October 31, 2005
On the Sociology of Halloween Costumes
Posted by Victor Fleischer

Happy Halloween, everyone.   It's long been my favorite holiday -- it's a license to be goofy.  I worry, tho, that as I get older, cultural constraints are making it less fun than it ought to be.

I went to a costume party here in DC on Saturday, and I noticed what seemed like a striking number of high-concept designs.  To recognize the costumes, one needed both an acute awareness of current events and a rigorous ability to think creatively.  For example, I saw people dressed as John Roberts' kids, Intelligent Design, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Leak, Valerie Plame, Judith Filler (an intentional misspelling of Judith Miller, which I didn't get -- something to do with the misspelling of Plame in her notes?), the Runaway Bride and the Real Estate Bubble.  In hindsight, I should have gone as "Official A."

Contrast that with the party I went to in LA last year, where the costumes demanded somewhat less in the way of cognitive gymnastics:  'Ho, O.G. Pimp, 'Ho, Perfect 10 Pimp, 'Ho, sexy cat, sexy bride (think Madonna at the 1984 Video Music Awards), Don Johnson (circa 1984 Miami Vice) and Ali G.   This year I suspect there were some folks dressed as Ari from Entourage.

Mind you the demographics of the party were quite similar.  Lots of lawyers.  But the cultural norms and expectations differ.  In DC, it's about the importance of being clever while displaying Beltway insider knowledge.  In LA, it's about being a hipster (men) or showing off your bod (women) -- while signaling an awareness of (often retro) pop culture references.

Which makes it understandable why so many folks, especially self-aware law profs, opt out of costumes.  There's just so much darn pressure to be smart/clever/hipster/sexy/cool.  We should start a movement for dorky, low-concept costumes to take the pressure off.  Next year, I'm going as a pirate.

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