My Mom Would've Loved To Do This
November 1, 2009 1:08 PM   Subscribe

Post Halloween Culture Filter: As I drove the streets last night I observed that about 75% of the adults accompanying children were dressed in costume. This is not the way it was when I was a kid. Can MeFites verify this change? When did it occur? What are the cultural implications. Are the adults trick or treating as well?
posted by Xurando to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your 75% number is not consistent at all with my recent experience.

I took my kids out last night (suburban Richmond VA) and I was the only accompanying parent in costume. We encountered one group of costumed adults (at a cul-de-sac type party) and maybe one or two adults passing out candy who had a costome of sorts. Last year in the suburban Chicago metro area, I can recall seeing one accompanying parent in costume.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 1:35 PM on November 1, 2009

And women more often than not choose to dress as sluts, a fantasy they have that they can fulfill without being a real one.

Really? Any numbers to back that up?

I think adults are dressing up more because Halloween is just getting more and more popular. I don't remember seeing adult costumes in the stores when I was a kid, and even the kids' selection wasn't great. It doesn't take much creativity to buy a costume, and perhaps that's what's appealing to a good number of people.

Are the adults trick-or-treating as well? I'd bet some are, but I didn't see any of the costumed adults in my neighborhood toting bags of candy last night. They were just accompanying their kids, and having fun doing it.
posted by cooker girl at 1:35 PM on November 1, 2009

My non scientific sampling came from progressive small town Vermont and does not represent anything.
posted by Xurando at 1:40 PM on November 1, 2009

Hun. If there is a "women have fantasies being sluts therefore Halloween" theory, I'd like to postulate that the obverse would be "men have fantasies of being a drag queens therefore Halloween."

We also noticed a lot more costumed adults with their children this year. I suspect you'll find this particular Halloween especially adult-heavy because of it falling on a Saturday. The mad dash of beating the traffic home to quickly run the kids around the neighborhood while be starving for dinner does not apply when Halloween falls on a weekend. A Saturday Halloween is leisurely enough that they have time to not only have fun with the experience but to plan a costume.
posted by cheap paper at 1:51 PM on November 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

My personal theory is that the "self esteem" movement in popular psychology and education has produced a crowd of 25-40 somethings, many of whom now have children, who just refuse to give up a kid's holiday because gosh darn it, it's fun and I'd feel guilty drinking without an "excuse"!

I don't think there's any issue with dressing up with your kid, but I do think a lot of the bar events and parties appealing to adults kind of indicate a disinterest in growing up in the US the last several decades. Of course I have only lived in very non-conservative areas, but halloween is a Big Deal for adults in all of the places I've lived.

Side note: last night I observed some elaborately becostumed early 30's guys complaining loudly about how halloween is just about "slutty fairies and slutty witches, and that's not what halloween's about, man". So it is more than just one person who believes woman's costumes to be themed slut outfits.
posted by shownomercy at 2:11 PM on November 1, 2009

None of the adults going around with the kids in my middle American town were costumed, and no trick-or-treaters were over the age of 10 or so. Halloween is still a holiday for the elementary-school set around here.
posted by philokalia at 2:11 PM on November 1, 2009

Only about half of the kids who came to my door had costumes. A few of the parents had costumes too, but most did not. We also had quite a few babes in arms "holding" Halloween bags - you get to guess who gets that candy.

Lots of folks in the crowd at the Mavericks basketball game were dressed in costume, as were over half of the folks at my office on Friday.

Unscientifically, I agree with all the theories, and I don't really care who dresses up how, as long as it's all in fun and nobody gets hurt.
posted by CathyG at 2:26 PM on November 1, 2009

Halloween is being more heavily marketed toward adults; those giant seasonal Halloween stores taking over empty strip-mall real estate sure didn't exist when i was a kid.

But I don't usually see very many costumed adults taking their kids around. Maybe 1 in 15.
posted by desuetude at 2:31 PM on November 1, 2009

Of the families I saw out & about last night, maybe 50% or a bit less of the parents were in costume.

I think shownomercy is onto something, at least as far as it being a generational thing. I don't get the impression that Halloween was all that big of a deal when my parents were kids, and following their parents' example they never dressed up to answer the door or take us trick-or-treating. My own inner late-70's/early 80's child still gets a little bit of a rush when the Halloween stuff starts to show up in stores, though. Halloween was the only day out of the year when all kids were heartily encouraged to engage in make-believe, and subsidized by grownups!

So sure, I still think the idea of macabre decorations and putting on costumes for Halloween is fun. I'm a little surprised at all the "adults are stealing Halloween from the kids!" backlash I'm reading everywhere this year, considering its origins as a pagan festival. I am the furthest thing from an authority on pagan traditions, but I don't think Samhain was originally kid oriented and only just now being appropriated by grownups.

