In a few weeks, nearly half of U.S. people will be giving out candy to trick-or-treaters at Halloween:


But how are today’s little boys and girls dressing for this holiday?

A few weeks ago, there was a flurry of shares on social media concerning a mother who was criticizing Party City’s selection of Halloween costumes for little girls. The key message the mother had for the retailer was that the girls’ selection under-represented realistic career-oriented costumes, particularly when compared to little boys. She also made several critiques of the overall impression of many of the girls’ costumes and the language used to describe them.

I had to check this out for myself. Now in my early 40s, I don’t consider myself an old “fuddy duddy,” but I do fondly remember my childhood where my princess costume looked like this:


I was about 3 years old in that picture. (By the way, how cute were my sister and I?) Anyway… compare that to this “toddler” mermaid-themed costume for sale on Target’s website:


Yes, it still covers her up pretty well, but it’s form-fitting and body-con and even has a mock bustier top. OK, maybe that’s not the worst of the examples… how about this one? (also on Target’s site)


Sure, just want I’d want to wear in the Arctic Circle. A mini-dress and body-clinging boots. And why the need to show this young girl blowing a flirty kiss? Gosh, if these are the state of costumes and depictions for girls today, I can’t imagine where I’d be with my brilliant idea of dressing up as a can of soup in elementary school, which my mother so lovingly obliged me with her creative crafting:


“Those were the good ol’days.”

But back to the modern-day world: adults in 2015 are modeling for today’s kids near-equal employment status among both genders. Among U.S. adults who said in the past 90 days that they are currently employed, it’s nearly split down the middle:


Furthermore, among those in the past year who have worked for pay, here’s how the gender splits look across four main categorizations of jobs from the past year:


Yes, it’s true that there are more women in service positions and more men in technical and skilled labor positions, but looking at the career-oriented costume offerings on various retail sites would make you believe the gaps were much more gaping. Not only do young girl’s costumes seem to suffer from a lack of variety across career types, there is also a consistent theme to the appearance of young girls’ costumes – as seen here in a screen capture from Party City’s site grabbed last week:


Apparently, we are back in the 1950s when flouncy skirts were the norm no matter what the job or occasion.

Contrast that to some of Party City’s boys’ costumes:


Now that’s more like it. The boys are modern-day representations of these careers – which seem to be focused on saving lives and rescuing people vs. serving you with a lipsticked smile.

It turns out that a little over half of U.S. adult consumers feel that Halloween outfits for young girls are not in a good place. A recent poll of ours asked: “Do you think that young girls’ Halloween costumes for sale by retailers have become too sexualized overall?”  The question focuses specifically on costumes that are available for purchase vs. home-made.

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  • 51% of U.S. adults believe that young girls’ Halloween costumes sold by retailers have become too sexualized.
  • Another 16% of adults are on the fence, believing that “maybe” these costumes are.
  • Only 9% say the girls’ retail costumes have not become too sexualized overall.

What do we know about the consumers who believe that girls’ retail costumes have become too sexualized? Those who say “yes” are 19% more likely than average to be women (and those who say “no” are 46% more likely to be men), perhaps not as big as a difference among the genders as one would have thought. Also in the “yes” camp is a higher rate of those aged 25-34 (+19%). Interestingly, parental status, education level, and income have very little correlation.

What is apparent is that those who feel there’s been too much sexualization of young girls’ costumes tend to have conservative leanings, and not just politically (they are 19% more likely to be Republican). They are 13% more likely to say their religious beliefs are very important to them, 16% more likely to be very concerned about high taxes, and 17% more likely to be very concerned about income inequality in the U.S. (As an aside, those who say “no” are much less concerned about all of those things, but they are more concerned about the environment than the “yes” bunch.)

Those who said “yes” are 31% more likely to have an unfavorable view of shopping at Victoria’s Secret and are 30% more likely to have an unfavorable opinion of the female pop singer Rihanna, both of which usually embody female sexuality. But the “yes” crowd nearly matches the general population when it comes to feeling that retail stores should maintain gender-specific aisles for kids’ merchandise (51% say yes to this question too).

Whether retailers and manufacturers will continue to perpetuate and sell this image to young girls remains to be seen:


“Left hand on red?” I found that one particularly disturbing, and that item is advertised on the websites of Target, Party City, Walmart, and more. Perhaps it’s time that consumers (parents being the decision makers in this case) turn the tide by protesting such costumes for our young girls by closing their wallets to such products. Over half of us feel that way – let’s just see if purchase behavior will follow.


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