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Halloween Costume Characterization

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Ah, Halloween. The one night a year when everyone, not just cosplayers, can — nay, are expected to — dress up as any fantastical thing they want to be. Naturally, when given this freedom of self-expression, the choice of costume can reveal something about the wearer. (And to be clear, while the majority of such examples in fiction do happen on Halloween, this also applies for any other occasion when characters get to dress in their choice of costume.)
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If a character dresses up as a traditional heroic figure like Superman or a Knight in Shining Armor, they're probably our morally-upstanding protagonist. The Mad Scientist is the stock costume of a science nerd. A Girly Girl is likely to choose to dress up as a princess or a fairy. The Ms. Fanservice will wear a Sexy Whatever Outfit. And two people wearing paired costumes (Batman and Robin, Raggedy Ann and Andy) are normally a duo with a close connection, whether they're a romantic couple, Heterosexual Life-Partners, or something similar.

If seen later in the story, their costume choice usually reinforces what we already know about the character. But if this occurs early enough, it can serve as an Establishing Character Moment that can quickly bring the audience up to speed on essential character traits.

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Can overlap with Halloween Cosplay if the character is dressing up as another known character. Compare Culture Equals Costume, which is a similar case of a wardrobe communicating personality. Contrast For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself, which has the lack of a costume as a key point.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • Discussed in one strip where Calvin defines a Halloween costume as the scariest thing you can think of. Proud tiger Hobbes thinks the scariest thing is himself, while Calvin, the cynically gruesome child with frequent concerns about what humans do to the planet, says his costume will be a barrel of toxic waste.
    • Double subverted in another Halloween strip where Calvin appears to not be wearing a costume but claims he's going as "another resource-consuming kid in an overpopulated planet" who will take over the world once the adults die out. This "costume" demonstrates his cynical but egocentric philosophy.
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    Film — Animated 
  • In Scary Godmother, the kids' costumes reflect an aspect of them.
    • Daryl appears as a piece of candy because he has a big Sweet Tooth and invokes this in the hope hope that him being a big piece of candy would make the givers hand out more.
    • Katie is a black cat and relishes in the fun and scares of Halloween.
    • Bert is a baseball player in an SUV showing off how he's more level-headed and has big aspirations.
    • Jimmy is a devil, reflecting his personality and being all into scaring his cousin Hannah. In The Revenge of Jimmy, it reflects his Big Bad status, trying to ruin Halloween out of sight of his friend's plans.
    • Hannah is a fairy princess, reflecting her innocence and naivety.
  • SCOOB! shows the Mystery Inc gang as kids on Halloween. Shaggy and Scooby are their favorite superheroes, establishing their fandom for Blue Falcon and Dynomutt (which goes on to factor into the movie's plot). Daphne is also a superhero as Wonder Woman, while Fred is a Knight in Shining Armor. Meanwhile, Velma goes for the obscure nerd reference by going as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

    Film — Live Action 
  • The Addams Family ends with Wednesday being asked why she isn't dressed up for Halloween.
    Wednesday: I'm a homicidal maniac. They Look Just Like Everyone Else!.
  • Played with in Legally Blonde. Elle is tricked into turning up in a costume for a Halloween party where everyone is dressed normally. She goes as a Playboy Bunny, which fits with her initially shallow, free-spirited, beautiful rich sorority girl image. However, the film is also about her Hidden Depths and how she's much more than the shallow Dumb Blonde everyone pegs her as.
  • In Mean Girls, Cady explains that Halloween is the one day a year when women are allowed to dress in stripperiffic outfits and not face any criticism for it. The Plastics, being the hottest girls in school, exploit this to the fullest; Regina dresses as a Playboy Bunny (to her father's horror), Gretchen's cat costume includes a skintight catsuit, and Karen wears a negligee and mouse ears in order to go as a mouse. The fact that Cady instead put together an actually scary zombie bride costume is used to highlight that the girl who was homeschooled for most of her life by a pair of scientists is a Fish out of Water in a modern high school.
  • In Muppets Haunted Mansion, Kermit and Miss Piggy do the "cutesy couples' costume" thing and dress up as each other. From the way they talk, it was Piggy's idea and she pressured Kermit into it. Meanwhile, Fozzie dresses as a banana, which reflects his style of comedy.
  • Zig-zagged in Trick 'r Treat, in which it's a recurring motif that one's costume hints at their personality, like a girl wearing a witch costume being knowledgeable of the traditions and superstitions of Halloween. But sometimes this is inverted; examples include a young woman dressed as Little Red Riding Hood turning out to be a werewolf and a girl dressed as an angel turning out to be a massive Jerkass.

