A Quick Guide to Culturally and Environmentally Appropriate Halloween Costumes

Environmental Implications

Halloween activities are estimated to reach pre-pandemic levels this year. More and more people are buying candy in anticipation of handing it out, decorating the house, and buying costumes to wear to a gathering. Nationwide costume spending is anticipated to reach 3.3 billion compared to 2.6 billion in 2020, and candy and decorations are following the same pattern. All of this is leading to a festive 31st! However, this increased consumption causes a harmful aftermath. The gross majority of Halloween costumes are “cheaply” made. They are predominantly polyester, a fiber that is excruciatingly difficult to recycle and repurpose, and takes over 500 years to decompose. An investigation, by environmentalist charity Hubbub, found that an estimated 2,000 tonnes of plastic waste was generated on Halloween from throwaway costumes in 2019. 2021 is estimated at $200 million more than 2019! This is a LOT of polyester in our landfills


  1. Buy second hand. Boheme has a huge selection of costumes. Local thrift stores, SPCA, Goodwill and All Things Right & Relevant may also have a Halloween section set up. 
  2. Use clothes you already have. Our staff made wonderful Mystery Gang costumes last year with clothes that they will wear year round.
  3. Make your own costume. Make it from second hand clothes, or purchase sustainable fabrics (like cotton, linen, and flannel) to make your costumes.  
  4. Keep your costume for future years, or wash and donate. 

What is cultural appropriation?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, cultural appropriation is when someone adopts a culture that isn’t their own and does not acknowledge or respect the culture being used for their own benefit. Examples can be hair, clothing and impersonating, like using popular African American Vernacular English terms, to fit a persona. An unfortunately common example is mimicking Indigeonous cultures. 

How to avoid offensive costumes. What if my child wants a specific costume?

There are three main rules to follow:

#1: Avoid a costume that is mimicking another person’s culture or physical appearance.

#2: If you wish to dress as a specific person/fictional person of a different culture be sure that #1 is followed, however it still may be offensive. Imagine every person who sees you in the costume, will everyone be okay with it? If not, it’s best to pick a different costume. 

#3: Be sure it is done with good intent and not for personal gain, and educate your friends and children. “We should pick a different costume, this one might hurt someone’s feelings”, it is never too early or late to teach empathy. 

This topic gets a little trickier when referring to specific fictional characters. Creators of the film “Black Panther” have said children of any race can dress up like the superhero, and when “Moana” was released, the voice of the titular character, Auli’i Cravalho, encouraged people to dress up as the Polynesian-based princess. The appropriation occurs when adults and children mimic physical characteristics, like hair and skin color, traditional practices, like tattoos, piercings, vernacular/language and clothing, and when done with less than wholesome intentions, like gaining popularity and mocking.