(But yes, cleavage and short skirts do seem to feature prominently in quite a few womens' costumes these days.)
posted by usonian at 3:01 PM on November 1, 2009

My wife and I took our 3 year old out last night for his first Halloween where we go door to door. We taught him to say Trick or Treat, and would not let him leave until he said thank you. Many of the house owners said we were one of the few who said either to them.

What I did notice was girls 10-15 all dressed like street walkers. I am struggling for what the appeal is to them other than peer driven.
posted by Senator at 3:23 PM on November 1, 2009

My parents never dressed up, and I'm just over the age of trick-or-treating (17) with a middle school sister. It's different everywhere, I guess, and I saw more of the younger kids (0-7) with dressed-up parents.

I'm a high schooler, and went to a party last night that advertised girls to dress like sluts "because it's Halloween". The host was a female.

I think the best answer is that it's peer-driven. Girls think guys will enjoy less clothes, and more often than not teenage boys do. Is it an excuse to wear as little as possible? Eh, I don't think so. Some girls are called out by their peers for a lack of effort - a bra and panties is too skanky while a cut up dress that shows virtually the same thing is "cute".
posted by seandq at 3:57 PM on November 1, 2009

From what I observed, about half the young parents got dressed up to take small children out to trick or treat, but were not actually trick or treating themselves.

I think it's probably a combination of having small kids (the parents of grown children did not really make an effort to dress up) and Halloween in general remaining a popular holiday amongst the generation that currently have small kids. (Previous MeFi threads have discussed that phenomenon already.)
posted by asciident at 3:58 PM on November 1, 2009

When I was a kid, we went around the neighborhood with our friends while the parents stayed home (I'm 31 so this wasn't back in the '50s or anything). Maybe what you're seeing has more to do with parents accompanying their kids these days and some parents wanting to dress up. I'm sure if my parents would have come with us they would have dressed up, too. But they didn't so you didn't see very many adults in costume.
posted by bengarland at 4:00 PM on November 1, 2009

As that I saw no trickortreaters at all yesterday, even while driving around, and one pair of kids, not in costumes, any data I may give you is not valid.
posted by strixus at 4:23 PM on November 1, 2009

Parenting today means being overinvolved in everything your kids do, it seems. It's the modern way of parenting.
posted by anniecat at 4:55 PM on November 1, 2009

I'm 30 something. My parents were 30 something when I was of trick-or-treating age. I don't remember them ever dressing up, for anything. However, nearly all of my friends and other acquaintances that are around my age get all nutty about Halloween. Multiple costumes for multiple events surrounding the 31st. It's kind of silly.

So no, I don't think it's modern parenting as much as it is that people of a certain age simply did not give up Halloween as a kids' holiday. I imagine in another 20 years, some future metafilter site will have questions like "what's up with my parents and Halloween? It is stupid, but they keep dressing up..."
posted by gjc at 5:10 PM on November 1, 2009

My yearly record says there were more adults in costume this year than the past 4 at my house.
Of the 174 kids, about 50 had costumed chaperones.
This is up from last year where about 30 of the kids had costumed chaperones.
Not all the parents were matching, but a significant percentage were. Batman and Robin, big fairy and little fairy, clowns.
While none of the costumed parents actually asked for a treat, I always offer and it is accepted about half the time.

I did have one fully adult group come knocking on the door. They were speaking Spanish, so I'm not quite sure what the deal was, but I got the impression that it was grandma's first Trick or Treating experience.
But hey, they all had costumes so candy they shall get.

We had less teenagers this year than in years past, only 33, not sure if the football game or Saturday had more to do with that.

Princesses were more popular this year than last.
Lots of ninjas and some Start Wars dude(though, honestly, all 8 year old boys look the same to me, so it could have been the same kid four times for all I know).

So yeah, my actual count says more adults this year.
Anecdotally, my experience is that Halloween has become more adult in my lifetime. I was never invited to an adult Halloween party (costume required) in the previous decade, but have gotten a bunch of invitations this decade.
posted by madajb at 5:19 PM on November 1, 2009


In giving out candy in "progressive small town Vermont", if that is what you want to call Montpelier, I did notice many adult costumes, although it didn't register as significantly more to me than in the past couple years. I think it in these instances it is mostly a way to emphasize and expand on the 'family activity' of trick-or-treating. Even Daddy is wearing a costume!

Interestingly, I think that fewer people up here do a lot to really decorate their houses and yards compared to other places I've lived. So maybe it is just re-directed holiday energy.

I suppose I'm just young enough or lukcy to not have known that you couldn't celebrate Halloween as an adult, because my parents always made a big deal about it and got dressed up.
posted by meinvt at 6:05 PM on November 1, 2009

I talked with my siblings today about their Halloween. Here's a summary:

1) East coast suburb: Children aren't allowed to trick or treat, it's unsafe. There's a parade that afternoon and then the adults put on costumes and go to parties at night.

