What your Halloween costume says about you: confident, controlled or conformist

Whether you dress up as ‘Lemonade’-era Beyonce, Thor or a viral tweet, what you wear on October 31 reveals more about you than you might think…

Seong Gi-hun from Squid Game, early 2000s Britney Spears, WandaVision’s Wanda Maximoff, A$AP Rocky at the Met Gala and Cruella de Vil are only a few of the Halloween costumes trending this year, and ones you’re guaranteed to spot when you're out trick-or-treating or at a spooky party come October 31.

For decades, costumes tended to stick to the classics – vampires, zombie nurses, lumberjacks with an axe through their heads. However, the advent of social media has lifted the lid on costume possibilities.

Memes, tweets, Marvel characters, major celebrity stories of the year all inform the decisions of true-blue Halloween fans, who like to put together the most current and niche outfits to impress friends. And, more importantly, with which to wow social media.

“One of the reasons why Halloween is so great is because you can dress up and show off in a way you may not ordinarily do,” says Carolyn Yaffe, clinical psychologist at Medcare's Camali Clinic for mental healthcare. “You can be an entirely different person and have a whole new personality. You can show off a cool costume while either trick-or-treating with your children or at a party. And, best of all, you get candy.”

The days of Halloween being seen as an evening for children are long gone, and adults are likely to spend more time putting together their own looks than those of their offspring. However, family-themed costumes are incredibly popular, with the way parents dress their families a subconscious declaration of how they want the world to view them.

“Families may gravitate towards choosing themed costumes that represent their values and qualities,” says Christine Kritzas, counselling psychologist and education director at The LightHouse Arabia. “The costumes parents choose for their kids may project how they wish for them to be in real life. They may choose characters for themselves and their kids that are brave, strong, intelligent, kind, etc as they too wish to be perceived as being that way in their respective communities.”

Whether you mask-up or meme-ify yourself, the reason for your costume this year may be spookily spot on.

Why dress up?

“Adults have a lot of responsibility on a day-to-day basis. Halloween is one day where work, home, children, and bills can be delayed,” says Yaffe. “It is a time for people to take on a character other than ourselves; we can transform our reality for at least a day.”

Donning costumes for All Hallows’ Eve, the night when our ancestors believed the spirits of the dead roamed the Earth, dates back more than 2,000 years. Going door-to-door trick-or-treating is thought to have appeared around the 15th century in a practice known as mumming or guising. The tradition allowed people to impersonate spirits to receive offerings, while at the same time hiding from the spirits to protect themselves.

“Dress-up allows adults space to play too,” says Kritzas. “Through dress-up, adults are given an opportunity to access different parts of themselves and access their creative sides. It also gives adults an opportunity to tap into their inner child and connect with that part that still wants to play, have fun, let their hair down and be carefree. Halloween, in general, stretches an individual’s imaginations through role-playing, creative outfits and myriad identities.”

What your choice of costume says about you

Whether pulling an old favourite out of the dress-up box, or spending a month meticulously planning a costume, what you wear on the spookiest night of the year can say a lot about who you are.

“Scary and shocking costumes are usually [chosen by] individuals who wish to challenge social norms and who seek to be different in a sea of conformity,” says Dr John Huber, a clinical forensic psychologist and chief executive of Tripsitter Clinic. “Sexy costumes can be for people who wish to exude their inner prowess and show they can be seductive. People who dress as superheroes may be doing so in order to be a superhero to themselves.”

Indeed, part of the fun is transforming into someone or something completely different for the evening. Psychologists point to a phenomenon called enclothed cognition, which finds that our choice of clothing can affect and influence our psychological state. It explains the bright, elaborate costumes many performers wear on stage, as well as concepts such as power dressing when you want to be perceived as powerful or authoritative in the workplace.

“Our choice of Halloween costumes says more about our personalities than we might be aware of,” says Kritzas. “The type of costume you choose may be attributed to many things, such as feeling the need to explore traits that aren’t that prominent within yourself, or trying to reflect a part of yourself that you generally tend to suppress.

“Those who choose to wear ‘powerful’ costumes may be more confident, aggressive, bold and controlling in their lives. However, others may do the same because they’re generally fearful beings who struggle to take risks and lack in assertiveness skills.”

“Dressing up like a celebrity or a pop star is an opportunity to live a fantasy life for one day,” says Yaffe.

Of masks and memes

There’s no denying that niche outfits, such as dressing up as a side character in a TV show or film, a meme or something that went viral online, have become a popular subset of Halloween costumes.

“Dressing up as memes or pop culture events are a way to self-express while also being relevant to the world going on around us,” explains Yaffe. “Although we are dressing up, it is still a great way to express who we are as people and how we feel about the world.”

As esoteric as they are, by dressing up as a pop culture moment, you’re not being as individualistic as you might think. “Those types of costumes are the ‘social norm’ and they are a safe play for people who don't want to rock the boat,” says Huber.

Kritzas agrees: “When someone dresses the part of someone or something that is trending at present, they are often playing it safe. Everyone approves of this person, so they are likely to approve of their choice of costume then, too.”

An alternative option is to wear a mask. “Sporting a mask or wearing a lot of make-up allows for one to step outside of themselves and into the persona of another,” says Kritzas. “The masks allow for people to appeal to others differently and protect them from having to show how they really feel at that specific time. Wearing masks can also give us permission to indulge in a part of ourselves that we long to express or have neglected from our pasts. “

“It allows us to take a break from being ourselves and to live vicariously through someone else,” says Huber. “In a costume, you may do things much differently and people may react in ways to you that they wouldn't if you were just you. It’s also a form of escapism.”

That Halloween costume feeling all year round

Experts agree that Halloween offers the chance for people to step outside of themselves for the night, often in ways that give them additional confidence. It’s also the case that the feelings we experience that evening don’t have to be relegated to a once-yearly occurrence.

“The principals of neuroplasticity inform us that if we dress the part of a confident character, then we start thinking and feeling as if we are that character,” explains Kritzas. “This then allows our brains the opportunity to form a new neural pathway of thinking confident thoughts and feeling positive emotions to match those thoughts. In order to then deepen that neural pathway, it is important to seek out more opportunities to experience those feelings of confidence.”

Feel-good endorphins, released when we feel the kind of confidence experienced from dressing up in costume, can be replicated without the need for a zombie outfit on other nights of the year.

“If wearing a Barack Obama costume on Halloween allows you to be more social and confident, and brings about feelings of stability and assertiveness, then a way of replicating that persona in real life would be to enrol in public speaking classes and build that muscle of confidence to express your views clearly,” says Kritzas. “The more you build that ‘muscle’ (ie neural pathway), the more confident you will feel daily without needing to wait for next year’s Halloween to roll around.”

Updated: October 31st 2021, 4:13 AM