Illustration by Celeste Hubbard.
What better time is there to recognize/pay homage to your favorite revolutionaries than Halloween? Sure, you could go for the witch, ghost or sexy cat costumes of yore – and I am not knocking those at all – but if you want to start a cool dialogue with people who are intrigued, in awe, or simply clueless about your costume, here are some ideas.
Most of these costumes are after women of color. This goes without saying but I will say it: no black/brown/yellow/red face! Also if you are not a POC/not the target ethnicity for certain costumes (like Frida Kahlo), be mindful of things like cultural appropriation. That may mean not wearing some of these costumes, which can be a very responsible decision.
#1 Black Panther
The revolutionary Black Panther Party had a ⅔ female membership by the 1970s, but even before then women were always the driving force behind the organization, whether on the front lines or behind the scenes. Naturally, the Panthers embodied their namesake with sleek black clothing.
For this costume you’ll need a black turtleneck, black pants/skirt and an Afro. Bonus points if you have an Afro pick and black leather jacket.
#2 Brown Beret
The Brown Berets were a pretty vital part of the Chican@ movement in the US, during the 1960s and 1970s. They fought against police brutality and the Vietnam war, among many other causes, and even collaborated with other POC liberation movements at times. Like the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets had sharp uniforms too.
To get the look you’ll need a short light brown trenchcoat, a short black skirt or dress, and a brown beret of course. Bonus if you have knee-length brown or black boots.
#3 Frida Kahlo
This has become a trendier costume over the past few years, (especially among white girls) but that doesn’t change the fact that Frida was a radical feminist painter who always found ways to celebrate her heritage in her work.
To dress like Frida, you’ll need flowy top and skirt clothes with a colorful scarf wrapped around your shoulders, a small canvas or sketchbook, and the trademark unibrow. You can through these images from her wardrobe for inspiration, too.
#4 Rosie the Riveter
Few icons embody 1940s feminism in the United States like Rosie the Riveter. She tends to be depicted as a tough brunette white woman. In truth, women of other races also worked in factories during World War II, since the country was so short on male laborers. Race for this costume doesn’t matter too much, which may help explain its universal appeal.
And it’s also minimal effort – all you need is a red bandanna or headscarf, a blue collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up and jeans. Maybe bonus points if you can carry around a power tool or two.
Sacajawea is known as the Shoshone woman who guided and interpreted for Lewis and Clark during their expedition – all with a baby on her back, apparently! She has even been memorialized on a gold dollar coin. One word of caution about dressing like her as a non-Native American person, though; Native American women are already trivialized and sexualized in costumes (I’ve even stumbled upon a “sexy Sacajawea” costume before, which is all kinds gross). Sacajawea is obviously a cool lady worthy of costume recognition. But think about the history of people dressing up as Native Americans, if you’re thinking about this costume.
To get the Sacajawea look, you’ll need brown clothes (preferably suede with fringe), brown boots, two long braids and a baby doll tied to your back.
#6 Joan of Arc
Almost everyone knows the story of Jeanne D’Arc (or the anglicized Joan of Arc), the French girl who saw visions of God and led the French army into battle during the Hundred Years War. She is a quintessential teenage heroine.
To embody her, you would need a gray turtleneck, a white sheet to wear over it with red cross, and a brown belt. extra points if you have a wooden shield or can make one. Or extra extra points if you have a suit of armor lying around somewhere.
#7 Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith, nicknamed the Empress of the Blues, was a definitive blues singer from the 1920s and 1930s. In addition to her vocal prowess, Smith was also known for her brazen manner towards drinking, sexual relations and many other things expected from women of her era. Incidentally, Queen Latifah just did an A+ job playing Bessie in her biopic.
If you want to dress like this blues maven, you’ll need a drop waist dress, string of pearl necklaces, long black gloves and perhaps a cloche hat, or a cap with a feather in it. Bonus points if you carry a flask, which definitely does not have to have alcohol in it and SHOULD NOT if you’re underage 🙂
#8 Queen Liliuokalani
Queen Liliuokalani was the first and last queen of Hawaii, before being overthrown by the American government after proposing a Constitution that would give power back to Native Islanders.In addition to being an all around badass she also composed the Hawaii’s national anthem, Aloha Oe.
For this costume you’d need floor length puffy black dress, blue ribbon sash, and a black hair in an updo, which was what the Queen wore in her royal portraits.
You too can be a rad as these ladies on halloween. Even if it’s a little late for this year, use these ideas for years to come. Fearless women are timeless, after all!