Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
Halloween has been slowly changing over the past few decades from a holiday largely for children into an event celebrated by the entire family. There was always money to be had in costume manufacturing, but as adults have begun to participate more, new products have arrived to meet their needs.
At the same time, the superhero genre has exploded from nerd culture into the mainstream. No one should be surprised that a genre that thrives on costumed identities would be a source of Halloween fun. Every year though, I find myself amused by the lengths some costume makers will go to avoid paying licensing fees.
On one popular website, shoppers can filter their choices into male and female superhero costumes. There are 197 of the former and 190 of the latter. So, congratulations to the females for achieving some kind of equality.
Each of those categories are subdivided into “sexy.” There are 79 sexy costumes for women. There are 2 for men. One is Wolverine and the other we’ll discuss in a moment. Perhaps that disparity is a marketing consideration. Maybe men do not search for costumes looking to be “sexy.” It’s probably old-fashioned sexism though.
Another male/female disparity is the number of knock-off costumes. Virtually all of the male costumes are directly associated with licensed intellectual properties. They have names like “Men’s Premium The Flash Costume” and “Marvel Deluxe Taskmaster Adult Costume.” My nerd heart thrills because they are going so far into the roster of characters.
Only twice does this page veer into potential licensing issues. “Adult Comics Comedian Costume” is clearly supposed to be the Joker. “Men’s Sexy Jester Costume” is a gender-flipped Harley Quinn costume. It is also the only “sexy” male costume. And well, it is revealing. Actually, it may be more revealing than Harley’s own costume in some of the movies and it was once thought scientifically impossible to shorten booty shorts beyond that level of shortness.
Women’s costumes, as noted, have a higher frequency of “sexy,” but there is also a variety of near-miss we-hope-you-can’t-sue-us costumes. Consider all of the possible ways that someone can be Wonder Woman without paying for Wonder Woman. Examples include: “Women’s Wonder Lady Costume for Adults”, “Women’s Wonderful Lady Costume”, “Corseted Wonder Lady Costume for Women”, and, of course, the ever-popular “Women’s Classic Sexy Wonder Lady Costume.”
The naming process seems almost like something mistranslated into English or perhaps a computer’s attempt to write its own costume names after being programmed with hundreds of costume names.
This is not limited to just DC’s Amazing Amazon (a trademarked name you won’t see on the site). Women who want to be Captain America without being Captain America, at least in an officially licensed sense, can be “Women’s Pretty Patriot” or “Women’s American Beauty Superhero.” The difference seems to be how patriotic midriff reveals are.
There is also the option to wear the licensed “Women’s Punisher Costume” or the unlicensed “The Punishing One Costume.” That’s a tough choice for a true Punisher fan. On the one hand, Punisher clearly plays outside the rules. On the other hand, I suspect that the vengeful vigilante Frank Castle would not want his female fans to support a bootleg industry while attempting to be a version of him.