Welcome to Operation Ishtar!

Thanks to our wonderful backers, we’re now into the stretch goal phase of our Kickstarter. And because we’re total nerds, we have a name for it: Operation Ishtar.

So, welcome to Operation Ishtar!

The outpouring of enthusiasm for our project (and btw, we were just linked by Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, which is the coolest thing ever) means that we’ve blown past our initial goal and are now into stretch goal territory. And that means more amazing costumes!

Our goal with Operation Ishtar is to hit $7,000, which will unleash all kinds of awesome:


Think of it!

  • Inanna-Ishtar: the Ur-Goddess, the amazing Sumerian Queen of Heaven who was worshipped for 4,000 years, and whose image lives on in countless ways.
  • Queen Esther: the heroine of the Biblical Book of Esther, whose story is celebrated every year at Purim. People have been asking us for a Queen Esther costume since we started; now’s our chance!
  • Two more wild card costumes: backers will get to vote from our full list of possibilities—from Nefertiti to Elizabeth I, from Guinevere to La Llorona, from Ida B. Wells to Isadora Duncan.

Thanks to all of you for helping to bring diverse, creative, empowering costumes to women and girls. Thank you for helping us Take Back Halloween!

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What an incredible day this has been! Exactly two weeks ago we launched our Kickstarter to fund the next year of Take Back Halloween.

And today, less than halfway through our Kickstarter campaign, we reached 100% our initial goal!

We’re doing the happy dance of joy, because now we know we’ll be able to bring you another year of creative and empowering costumes. We’re thrilled and grateful and frankly just beside ourselves with relief and happiness.

You know what this means? This means that not only will we still be here, but we’ll be bringing you these awesome new costumes:

  • Catherine the Great
  • Bessie Coleman
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • Empress Theodora
  • Maria Makiling
  • Wild card costume — backers get to vote!

And on top of that…

A very special and wonderful backer (you know who you are and we LURVE you) has stepped up to commission a seventh costume!

Thank you, all of you, for helping to make this happen. We are so honored and grateful.

And you know who else is grateful? The girls who rely on our site but can’t necessarily afford to support us. Just last night I got an email from a young girl who is only 15 and can’t afford to pledge, but has been hoping and praying we would get funded. She says our site means “so much” to her. I get emails like that a lot; we have many, many fans among the younger set.

What’s fantastic is that we still have more than two weeks to go in our Kickstarter (I can hardly believe it as I type it), which means that we can think seriously about those stretch goals. I’ll talk about those more tomorrow.

For now, we’re just going to say a huge THANK YOU to all of you who made this happen. Thank you for believing in us and supporting our vision.

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One week down, three to go

October is off to a great start here in the land of Take Back Halloween. Our first week on Kickstarter has been fantastic, thanks to our wonderful community. We’re already 46% of the way towards our goal!

We’ve already gotten some very early media coverage:

We’ll be getting more press coverage as October rolls on. In the meantime, share these links with your friends, share our Kickstarter project on Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr, and help spread the word!

Thank you all so much for helping us Take Back Halloween.

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Like our site? Want us to be here next year? Join our Kickstarter!

Yesterday we launched our new Kickstarter campaign, timed to run through the witching season (aka the month of October). We’re raising funds for a new year of Take Back Halloween, so that we can continue to make the world safe for creative and empowering costumes:

The popularity of our site (did you know that we’re ranked #1 in Google for dozens of important women in history and mythology?) means that our costs have ballooned since last year. It is getting very expensive just to host the site. So we’ve divided our project into a basic funding goal, which is the minimum we need to guarantee a new season of costumes, and stretch goals to add more costumes.

Our basic funding goal will allow us to add six more costumes, with one of them to be voted on by our Kickstarter backers. We’ll get the Bessie Coleman costume ready in time for Black History Month in February, and then do the vote for the sixth costume following Women’s History Month in March. The rest of the costumes will debut at various points in the spring/summer of 2014.

We’re also going to add some new site features to help people sort through our 80+ costumes:


We will be thrilled just to raise enough money for the basic season. If we somehow raise more than that, we’ll add more costumes, with even more opportunities for backer input. Here’s a preview of the stretch goals we have in mind, just in case we get there:




It wouldn’t be a Kickstarter without rewards: the goodies that backers get for helping to fund a project.

All our backers will be enrolled in the Voting List, which means you get to vote on the new costumes. You’ll also receive our monthly newsletter with updates throughout the year.

For more tangible rewards, we’ve created a variety of small posters (8×10 and 11×14), available both as digital downloads and as professionally printed physical posters. These fit right into standard frames and mats, and make wonderful gifts. We’ll be shipping all of them in time for the holidays.

