Tricky Business

October 5, 2013 | By | Comments (0)
Illustration by Gracia Lam

Illustration by Gracia Lam

One mother’s quest to preserve modesty in a modern Halloween.

The same argument happens every October. It begins the day the Halloween costume catalogs arrive.

“I want this one!”

Dixie is squealing, her voice cracking with excitement. She has taken a Sharpie and circled a photo of a model who looks 14, dressed in teased pigtails, a skintight, midriff-revealing shirt, miniskirt, and knee-high socks.

“What is she?” I ask, trying to swallow my disdain.

“I don’t know,” Dixie shrugs.

“Let’s keep looking,” I suggest, sitting by her on the sofa.

And we do. Through page after page of “Flirty Flapper” and “Cancan Girl” and “Sassy Dorothy” and “Bad Alice.” None of the tween or teen selections features a hemline below the Mason-Dixon (including “Eskimo Princess,” which seems like a recipe for frostbite). All are worn by young girls striking come-hither poses—hips jutted out, heads cocked, fingers on glossy pink lips.

Dixie points hopefully at “Sassy Dorothy,” who is dressed in thigh-high white stockings adorned with baby blue bows.


“Why not?” she whines. “She looks pretty.”

“She looks…inappropriate,” I explain, seizing on a word from my Southern upbringing. (A little too much trick, I think to myself.)

Dixie scrunches her nose. “I like it.”

Of course she does. She is 13. Full tilt into the inappropriate years.

I tell Dixie that when I was 13, I was a cat for Halloween. Not a sexy cat. A house cat. I explain how her grandmother sewed my costume in black fleece, a head-to-toe number that fit as loosely as a trash bag, with a tail pinned on the back. Not once did it occur to me that my costume should have been attractive. Or that I should have been attractive wearing it. That was the point of dressing up for Halloween. You were freed from looking like yourself.

“I don’t want to be a cat,” Dixie says flatly, ignoring the message. I sigh.

“What about this one?” I ask, tapping my forefinger on “Punk Rocker Zombie.”

“Mom, that’s for boys,” she sneers, exasperated.

“It doesn’t have to be,” I press. “It’s cool. Look! It comes with a skeleton vest!”

Dixie shoots me a look of pity, then drops her head. We are making each other tired.

“I’m not you,” she says finally, her voice soft. “Times are different now.”

She is right on both counts. But I am not ready to give up. Modesty is a particularly Southern virtue. One worth fighting for. The two of us eventually settle on a version of The Mad Hatter with a skirt and, per my mandate, thick leggings. Because while our culture may have moved past innocence, we know children are still children inside. No matter what costume they choose to wear.


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