    Literature 
  • In Eleanor & Park, Park reminisces on some Halloween costumes he wore as a child that nobody got, such as Doctor Who and Groucho Marx. This ties into both being a geek and his difficulties fitting in to his predominantly white and non-geeky community.
  • Mercy Watson, Princess in Disguise: Played with. Mercy's costume does indeed indicate someone's character, but it doesn't display Mercy's personality so much as that of her doting mistress. Mercy only agrees to wear the costume to get treats.
  • In Microserfs, there's a Halloween party the group goes to, and many of their costumes reflect aspects of their personalities. Todd (a bodybuilder) goes as "Atlas" to show off his muscles (his "costume" consists of a speedo and a globe tied to his shoulder), while venture capitalist Ethan goes as "Money" (a dyed green wig and green makeup so he looks like George Washington from the US Dollar bill). The characters also note that even though he's not wearing a costume, Cloud Cuckoo Lander Michael still looks like he's wearing a costume anyway.
  • Princesses of the Pizza Parlor: Katelyn really likes witches. It's always her Halloween costume, as said when introduced in the first story.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Bones, Brennan, the show's co-hero, dresses up as Wonder Woman. Angela also counts as she's Cher, which does fit her free spirited pre-marriage lifestyle. The others, interestingly, avert it. Hodgins is Captain Smith of Titanic fame, Cam, despite being one of the good guys, is Catwoman. Zach is the rear end of a cow with a paleontologist as the front, while Booth is a nerd.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this is inverted for our eponymous heroine in their Halloween Episode. Buffy chooses not only a Girly Girl costume but also a Gorgeous Period Dress because it reflects what women were wearing when Angel was actually alive. This causes major problems when (of course) a curse hits Sunnydale, turning people into the reality of their costumes. As Willow bemoans, "Why couldn't she have dressed up as XENA?!?"
  • In the Halloween episode of Euphoria, the costumes all say something about the characters' personalities. Rue and Jules dress up as Romeo and Juliet, reflecting that they're doomed lovers. Nate dresses up as a convict, mocking the fact that he just escaped a serious assault charge. Kat dresses up as Thana from Ms. 45, reflecting her desire to avenge herself on all the boys who've supposedly ignored or abused her over the years. And Maddy dresses up as Alabama Whitman from True Romance because she's Nate's "outlaw lover".
  • In Frasier, Niles has a costume party where everyone dresses up as their favorite character from literature. Roz dresses up as 'O', from The Story of O (unsuitably dressed in typical BDSM leather harness instead of O's long gown).
  • In Freaks and Geeks, many of the cast's costumes reflect their personalities; Cloud Cuckoolander Bill dresses as The Bionic Woman (which show creator Paul Feig really did do one Halloween), Sam makes a homemade costume of Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) out of some cardboard boxes, and Neal (who is into comedy but whose references are somewhat dated) goes as Groucho Marx (at first, he tried to go as Charlie Chaplin but when he applied the mustache it just made him look like Hitler). Meanwhile, Harold dresses as a vampire (a Shout-Out to Joe Flaherty's Count Floyd character).
  • Home Improvement: One year, the Taylor boys announce that they want to be The Three Stooges for Halloween. It takes their mom a moment to make the connection:
    Jill: Why would you want to be the Stooges? They're obnoxious, they're always hitting each other — it just became clear.
  • In the Halloween Episode of How to Rock, the members of Gravity 5 were going to be dressing up as a hand- each of them having to wear a different finger costume, with the positions being somewhat meaningful to their personalities. The rebellious Stevie, for example, played the middle finger. Kacey, however, decided to dress up in an elaborate princess outfit once the band got booked to play at the Alpha Bitch's Halloween party- suiting her self-absorbed and attention-hogging nature, especially considering it made the group costume impossible.
  • On Last Man Standing, Mike Baxter suggests his family all dress up like each other for Halloween. He however, being a staunch Republican (like his actor), dresses as President Donald Trump. Chuck Larabee, Mike's Blaa..frican-American friend and neighbor, also dresses like President Trump, but with a Devil's Tail. Chuck looks at them both and says that him dressing like that is ironic, Mike dressing like it is a tribute.
  • In The Office (US), Dwight dresses as various horror characters (Pinhead, Joker, Jigsaw's puppet, etc.) to show his love of horror and dark fantasy. He also is usually armed with real weapons, showing his Serious Business attitude (and lack of common sense).
    • Jim usually puts a lack of effort into his costumes (one example was taping three black circles to his chest and calling himself "3 Hole Punch Jim") representing his lax attitude towards work. The one time he did dress up was as Popeye, while Pam dressed as Olive Oyl.
    • Michael's love of comedy is represented through his costumes (such as McGruber and Dick in a Box). Another year has him dress as Darryl (who is black), showing how Michael can be rather tactless with his humor.
  • Power Rangers:
  • Superstore: Jonah always has low-key, politically relevant Halloween costumes that reflect his Soapbox Sadie politics and personality. In one Halloween episode, he goes as Brexit (an exit sign over a British flag shirt), in another he goes as "the disappearing bee crisis" (a yellow and black striped shirt, a bee antenna headband, and a question mark over said shirt), and in yet another, he goes as Gerrymandering (wearing a blue and red patterned shirt to represent districts). Every year, no one understands his costumes despite his claims that they're very obvious.
  • In Veronica Mars, Mercer goes as Alex from A Clockwork Orange. He's the Hearst College serial rapist.
  • WandaVision: Whether they realize it or not,note  Wanda, Vision, and Pietro wear Cheap Costume versions of what they wore when fighting with the Avengers; with the added joke that they're based on their uniforms from the source comics rather than their actual outfits from the movies. Regarding spoiler characters: Billy also wears a version of his comic-book "Wiccan" outfit, though there's no in-universe basis for it. Tommy, meanwhile, wears a miniature version of Pietro's costume instead of his own comic outfit, out of admiration for his Cool Uncle. And Agnes dresses up as a witch, Foreshadowing that she really is one.