We have previews of the posters here on our website, since it’s not possible to upload really big images at Kickstarter: Poster Previews.

We also have a few commemorative pinback buttons left for those of you collecting them. They’re available at the Button Collector/Named Sponsor tier ($65) and above. The buttons are very limited, so for non-button collectors at the $65 level we’re offering an extra poster print.

At the Mojo Angel tier ($115), we’ll send you one of our larger 18×24 posters. We have two designs at that size: the Timeline of Women in World History and our new Goddess poster.

Once again we’re offering our super-generous backers the opportunity to commission a costume. If you’d rather commission a poster, we can do that too.

Here’s the whole scheme at a glance:


So head on over to our Kickstarter project page to read more, make a pledge, and help us take back Halloween!

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Enter our 2013 Costume Contest

Note: Winners have been posted here.


Our costume contest last year was such fun that we’re going to do it again this year. And this time with more prizes!

We’re thrilled to announce that five Amazon gift certificates have been donated for our costume contest this time. That means we can offer a prize in each of our costume categories, plus a Grand Prize for the best costume overall.

So whether you’re dressing up as Baba Yaga or Diana Ross or Grace O’Malley or Hypatia or any of the women in our costume categories, send us your pictures for a chance to win!


Best Notable Woman Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate

Best Queen Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate

Best Glamour Grrl Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate

Best Goddess or Mythological Figure Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate

Grand Prize for Best Costume Overall = $50 Amazon gift certificate


1. The photo(s) must be of you or a friend or family member in costume. If the photo is of a friend or family member, you must obtain their permission to submit it. You’ll need to tell us their name as well as yours, and note what your relationship is (sister, daughter, etc.).
2. The costume doesn’t have to be inspired by one of our Take Back Halloween designs, but we are more inclined to be impressed by one that is. The costume does need to fall into one of our four categories: a notable woman from history, a queen, a glamorous star, a goddess or mythological figure.
3. Please tell us what the costume is, in case we are too dense to figure it out.
4. The costume may be from this year or any previous Halloween.
5. You may enter more than once, if you have multiple costumes you want to share.
6. By submitting your photo, you are giving us permission to publish it on the Take Back Halloween website and on our Facebook page. You can send in multiple photos if you’re not sure what the best one is or if you need several angles to reveal the full glory of the costume.
7. Submissions should be emailed to contest@takebackhalloween.org.
8. The deadline for submissions is 11:59 pm EST on Friday, November 8, 2013.

Check out our 2013 Costume Contest album on Facebook to see the entries we’ve uploaded so far. We expect to publish the winners the week of November 11, 2013.

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On Friday the 13th, a thank you and a summing up

For most of the world, the 2013 Halloween season is just starting. For us, the 2013 season has been going on for months, as we designed and published the new costumes funded by our Kickstarter campaign. This week we unveiled the last of the 19 new costumes with Baba Yaga and Hedy Lamarr. Here’s the update I posted to our Kickstarter backers:

Look at what you did

Dear Backers,

This week we published the last of the 19 new costumes for our 2013 season, all of them made possible by YOU. With the terrifying Baba Yaga and the brilliant Hedy Lamarr, the full set of new costumes funded by our 2013 Kickstarter is now complete.

And it’s all thanks to YOU.

Our traffic is currently through the roof, and the new costumes are a huge hit with all the women and girls out there looking for an alternative to the Sexy Toaster school of Halloween costumes.

What makes me really happy is how wide our audience really is. The teenage girls on Tumblr are tearing it up (you should see the mash notes we get), twentysomethings love us, moms love us, and right now there’s a whole conference of professional women in STEM who are using our costumes for an upcoming event.

Here’s the full list of cool/beautiful/weird costumes your support made possible, all published over the past several months:

(click on each picture to go to the costume page on our site)

Baba Yaga:

Hedy Lamarr:


Liliuokalani costume page

Queen Mab:

The Morrigan:

Annie Oakley:

The Trung Sisters:


Christina of Sweden:

Marie Curie:
Marie Curie costume page

Ching Shih:

Grace Hopper:
Grace Hopper costume page

Rosalind Franklin:
Rosalind Franklin costume

Anne Bonny and Mary Read:

Amelia Earhart:

Grace O’Malley:

Vestal Virgin:


Thank you so much for your support, participation, and encouragement over this past year. And thank you, as ever, for helping us Take Back Halloween!



P.S. Look for your September newsletter in the next few days, with announcements about this Halloween and our coming season.

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Happy Birthday, Your Majesty

One hundred and seventy-five years ago today, Queen Liliuokalani was born. In honor of the occasion we’re unveiling our new Liliuokalani costume, which is based on the beautiful portraits made of Her Majesty in the 1880s and 90s:

Liliuokalani costume page

Queen Liliuokalani was a big favorite with our backers and Facebook friends when we ran the survey for new costumes, and we’re delighted to celebrate her memory. She’s a deeply loved figure in Hawaiian history and an inspiring role model for all of us.

