Readers Ask Our Opinion on Halloween Wigs

A roundup of the week's best conversations, with a Halloween theme.

By Channing Kennedy Oct 31, 2010

Oh my goodness. Jorge Rivas’ post from last week, "Seven Racist Costumes to Avoid This Halloween," is still getting comments! Seems there’s a lot of debate about what’s offensive, what’s funny, and what’s just plain racist. Fair questions!


So, I have a blonde curly wig – called "blonde curly wig" that looks like an afro. I am going retro. I think its really pretty – that’s why I got it. Not trying to be another race. But this site makes me nervous. So my wig is offensive?


That’s my question too. I wanted to go retro, but my sister forbade me from wearing an afro. I grew up in the 70s when afroes were the bomb. We all wanted one, no matter what ethnicity you were from. It was part of the 70s. But… just to be safe… I’m not wearing one. Don’t want to offend. After all, I can’t explain my intentions to everyone I meet.


Yeah but here’s the thing if it wasn’t the hair you had in the 70’s what message are you trying to send? I mean you’re turning it into a fad and something to make fun of, if it’s your hair then that fine. There were other styles during the 70’s utilize those.


are you serious? "what message are you trying to send?" First of all I doubt any person who decides to wear a wig on Halloween is trying to send any message besides "i’d like to have a different hairstyle for a night, one that matches my Halloween costume". do you realize that every race, even white people, also have hair curly enough to be considered an "afro"? I mean look at that picture up there! The only thing remotely offensive about it is the fact that they call it a "ghetto fab wig". Do you feel offended whenever you see a woman with a hairstyle like hers? Are you saying that just because I didn’t have an "afro" at one point in my life that means that if i decide one day to either get a perm or wear a wig then I am sending a racist message?? I’m sorry but that’s ridiculous.

So what to wear? The old standby–if you have doubt, pitch it out–is handy, but can’t cover every situation (especially if you’re not sure of what you’re not sure of). I think we can do better. In a previous life, I was the manager of a costume shop in a mostly-white midwestern college town; I have seen some stuff. Based on my experiences and on the wisdom of my coworkers, here are some very informal wardrobe hints for the coming weekend.

• Read these guidelines by the Dean of Northwestern University. As commenter Eli Shrinks says, "Right on. While it would be great if this e-mail were more about doing the right thing than not embarrassing the school, it’s admirable for a school to say anything at all on this subject." They read like someone put a lot of thought into them — let it never be said that ‘fear of school shame’ can’t motivate some useful discourse on race.

• Don’t wear anything that belittles the sacred (like a turban or a headdress), or that’s been used to dehumanize (like blackface or ‘coolie’ buckteeth). And if you’re dressed like a person who’s poor due to decades of systemic disparity… be prepared to explain just why that’s funny, to a polite stranger, while in line at the corner store during a mid-party beer run. Or to voters, during your Facebook-plagued senate run in the year 2022.

• Going as Antoine Dodson? Buy officially licensed. Think you need blackface to complete the ensemble? Pick another outfit, champ.

• Not sure about something? Ask a friend whom you trust to tell you the truth. And thanks to all of our commenters who trust us enough to post their questions. It means a lot to us!

• And finally, if you want to make fun of someone with your costume, apply pressure upwards. There’s no end of powerful people in need of mockery; why waste a golden opportunity like Halloween by dissing the structurally dissed?

And, if you’re on a budget, you probably already have a contemporary Muslim outfit on your body right now.

Finally, we had a few commenters point out that ‘Native American’ was absent from our original list of what not to wear. Just to make it perfectly clear, here’s a handy graphic from artist Jen Mussari: