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10 Halloween Costumes That Have Been Banned From Schools

Halloween costumes have changed in the last decade, with colleges and middle and grammar schools advising which costumes can—and can't—be worn.

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Beautiful woman with huge afro haircut on yellowDaniel_Dash/Shutterstock

Disco diva

As Halloween approaches, institutions of higher learning across the country are reminding students to ask themselves if their costume might be perceived as racist or offensive. College communications directors cringe when they see social media streams featuring their students, and sometimes college administrators, dressed in blackface, native American costumes, sombreros, and the like, saying they provoke racial tensions on campus. That “disco diva” costume may feel like rockstar-for-a-day role play to the student wearing it, but in their guidelines Wesleyan University advises dreadlocks and afro wigs may be perceived as “mocking representations of an entire culture” or trivializing “human suffering, oppression, and marginalization.” Find out why we wear costumes on Halloween in the first place along with the stories behind 13 other Halloween traditions.

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genieLia Koltyrina/Shutterstock


In 2015, Yale University‘s Intercultural Affairs Committee emailed their student body asking students to avoid wearing “culturally unaware and insensitive costumes,” and specifically called out “turbans,” among other elements that might be considered offensive.

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feathered headdressEverett Historical/Shutterstock

Indian Chief

The Yale costume advisory also specifically noted a “feathered headdress” (as did the Wesleyan advisory) could be considered cultural appropriation and be offensive to Native Americans.

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Certain Disney characters

Female students at the University of Notre Dame were cautioned in a 2016 email to think twice before dressing up as any of the following Disney characters: Moana, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan, and the Three Caballeros, because of concerns that they would”reinforce stereotypes.” The email explained: “More than ever, we need to be aware of how our behaviors and decisions impact other people. … Our intentions may be innocent, but the impact could be devastating.”

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anne frankUniversal History Archive/UIG/Shutterstock

Anne Frank

Students in fraternities and sororities at Tufts University were warned in 2016 by their Greek officials that they would face “serious disciplinary sanctions” for wearing offensive Halloween costumes, including “outfits relating to tragedy, controversy, or acts of violence.” This would have ruled out dressing as teen Holocaust victim, Anne Frank, a costume that had been widely marketed online until it drew controversy last year. That costume is still available today, but now it’s marketed as “WWII Evacuee Girl.”

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confederate soldiersEvan McCaffrey/Shutterstock

Confederate soldier

Barring outfits related to tragedy, controversy, or acts of violence also rules out dressing up as a Confederate soldier, it should go without saying. Avoid controversy altogether by wearing one of these 12 fun, easy group costume ideas that won’t offend.

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Portrait of a Maiko geisha in Gion KyotoJuri Pozzi/Shutterstock


Representation/stereotypes of Asian cultures—think “Chinese Gentleman” costume or “Asian Princess” costume—and “Geisha” costumes were explicitly called out by the University of Texas in their 2016 29-point checklist for avoiding offensive costumes. Last year a $50 “Geisha” costume kit drew heat from media outlets for cultural appropriation and perpetuating the notion that geishas were sex workers, The New York Post reported. The costume by Fashion Nova is still available.

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Mexican fans in uniform and sombrero are happy for their team. HorizontalAlexButova/Shutterstock


The list of unacceptable costumes includes “dressing up as a ‘Mexican’ by wearing a sombrero,” says St. Thomas University in Minnesota. Here’s why we celebrate Halloween in the first place.

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clownTom Nicholson/Lnp/Shutterstock


Middle and grammar schools also issue guidelines on the kinds of Halloween costumes students can wear. In 2016, the New Haven Public School District in Connecticut banned clown costumes, pending an investigation of four clown-related Instagram posts showing “menacing-looking clowns” with threatening captions, such as “watch out” and “wait and see.” The New Haven ban didn’t just include menacing-looking clowns, however, but all clowns, including Bozo the Clown, Ronald McDonald, and Krusty the Clown—which must have been good news to people with this phobia, who are deathly afraid of clowns.

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And weapons of any kind

And of course all schools routinely restrict costumes that include toy weapons, reflecting concern related to school shootings and a desire not to place a “friendly”spin on weapons. As far back as 2006, students at Strathmore Elementary School in Aberdeen, New Jersey were being advised not to accessorize costumes with weapons of any kind. The New York Times noted that the 2007 Halloween Parade at Strathmore “included a devil with no pitchfork,” a Power Ranger with no laser blaster, and a pint-size Batman who’d been advised to leave his utility belt at home. Not sure what to dress up as this year? These are some of our favorite Halloween costumes for families.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.

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