COVID Costumes Aren't Funny, and Other Dress-Up Faux Pas to Avoid This Halloween


A person dressed in a plague mask and black hat, standing against a red background

It’s long past time to face that dreaded seasonal question: What am I going to be for Halloween? The guide below is designed to help you avoid some of the most common Halloween costume pitfalls and provide tips for truly impressing the guests at your upcoming Halloween Social/Apple Bob-a-Thon.

Avoid “offensive” “funny” costumes

You have the right to wear whatever costume you want for Halloween (provided you’re complying with local indecent exposure laws) but I’m sure you’re also a nice person, and eager not to come across as an asshole. So I’m sure you want to be sensitive to other people’s feelings, and that means being aware of the implications of what you wear.

The easiest way to avoid cultural appropriation and/or any kind of -ism, is to not dress as anyone outside of your own ethnic or cultural group. If you absolutely must dress up as a member of a group to which you don’t belong, make sure your costume is specific to a character, as opposed to a collection of stereotypes. A white dude dressing as El Santo because he’s a big fan of the legendary wrestler is way different than dressing as “Tequila Shooter Guy.” 

If your costume is “funny” because it makes fun of something about a group of people to which you don’t belong, imagine trying to justify it to a member of that group. Like, would you want to explain why this “lost puppy” costume is funny to an overweight, elderly person who just lost their dog?

I’m sure you know not to do blackface, brown face, yellow face, or red face under any circumstances. Green face, though, is totally OK.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “well those people shouldn’t be so sensitive,” and you have a half smirk on your face, fine. Wear whatever you want; I’m not the police. But don’t be surprised if you’re no longer invited to hang around with decent people.

Don’t wear a COVID costume

A lot of people are going to dress as the COVID virus, or as sexy hand-sanitizer, or as sexy vaccine this year. Don’t be one of them. It’s weak and predictable and not funny—but it is the kind of thing an unfunny person would do when trying to be funny. But really, it’s not funny. Nearly five million people are dead. Show some respect.

Be careful with “political” costumes

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, wearing a political Halloween costume makes you look weird, like the kind of person who yells at CNN.

Ask yourself if you really need to make a political statement on Halloween. If the answer is “yes,” OK. Fine. Do it. But at least know your audience. Wearing a Trump costume and carrying a “miss me yet?” sign might make you the life of the party at the Okefenokee Swamp Monster Spooktacular, but it’s practically an act of aggression in Los Angeles.

Avoid out-of-date costumes

There was a time when dressing as Carol Baskin from Tiger King was funny. That time was last Halloween (though it would’ve been funnier if Halloween feel in March 2020). A year later, no one can remember that far back (even if Netflix did somehow make a Tiger King 2). So keep your gear up to date and your references current.

I make an exceptions for pop-culture costumes that are out of date by at least 30 years. I fully support wearing a Nancy Kerrigan outfit, a hardhat that reads “SkyLab Protection,” or a screen accurate costume of Number Six from The Prisoner. You’ll spend all Halloween explaining your costume to puzzled people who will think you are a nerd, but it’s still better than dressing as Eleven from Stranger Things.

Let your kid be whatever dumb thing they want to be

Parents: Let your kid wear what they want, no matter how weird it is (unless it’s offensive.)

Making whatever costumes your child asks for is one of the great joys of parenthood. My wife has made our son the following costumes: The Square from Atari Adventure, a barrel of toxic waste, Hatty Hattington from Castle Crashers, and Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. Some years he’s preferred a store-bought costume, though, and we’re cool with that too. The important thing is to let the kid choose. Don’t make them an accessory to your costume if they’re over three, and for god’s sake, don’t let them dress as anything even remotely sexual.

What to do if your work has a costume day

The only occasion in which it is OK to not wear a costume to a costumed event is when your job has dress-up day. If you’re uncomfortable dressing up in a costume at work, don’t, and don’t think twice about it. If you do decide to wear a costume to work, remember, it’s still your job, even on Halloween, so skip sexy or potentially divisive costumes.

A word on sexy costumes

When the conceit of “sexy version of X” is so played out that costume manufacturers are selling sexy mustard costumes, it’d be easy to see it as just played out. But on the other hand, feeling free to sex-it-up in public once a year is an important aspect of Halloween for some people, and who wants to discourage that? Everyone needs to let the freak flag fly sometimes. (But you should first read Lifehacker Senior Food Editor Claire Lower’s very good tips for doing a sexy costume the right way.)

Store-bought costumes are fine

It’s obviously cooler to make your own costume than it is to get a pre-packaged one from Amazon. Halloween is about personal expression, after all. But if you’re not the creative sort, there isn’t anything wrong with a store-bought Halloween costumes. They’re basic, and they say, “I didn’t want to go to any trouble, so here’s some shit I bought at Spirit Halloween on the way over.” If that’s who you are, fine. Who wants to go to any trouble?

But if you don’t want to seem boring, consider renting a costume instead. Depending on where you live, you can rent an elaborate, contest-winning-level  costume for a reasonable price. Then you can return it on Nov. 1 and avoid having to figure out what to do with the screen-accurate Deadpool costume hanging in your closet.