15 Halloween Costumes That Play Into Harmful Stereotypes That You Should Definitely Avoid

Halloween is less than two weeks away, and if you still don't have a costume ready, you're probably scrambling to figure out what you should wear. Last-minute costume ideas are easy to find, but if you wander into a party store looking for an outfit, you may leave with a Halloween costume that plays into harmful stereotypes.

For one example, while revealing costumes aren't necessarily a bad thing, and shaming a woman for dressing sexily on Halloween (or any other day) isn't cool, many pre-made Halloween costumes play off of stereotypes of commonly sexualized professions (see: sexy Nurse, Cop, etc. — ugh). It's worth considering the impact a sexy career costume could have, especially after this past week's national discussion about sexual harassment in the workplace.

You, of course, want to avoid costumes that are culturally appropriative, along with anything that's outright racist. But the impact of some harmful costumes may be harder to pick up on, especially if you don't know which stereotypes they're playing off of. There are costumes you may not consider offensive at first glance, and some people won't find them problematic, but when there's a chance of perpetuating a stereotype, it's always best to avoid it. Here are 15 costume ideas that play into harmful stereotypes, and why you should just stay away from them this Halloween.

Sexy Flight Attendant

People on the Internet have plenty of hard-hitting questions like, "Why aren't flight attendants pretty anymore?" and "How do I flirt with flight attendants?" It's a profession with a grim history of sexism, with flight attendants in the 1950s being forced to retire after turning 32, and some airlines still having weight and height requirements. A sexy flight attendant costume hints that attendants are there for your (sexual) pleasure, which isn't at all the case.

Hot Nurse

Female nurses and doctors are particularly prone to sexist incidents involving both colleagues and patients because of stereotypes like the one this costume plays off of. It's a stressful job, with medical professionals facing on-the-job fatigue and burnout. They're doing literally life-saving work, and downplaying that labor for a costume misses the point.

Psychiatric Patient

Not only is this "Sexy Psycho Costume" ableist in name, but it also minimizes the challenges faced by people with mental illness. Additionally, straitjackets haven't been regularly used since the mid-1900s. This plays into the myth that mentally ill people are violent and all need to be physically restrained, which is so far from being the case.

Seductive Soldier

Sexual assault and harassment in the military are at an all-time high. It doesn't help when Donald Trump has tweeted things like this in the past:

If a servicewoman chooses to dress provocatively, that's not an excuse to sexually violate her. This costume plays into the insidious lie that women who serve in the military do anything other than work hard to keep our country safe.

Sexy Firefighter

Women make up 7 percent of the firefighting workforce, and report struggling to be taken seriously by their male counterparts. This is another profession where women putting themselves in serious danger in order to save lives, but get harassed while doing so.

Undocumented Immigrant

Target ended up pulling this costume, thankfully, but you could (unfortunately) recreate it at home. It may seem like a harmless play on words, but undocumented immigrants already face harmful myths about their productivity levels and reasons for being in the U.S., and this costume dehumanizes their struggle for dignity.

Homeless Person

This may seem like a cutesy way to get extra candy from the neighbors, but homeless people are often stereotyped as lazy and dangerous. They're also often targeted as victims of violent crime, or harassed by police for simply not having anywhere else to go. Mocking them isn't ever okay.


This is a double whammy: Not only is a geisha costume cultural appropriation, but geishas are often inappropriately sexualized. In Japan, geishas are well-trained and experts in many forms of entertainment, and a costume like this ignores that rich cultural tradition.


The #thuglife hashtag on Instagram has more than six million posts, but "thug" is a well-known racist dog-whistle for Black people. 18-year-old Michael Brown was called a "thug" after being fatally shot by police in Ferguson, MO, in 2014. It may seem harmless to wear baggy pants and fake tattoos, but it feeds into racist stereotypes about Black men.


"Gypsy" is a slur against Roma people who have historically been oppressed across Europe and Asia. To make things worse, costumes often use the stereotype of Romani women wearing provocative outfits, which is a common harmful myth about the culture.


Did you know waitresses face sexual harassment more frequently than employees in any other industry? Ninety percent of female servers say they've been harassed by customers or employers. Waitresses aren't "asking" for harassment if they "smile," either — they're being nice because they need your tip to survive their often below-minimum wage salary. There are plenty of other Halloween costumes to choose from — go with one of those instead.

Fat Person

If you're cringing, you're not alone. This particular costume manages to portray both fat people and sex workers offensively, but any costume that requires a fat suit should be off-limits. It's never okay to make a costume out of someone's body type for laughs.


Staying home and not working, whether it's to take care of children or for another reason, isn't something to be ashamed of. But depicting women (and only women) as ditzy housewives is a common trope that needs to go away. Stay-at-home moms perform as much labor, both physical and emotional, as someone in a typical full time job — but the difference is, they never get to clock out.

Sexy Cop

When female police officers report sexual harassment to superiors, they often face retaliation that one study described as "often severe." Only 13 percent of officers nationwide are women, which could explain why they struggle to find support. Sexualizing their jobs doesn't help at all.


Women in jail and prisons across the U.S. face terrifying but preventable issues, like barriers to accessing tampons and pads and sexual abuse. Lawmakers are discussing how to make incarceration a more dignified experience for women, but there's a lot of work to do. Making light of the issues they face with a sexy costume isn't a good look.

As you continue to get everything together for Halloween, think about whether your costume could potentially further a harmful stereotype — whether it's intentional or not. The good news is that there are countless costume ideas that take little effort and also won't perpetuate myths about entire groups people. When in doubt, do one of those.