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But you will find them—or at least instructions for them—at a website called “Take Back Halloween.” Launched in 2010, the site is now in its second year of encouraging women to deck themselves out as queens, goddesses, and history-makers.
Thinking of dressing up as Jezebel, the notorious queen of ancient Israel? Or perhaps Nzinga, the great 17th century leader of Angola? Take Back Halloween has the costume plans, complete with illustrations and buying guides.
“This is not your typical Halloween costume thing,” says Suzanne Scoggins of the Real History Project, which sponsors the site. “We’re pushing back against the rule that women have to dress up as sex kittens. That shouldn’t be the only option for Halloween, much less a requirement. We’re trying to reclaim some space for a different vision of the holiday, where women can use Halloween to explore history and celebrate their heritage.”
The costumes range across world cultures. Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture, rubs shoulders with Asase Yaa, the Asante earth mother. The legendary Queen of Sheba is joined by the equally legendary Himiko of Japan. The designs span the ages as well: Mexico is represented by the 11th century warrior queen Lady Six Monkey as well as the 19th century Empress Carlota.
“Our site is geared towards Americans, but Americans are an extremely diverse lot,” says Scoggins. “Our users include Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Arab Americans, every kind of American. We have goddess people and history enthusiasts. So when we talk about heritage, we’re really talking about the whole world.”
But the emphasis is clearly on fun, and the costumes aren’t intended to be authentic historical reconstructions. All of the designs rely on easily obtained store-bought items, combined and sometimes modified in novel ways. The Ada Lovelace costume, for example, involves a satin chemise, a “king robe” from a costume store, a bridal tiara, and a gold stretch belt. None of the costumes require sewing.
Take Back Halloween is sponsored by the Real History Project, a non-profit organization devoted to cultivating a grassroots, pop culture approach to women’s history.