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Finally, the Trung Sisters

Our new Trung Sisters costume, which we published yesterday, has been a long time coming. People have been asking us for a DIY Trung Sisters costume since our very first year of operation. If you grew up in a Viet community, you’re of course familiar with the seamstress-made costumes sometimes worn on Hai Ba Trung Day. But, we were asked, what about something that looks more ancient? What about something that looks like the Dong Son culture, and the pictures in the illustrated history books?

We came up with three basic requirements for the costume:

1. That it look like the ancient Viet style;
2. That it be recognizable as the Trung Sisters;
3. That it be, like all our costumes, easy to put together with no sewing required.

And this is the result:


With the swords, the feathers, and the bright yellow jackets and sashes, everyone will immediately know you’re supposed to be the Trung Sisters. Now, all you need to do is wrangle a couple of elephants to ride on…

The statue of Hai Ba Trung in the Suoi Tien Amusement Park, which is located at the 9th District, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The statue of Hai Ba Trung in the Suoi Tien Amusement Park, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Beyond the legend: If you’re doing research on ancient Vietnam, or if you’re just a history geek, here are some useful English-language scholarly articles to get you started.

If you understand Vietnamese, the documentary Di tim trang phuc Viet (In Search of Vietnamese Costumes) is a treasure trove. You can watch all 24 episodes on YouTube. Here’s the first one:

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What do Hypatia and Queen Christina have in common?

Aside from the fact that we have new costumes for both of them this season, which we published this week? They’ve both been the subjects of highly inaccurate movies with really cool costumes. Really cool costumes that we didn’t hesitate to mine for inspiration!

Here’s Christina of Sweden, and notice the still photo of Greta Garbo from the movie Queen Christina:


And here’s our Hypatia costume page, which uses Rachel Weisz from the movie Agora for the model:


But what about the history behind the movies?

For that, you need books. The most recent English language biography of Queen Christina is Veronica Buckley’s Christina, Queen of Sweden: The Restless Life of a European Eccentric. As for Hypatia, the key modern study is Hypatia of Alexandria by Maria Dzielska. If you want the CliffsNotes version (and an explanation of why the movie Agora is full of wrong), this Armarium Magnum blog post will fix you up.

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Titans of twentieth century science

Check out our new Marie Curie costume page:

Marie Curie costume page

And in case you missed it, last week we published Grace Hopper:

Grace Hopper costume page

Earlier in July we published Rosalind Franklin:

Rosalind Franklin costume

And with that, the original trilogy of great modern scientists we promised in our Kickstarter is complete.

But! Since you all voted for us to add a Hedy Lamarr costume, that trilogy will very soon become a quartet. ETA on Hedy is early next month.

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The greatest pirate of them all

Ching Shih costume

Madame Ching will cut your head off now.

We’ve been publishing our new pirate costumes in chronological order. First we had Grace O’Malley, who ruled the seas in Elizabethan times. Then we had Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who lived during the Golden Age of Piracy in the early 18th century.

And now our pirate trilogy is complete with Ching Shih (1775-1844), the latest and greatest of them all.

Ching Shih was more than a pirate captain; she was a pirate admiral, commanding a vast fleet that was really almost a floating civilization. In the early 19th century her Red Flag Fleet ruled the South China Sea, striking terror into the hearts of citizens and consternation into the hearts of government officials.

The Qing Dynasty tried and failed to defeat Ching Shih, and finally resorted to bribery. In exchange for giving up their thieving ways, Ching Shih and her pirates were granted full pardons and allowed to keep their loot. It was an unusually happy ending.

In addition to being a ruthless pirate, an organizational genius, and an incredibly savvy political player, Ching Shih was also a young mother with toddlers underfoot. It’s mind-boggling to contemplate what this woman’s life was like. She’s definitely on my list of people to visit once we have a working time machine.

There are no contemporary images of Ching Shih, but there is an amazing painted scroll depicting the Chinese campaign against the Red Flag Fleet. The 18-meter scroll is now in the collection of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, and it’s the background of our main illustration on the costume page.


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It’s Rosalind Franklin Day!

Today is the birthday of Rosalind Franklin, who would be 93 years old if she were still with us. I’m delighted to see that Google is honoring her with a Doodle:

Rosalind Franklin Google Doodle

We’re also celebrating the occasion with our new Rosalind Franklin costume page. (The color coordination with the Google Doodle is sheer coincidence. I hadn’t even seen the Doodle until just now.) Check it out:

Rosalind Franklin costume

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