With the changing of seasons, we step from one pace of life to another. The days grow shorter or longer, the sunrise earlier or later, the air crisper or heavier. Some people see school terms begin and end, others see seasonal labor ebb and flow. It is natural that, as the climate outside morphs from one season into the next, we too would change the way we dress for our environment.
Fast fashion, however, capitalizes on this seasonal motion to announce “out with the old, in with the new.” The idea that one would procure essentially an entirely new wardrobe every 3-4 months is neither financially nor environmentally sustainable. Of course everyone will have the urge to swap out clothes and perhaps pick out something new (or new to you) here and there. However, marketing campaigns and some style influencers propagate a myth that new clothing is a requisite for every change of season.
I’ve addressed this before, and I have no doubt that I will continue to encourage people to step away from the fast moving trends and step into clothing that affirms and empowers them. Rather than viewing clothing as disposable and temporary, think of it as something which might outlast you. Upcycle, donate, repurpose, mend, and make the most of what you have.
Perhaps one of the most egregious consumerist campaigns for clothing that is largely marketed as disposable surrounds a holiday with dubious historical roots that now largely exists as a sugar fueled bacchanale. As soon as the merest hint of Fall appears, we are all bombarded with advertisements for Halloween costumes, decor, lattes, etc.
I’ll save my general disdain for the commodification of seasons, as this is a fashion blog. As Halloween is fast approaching, I wish to address the production and sale of cheaply made costumes, which exploit both the humans who make them and the environment. The low price tags bely the large footprints which these and other fast fashion, “disposable” clothing items leave in their wake.
Halloween costumes hold the power of nostalgia and escapism. For one night, people allow themselves to interact creatively with clothing, to express themselves in new ones, to assume a new identity separate from their general presentations of self. I think the whimsy and joy created by costumes can be a wonderful thing!.
Purchasing a $12 costume at a Halloween pop up shop, wearing it once, and throwing it away, however, completely misses the mark for sustainability and creativity. A costume with a low price comes at a high price to the exploited workers who produce such items. Treating clothing as if it is disposable ignores the massive waste produced by textile manufacturing, shipping, and disposal.
Here are a few “spooky” statistics:
**Cheap costumes (and cheap clothing in general) are made of polyester fabrics which have a high environmental cost of production, shed microplastics when washed, and produce toxic gases as they slowly break down.
**They are produced in inhumane conditions by underpaid labor.
**Many people purchase them with the intention to wear them only once before discarding them.
**The average resident in the US produces 82 pounds of textile waste annually. Single use items including cheap clothing and costumes which are treated as disposable items are a large part of the problem.
**The waste of production, packaging, shipping, and disposal pile up to create a huge footprint for a novelty costume.
Rather than buying an inexpensive costume with a grave overall cost, I would encourage you to examine the following options. Rather than purchasing something with the intent to wear it once per year (or only once ever), you can:
**Repurpose clothing you already have
**Dig into accessories to bring a look together.
**Upcycle clothing or previous costumes
**Thrift for one funky or interesting piece and build a whole look around it using other items you already have.
**Make use of props, makeup, or non-toxic body paint
**Go for creative ideas which feel authentic to you, rather than trying to become an exact representation of a character. A few ideas: astrological signs, elements, emotions, seasons, decades, etc.
**If you really want to buy a costume, consider buying pajamas or a onesie instead. You’ll be able to wear this as a costume, but can be worn more than once.
If you’ve already purchased a costume, rather than throw it away, consider these ideas for repurposing it:
**Keep it and wear it again, possibly with different accessories to change it up
**Donate your costume to a local theater organization or school which may have use for costumes
**Costume swap with friends next year
**Seek out organizations in your area which accept used costumes. Children’s hospitals or outreach organizations may keep costumes on hand for events throughout the year.
While these more sustainable options can reduce the environmental footprint of your Halloween festivities, it is equally important to consider the message your costume sends. For a variety of social and historical reasons too lengthy for this blog, offensive, appropropriate, racist, or otherwise harmful and hateful costumes appear year after year on shelves in stores.
Halloween can be a chance to relax and enjoy some time to dress up, but it should also be an opportunity to educate yourself and your children, examine your biases, and select a costume that is not rooted in racism. If you’d like to learn more about any of this, read up here and here.
Embrace the creative; eschew the consumerist. Empower your sense of whimsy; examine your choices and biases. Educate yourself; eradicate hate. This is what I wish for you all on this holiday. Have fun, exercise the covid precautions that make sense for your area and situation, and enjoy!
Eleni Georgiadis is a classically trained horn player currently residing in Kentucky. Outside of music, she enjoys knitting, sewing, composting, kombucha brewing, and spending time outdoors. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to share her thoughts about sustainability and inclusivity in fashion, weaving together her technical knowledge, passion, and research.