2) Small town midwest: The city did Trick or Treat night on Friday for some stupid reason. Only a few parents in costume. The next night (Actually Halloween) few children in costume, lots of adult parties.

3) Major city, west coast: Many parents in costume. It was supposed that they all had parties to go to afterward since the T&Ting started around 5 and peaked around 6:30.

When I was a kid parents never went trick or treating with the kids. Why would the do that? They've got to stay home and scare the ---- out of the kids who are trick or treating. (Which often involved being in costume.)
posted by Ookseer at 6:15 PM on November 1, 2009

Halloween activities for adults have been getting more popular over the last couple of decades. Plenty of theorizing about that in these recent threads.

But I would also pick up on Ookseer's note and say that you wouldn't have seen adults trick-or-treating in costume in the 1980s in my New Jersey town, only because adults did not GO trick-or-treating. Only kids did. Older kids took younger kids. You cleared the neighborhood route ahead of time with the folks...but parents did not go with you once you were beyond first grade or so.
posted by Miko at 8:32 PM on November 1, 2009

We took our three year old son out Trick or Treating last night - he was in a group with four other children, accompanied by a group of eight adults (four sets of parents for the five kids involved). It was a beautiful night for a walk around the neighborhood, which is why there was such a weird parent/kid ratio. (This same group of five kids last year had three adults with them.) Of the eight adults, six were in costume. All six were going to a party directly following bedtime, and I think that's a big part of the reason they were in costume: it was just easier to get everyone's wings on at the same time.

PS: None of the adults got candy, although on occasion some of us would go up to the door with the kids, especially if there were steep steps or scary decorations.
posted by anastasiav at 9:27 PM on November 1, 2009

I can see several, and sometimes opposing, trends in regards to costumes in the last few years.


1) Adults have more income than kids, or may not have kids - targeting them to buy costumes may be a marketing campaign to generate more sales.

2) Spending time with the kids is a big one. Not necessarily over-parenting, but "Let's all go as Harry Potter characters as a family, it'll be fun!" If you need to keep an eye on the kids, you may as well have fun doing it...

3) Backlash against poor or no costumes. Every time I see a kid T&Ting in a store-bought Stormtrooper helmet, T-Shirt and Jeans, I cringe. A *lot* of my peers (Gamers in their 30s & 40s) feel the same way. A lot of us dress up for parties and such, but if I had kids, I would be enjoying the holiday with them, and teaching them what it is about, not that it's a way to get free candy just because.

4) Geek Culture is becoming more prevalent. As things like SF & Fantasy movies & TV become more popular (Harry Potter, LotR, Star Wars), it's more acceptable to dress up as named, recognizable characters when you are an adult and have an excuse.


1) Money / Economy. Some parents may not want to spend time or money on a costume for themselves.

2) Safety - some neighborhoods feel that going door-to-door is so unsafe that they hold T&T during daylight hours, off-nights, etc. to make it "safer." The idea of a "normal" parent chaperoning a kid gives a more serious image about the chaperon.

2a) One of the fondest memories I have as a kid T&Ting are the houses that would invite us in, that would be decorated and try to scare the bejeezus out of us. Sadly, I think the trend these days is that people who invite you into their house to scare you while dressed up is unsafe. The fear of that one lone kook actually being a kook (and not just dressed up as one) puts a damper on a lot of adults participating in Halloween directly with kids other than their own.

3) Fly-By parenting - while this has always been around, with the professional world becoming more hectic, I could see more parents being less involved in what their kid does, and more taking them T&Ting because it's expected / they "have" to than they want to be involved with their kids.
posted by GJSchaller at 9:21 AM on November 2, 2009

What I left out of my prior comment is that it also may be neighborhood dependent. A town that is more close-knit, where people know each other and trust each other more, is more likely to be involved and see the adults dress up more (letting their guard down, as opposed to being fearful of what could happen on the streets). Conversely, a neighborhood with more fear of issues is likely to see less parents in costume, as the ones that do go out are more likely to be "watching" than "participating."
posted by GJSchaller at 9:28 AM on November 2, 2009

Another data point for you... Here (suburban Long Island), of the ~75 kids that came to the house, I'd say more than half were accompanyed by adults (some came to the door, others stayed in the street). But I only recall one adult who had a costume on.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:55 AM on November 2, 2009

I was in costume! I agree with cheap paper's comment that it was because Halloween fell on a Saturday. There is no way I could have found the time to dredge my closet for goodies on a weeknight.

I remember the first time as a child that I saw an adult costumed - my friend's parents were answering the door in matching bumblebee outfits, and I just thought, "They are the coolest parents!"
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:53 AM on November 2, 2009

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