osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

A bit of follow up on the Halloween stuff

THe NYT has a full article on the
"Sexy costumes" theme.
My thoughts below.

What is interesting to me is that none of the people who are interested in applying the traditional "bad messaging" framework are asking the critical question: why is this a growth trend?

In a large number of cases, I'm happy to believe that stereotyping is reenfroced by lack of diversity in the decisionmaking process and the gatekeeper function that large companies can play even in relatively competitive markets. For example, I am happy to believe that the failure of Prince George's County to attract high-end retail outlets despite aggressive outreach by PG County executives and a county average income that should attract such outlets is a function of stereotyping PG because it is majority black. Because all other factors are controlled for and PG still stands out as a complete anomaly until you add the "majority black" thing.

But the Halloween costume case doesn't fit the mold. Just about everyone in the article agrees that we used to have a much broader mix of costumes. The non-sexy ones have gradually faded away, while the sexy ones have experienced significant increase in sales.

That doesn't look like corporations offering products based on traditional stereotypes. That looks like mass market trends. That doesn't mean I'm happy with the outcome. But that's modern mass marketing. If a product is popular, every mass manufacturer chases the popular taste and ignores the niche market, even if the niche market is potentially profitable, because every porfit-maximizing firm hopes to capture the maximum profit. Eventually, you reach a tipping point where the rest of the folks who don't like the mass trend find themselves out of luck.

Now recent trends in technology and the internet are altering the conventional mass market economics. Heck, we've reached a point on how cost and the economics of things has changed so much for niche marketing that someone has even coined a phrase for it: "The Long Tail."

So I would expect to see online businesses in "more positive" costumes developing. But in the meantime, at least according to the article, "Sexy" costumes remain internet dominant as well.

So this needs a deeper explanation that merely corporate stereotyping and lack of choice. There used to be greater choice. That has changed. Why?

Also of note, the change appears to be customer driven. There is no indication that "sexy" costumes are more profitable (other than selling more units).

And, while "sexy," the bulk of the costumes are "nontraditional" rather than traditional. Indeed, many combine traditional male roles with sex. The "pirate wench" may dress naughty, but she packs a cutlass as well. The sports referee described in the article, while quite revealing, is certainly not a traditional female role. No one is selling demure princesses or damsels in distress. No one is even selling traditional "Barbie" or Disneyfied versions of "good girls." It is all tilting in a particular way. With significant market response. Why?

Finally, why aren't we seeing a suitable market differentiation on men's sides. Some women point to this as proof of the traditional analysis. But there's a problem with that supposition. There appear to be no men's costumes at all, or very few of them. Most of what is sold to men are props. True, these do fall into traditional steretoypes of violence: guns, swords, cutlasses. But these are the same propos being sold to women. Why aren't we seeing a full scale marketing blitz to men of stereotyped male violent fantasies? Profit maximizing companies do not lightly abandon the field. This isn't girls get the Holly Hobby Oven while boys get G.I. Joes and plastic uzis. It's not product differentiation and segmentation, it is a failure to market at all.

Are men more body shy? Less likely to buy costumes? Less likely to feel a need to experiment with their sexuality? More inhibitted about experimenting, even in a supposed "safe" space? Or is Halloween only a "safe sapce" for women (if that is the answer) and if so, why?

Some folks in the article offer interesting explanations -- notably that Halloween provides for women in their late teens/early 20s an opportunity to experiment with and defy expectations and self-image. Others could be devised. For example, are we seeing an increase in sexual energy and expression in response to war/economic uncertainty? Is it a backlash against the efforts of the religious right to repress sexuality?

I keep thinking of the second season episode of Buffy in which we are introduced to Ethan Rayne ("Halloween"). The Scoobs are shopping for a Halloween outfit. Buffy encourages Willow to buy a "sexy" outfit to "experiment" and try something "different" (although Willow ultimately has a failure of nerve and throws a sheet over herself as a "ghost"). Buffy herself is drawn to a "princess" outfit -- the opposite of how she feels about herself usually. Xander buys only a prop gun and infrantry helmet, using clothes he has at home to make a "soldier" costume.

Fiction, but the article suggests that life is, at least to some degree, mirroring art. What I wish is that there would be some actual research on the subject, rather than simply an effort to impose a post hoc explanation on the observed phenomena. If nothing else, you need to understand why something is happening if you want to change it (or cash in on it).

Finally, I can't help but observe that we see the same phenomena to some degree in fandom and the SCA. If you have ever been to an SF Con or SCa event (and I know a bunch of you have) you can find a lot of the same kind of "sexy costuming" going on. But it's not the only kind. We see plenty of Elizabethan along with the chain-mail bikinnis.

I wonder if Halloween is serving the same purpose for the vast majority of women who never get to a convention, but we simply lack the mass production dynamic. At my next convention, I will definitely try to see if "sexy" con costumes significantly outnumber "modest" con costumes, the division by gender, and the division based on dealer's room space.

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