10 Culturally Appropriative Halloween Costumes You Should Never Wear

Victoria Chudinova/Fotolia

Ah, Halloween. The holiday that has become a minefield for cultural appropriation missteps. Even though it's 2018 — and it's pretty much a no-brainer not to do — blackface still pops up on social media pretty much every Halloween. So here's a super friendly reminder: dressing up as a cultural stereotype is never, ever OK. And in case you needed a refresher, culturally appropriative Halloween costumes are offensive because it reduces a culture to, well, a literal costume — one that certain groups of people can take off, but others live with every day. Cultural appropriation is "the manifestation of one of the earliest, most enduring racist ideals: the belief that people who belong to marginalized cultures are somehow less than human," Jessica Andrews wrote for Teen Vogue. Further, as Osamudia James, professor and vice dean at the University of Miami School of Law, wrote for the Washington Post, "Conduct that presents white people as normal while presenting other groups as exotic ... is racist." Translation: when white people dress like stereotyped versions of people of color for Halloween, it's racist and hurtful.

So what does that look like? What counts as cultural appropriation? According to Marie Claire, the simple answer to that is you shouldn't dress up as a marginalized culture that isn't your own, and you most definitely shouldn't paint or color your skin to match someone else's. But that can get a little complicated when it comes to movie and TV show characters, as in the case when Moana's popularity sparked a debate around whether it was appropriate to dress a child as the character for Halloween. But even dressing as some of our favorite characters can cross the line into cultural appropriation. As a gentle reminder of where that line is, these are 10 culturally appropriative Halloween costumes you should definitely never wear.

1. A Ninja

Party City

Movies and TV make ninjas look super sexy, but most of what we know about ninjas is wrong, Kotaku reports. Ninjas aren't super sneaky characters that fight in dark shadows. They're real people who existed in Japan and did similar work to our modern-day CIA, says Kotaku. This costume is essentially a parody of the real-life ninjas who existed in Japan.

2. An Egyptian Queen

Party City

Even if you're taking a costume from "history," it can still bring up ugly reminders of a violent past. According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, the ankh, which is what the woman in this picture is holding, was appropriated by the Christians in the 4th century CE as a symbol for their god. This might just seems like a beautiful costume, but it's a symbol of a culture that was violently appropriated centuries ago.

3. A "Voodoo" Witch Doctor

Party City

According to NPR, "voodoo" is often used as a catch-all term for several related religions practiced in Louisiana, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. The most well-known in America, says NPR, is Haitian Vodou. None of these religions bear any resemblance to the Hollywood versions of voodoo, NPR reports, so dressing as a "voodoo witch doctor" for Halloween only exacerbates harmful stereotypes about real religions.

4. A Native American Princess

Party City

Dressing up like another racial group for Halloween is never acceptable. Ever. This costume is especially gross considering the mass genocide of Indigenous Americans during the time of the United States' founding, and considering that Native Americans continue to experience discrimination on an exceptionally high level, according to NPR.

6. Anything That Has To Do With The Day Of The Dead

Party City

Halloween and the Day of the Dead are not the same, and even if they were, it wouldn't be cool to use symbols from the latter to celebrate the former. According to Pop Sugar, Día De Los Muertos is a Mexican holiday celebrated on November 1 — which is All Souls Day — to honor friends and family who have passed away. Sugar skulls or calaveras, says Pop Sugar, are a symbol of Día De Los Muertos, not a costume for people to take on an off.

7. A Geisha

Spirit Halloween

Many don the geisha "costume" under the assumption that it's "sexy," but there are a number of reasons why that's super not cool. For one: geishas were entertainers, but they were not sex workers, as many people falsely believe. For another: it's deeply problematic to dress up as a stereotyped version of a cultural figure. Just don't do it.

8. A "Senorita"

Pure Costumes

With all the colors of the Mexican flag represented, the motive behind this costume is to have the wearer take on the appearance and symbols of another culture for a night. Mexican culture is not a costume.

9. A Bollywood Star


Bollywood is a popular genre around the world, but wearing traditional Indian dress and calling it "Bollywood" isn't a costume — it's an offensive stereotype that flattens of all Indian culture into one trope.

10. A "Gypsy"


The "G" word is actually a racial slur, according to the National Organization for Women (NOW), because it has historically been used to stigmatize and discriminate against Romani people, an actual ethnic minority group with a history of persecution in Europe. It isn't code for a free-spirited person with wanderlust, and costumes appropriating this culture play into that history of discrimination.

Most of these examples are fairly obvious because they depict racial stereotypes that, honestly, should've disappeared a long, long time ago. If you're ever in doubt about whether your costume is culturally appropriative, go with your gut and choose something else. There are many, many, many Halloween costumes that don't culturally appropriate, aren't offensive, and might actually be fun to put together.