it’s subjective. Maybe try listening and learning when someone says something’s racist/sexist/etc. rather than just asserting your privilege and shutting the conversation down.

  20. Ruth (UK)*

    I have got some miniature (ie. think like the size of most pieces of hard candy) halloween decorations that I made from coloured plasticine to put on my desk: A pumpkin, a spider, and a black cat in a witch’s hat.

    I doubt anyone in my office would dress up. If I did, I would not wear a full costume but would do something like have some sort of Halloween themed pin, jewellery item, or hair accessory.

    In the UK, halloween isn’t that big but I think it’s getting bigger. It’s also very close in date to Guy Fawkes night which has more going on.

    1. Puffle*

      When I was a kid I liked Guy Fawkes Night way more than Halloween. I grew up in an area where no one bothered much with costumes or trick-or-treating, but GFN was a big thing. We got to stay up late, watch fireworks, see the bonfire, wave sparklers and eat hot dogs and candy floss. Two things kids love: food and fire.

  21. Heather*

    I’m one of those rare people who wasn’t allowed to celebrate Halloween as a kid (religious reasons). I’ve never had a costume, or went trick-or-treating in the traditional sense. Now that I’m an adult, I of course can do what I want, but since I’ve never been a part of the festivities, I don’t feel the need to do so now. That said, being encouraged or required to wear a costume or participate would be really awkward for me. Sometimes I explain why, but that just leads to coworkers asking me questions about my current beliefs or if I plan on letting my kids celebrate–I don’t have kids.

    The same goes with social events that center around alcohol, but that’s another story for another time.

    1. moss*

      It’s hard. I feel the same way about football (which is basically a religion). Never been into it, don’t understand it, find it impossible to participate in now.

  22. OriginalEmma*

    My idea is to go as Robin Hood dressed as the stork (from the 1970s Disney cartoon version of Robin Hood) but I’ll have to be careful with the brown face paint so I look like a fox and not a jerk.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      After looking at pictures on Google Images, I’m not sure you need face paint at all for that. It’s mostly about the clothes, the feathered tail sticking out, and the giant giant beak. And the bow and arrows, of course.

  23. Karyn*

    I’m going as Lady Barba (Rafael Barba from Law and Order SVU). It was an excuse to buy a new skirt suit, some fun patterned tights, a tie, and suspenders. Perfectly office appropriate with some cute booties and a white button down!

    1. So Very Anonymous*

      Didn’t Raul Esparza play a cross-dressing lawyer-turned-perp in one of the Law & Orders (Criminal Intent maybe?) too? When I saw him as Barba, I had a moment of, waaaait, same character?

  24. Not So Sunny*

    Need a cheap and easy group costume idea?

    Everyone wears a different colored solid t-shirt. Tape or somehow attach a sheet of white poster board to your chest with a big rectangle cut out of the center. Write the Pantone number of the t-shirt color under the cut-out in Sharpie.

  25. Max*

    This has no connection with work, but: The local Shoppers Drug Mart has brought in this…thing. It’s a skeleton dressed like a mariachi singer holding a ukulele; when you press the button located just in front of its pelvis, its eyes flash red, its arms wiggle, and it sings “La Bamba”.

  26. Kairi*

    My company is trying to encourage people to wear costumes by giving out gift cards to anyone who dresses up. We are combining it with a pumpkin decorating/carving contest as well!

    I’m part of the social committee, so I’m definitely going to pass this article along to ensure we don’t have any offensive costumes on Thursday.

  27. hayling*

    Another tip: make sure your costume meets your company dress code!

    My last job had a strict (an inconsistently enforced) dress code, which included “no t-shirts.” Someone got sent home for wearing a t-shirt as part of his costume. :(

    1. Not So NewReader*

      And of course they told you this ahead of time, so everyone “knew” not to wear t-shirts….

  28. Connie-Lynne*

    I am very much not into wearing Halloween costumes, particularly at work, but my new office seems very excited about Halloween.

    It’s also a very, very dog-friendly office. I own a life-sized fake Yellow Labrador (named Rowdy, after the one on Scrubs). I’m going to bring him in and have him sit next to me all day.

  29. TL17*

    I was at a craft store & found a spool of ribbon with skulls on it. I couldn’t pass up the skull ribbon. I just couldn’t. I won’t be at work later this week, but I give a 100% guarantee I’d put skull ribbons in my hair if I was there.

  30. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    I hate dressing-up activities at work (Halloween, Pajama Day, Sports Jersey Day). To me it’s extra emotional labor.

    I’ll never forget the year my work had costume day for Halloween, and an assistant supervisor got fired for attendance problems while wearing kitty-cat ears, tail, and whisker makeup. Talk about undignified exits.

  31. Rachel*

    My floor of the office goes all out for Halloween. Room wraps, pumpkin painting, costumes, and an all-day potluck. This year we were also given inflatable cows that each row has to decorate. No one else in my row cares, so I wrapped ours up with toilet paper and made her into a mummy. A manager who sits in my row gave me some cash to pick up decorations for the aisle, and I found some cute stuff at the dollar store. In the past our admin has gotten corn stalk bundles to put in corners, and last year she got some hay bales to put in the entry area of our office. I suspect she was told no more hay bales because so many of us complained last year. Our office is already full of dust and mold, so hay bales put a lot of peoples’ allergies over the edge.

  32. Liane*

    I love costuming but really came to resent the employee costume contest at Old Job. The prize–a nice gift card–invariably went to someone in a store-bought &/or inappropriate* costume.
    And I, in my movie quality, handmade Star Wars costumes would be ignored. The exact same costumes I wear for appearances, except I substituted a $10 toy lightsaber for my expensive prop lightsaber (because it is too tempting and fragile). Go figure…

    *skimpy drag one year

  33. J*

    I don’t really understand Halloween or any other kind of theme/party day at work. Who has time for that? Everyone I work with is busy all the time and has a busy life outside of work. If you don’t need me here I’d rather go home. And it’s just another thing you have to figure out and put time into and navigate socially (with tons of problems, as we see here in the letter every year).

    This isn’t grade school, jeeezus.

  34. Kelly*

    This wasn’t for Halloween but for Christmas…a 45 year old co-worker actually came to work from Thanksgiving to Christmas with bells on her shoes and wore a reindeer antlers head band. Every. Single. Day. Jingle Jingle Jingle Jingle Jingle … she is short with tiny little legs so her stride is very quick and I thought I would call open season on jingle bell reindeer. I know it’s mean but I finally ridiculed her enough (after 3 years) to stop doing that.

    1. Kelly*

      And we work in a regular business office – not a day care, not a retail facility. It was beyond annoying.

  35. SallyForth*

    I am a real stick in the mud on this. I don’t like Halloween and didn’t like it as a kid. I do enjoy the creativity of how other people dress up, though, and will do something like put a bowl of nice shiny apples with a spider in it on my desk. However, I was told last year by a coworker that not dressing up isn’t fair to the people who do. This year I told her, when she asked if I’d be participating, that I am an atheist and don’t celebrate it. It shut her right up because I’m sure she couldn’t figure out the connection!

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