    Theatre 
  • In Be More Chill, every character gets a costume at the Halloween party which reveals aspects of their personality:
    • Jeremy wears a cyborg costume to the Halloween party, representing how the SQUIP implanted in his brain has essentially made him part-robot.
    • Christine wears her Juliet costume to the party since her life practically revolves around doing theater.
    • Brooke wears a "sexy dog" costume, and as a later scene demonstrates, she is practically Chloe's lapdog.
    • As for Chloe herself, her "sexy baby" costume hints at her disturbing view of sexuality, as demonstrated during "Do You Wanna Hang?" when she nearly molests Jeremy.
    • Rich wears a Jason Vorhees costume, but uses a loaf of bread instead of a machete. This symbolizes how he tries to be an intimidating bully (with help from his SQUIP) but is actually quite dorky deep down.
    • Jake dresses as Prince because he misunderstands Christine's request to go as princess and prince. This shows off Jake's charismatic persona, but also foreshadows that Christine and Jake aren't actually that compatible.
    • Jenna wears a clown costume, as she mostly serves to entertain her social circle with her gossip, despite nobody getting to know the real her.
    • Michael sneaks into the party wearing a homemade monster costume of garbage, which he uses to camouflage in the trash-filled bathtub. This shows off his geeky creativity and how he can easily hide from the popular crowd.
  • Legally Blonde features a repeat of the "Playboy Bunny" incident from the movie; however this time when questioned about it Elle takes a pair of glasses from another party guest and turns her costume into Gloria Steinem during her famous undercover exposé of the Playboy Club, showing both her Hidden Depths and her ability to think quickly on her feet.

    Video Games 
  • While Avengers Academy was running, it had a number of costumes during Halloween events reflecting the wearers' character. Iron Man displayed both his ego and irreverence by wearing a cardboard-box Cheap Costume version of his regular armor. Loki dressed as his brother Thor, in an attempt to mock him (and a thinly-veiled display of jealousy). Hulk riffed on his alter-ego Dr. Banner by dressing as a Mad Scientist — as he puts it, he's mad and a scientist, so the costume was a no-brainer. The Comically Serious Maria Hill got stuck in a ridiculous banana costume. And Black Widow was cynical and sarcastic as always, with a "This Is My Costume" Fun T-Shirt.
  • If Gary from Bully hadn't already established himself as being up to no good beforehand, his showing up for Halloween pranks dressed as an SS officer (sans the swastikas) certainly seals the deal.
  • The annual Overwatch Halloween brawl adds skins of the characters in Halloween costumes (corresponding to the scary story which serves as a Framing Device). For example, Junkrat, a Mad Bomber who arms himself with Homemade Inventions is Dr. Junkenstein, the Mad Scientist. The only exception is Mercy, a kind-hearted doctor, whose costume is an evil witch who makes Faustian Bargains.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: Every Halloween (and one Decemberween), the entire main cast dress up as characters that often go hand-in-hand with their own personalities. For example, Strong Sad goes as celebrities or fictional characters from the 1960s to the 1980s (Tony Clifton, Vyvyan from The Young Ones, Andy Warhol, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the fat kid from The Far Side) while the King Of Town goes as food mascots or characters with facial hair such as Hägar the Horrible, Cap'n Crunch, and Super Mario. Coach Z ends up being the most consistent as he dresses as a rapper almost every Halloween, usually one from The '90s. The Poopsmith seems more than a bit of a nerd, favoring niche sci-fi and video game characters like M. Bison and Ookla the Mok.

    Webcomic 
  • Pixie and Brutus: On their first Halloween together, Pixie wants to do a costume pair. Originally, the innocent kitten suggests a bee and flower, or the princess and the pea. Brutus turns down both ideas, but when Pixie proposes Batman and Robin, the more active theme appeals to Brutus. Unfortunately for him, it's subverted when he ends up as Robin and Pixie gets the Batman costume.

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs (2020): In the Halloween Episode "Fear and Laughter in Burbank", the Warner siblings dress up as another famous Comic Trio, the Marx Brothers (Yakko as Groucho, Dot as Chico, and Wakko as Harpo).
  • Bob's Burgers: Louise Belcher tends to dress as characters from darker works like Anton Chigurh and the Driver. The kids in general have a fondness for pun-based costumes; in "Nightmare on Ocean Avenue Street" Gene dresses as André 3000 the Giant, Tina dresses as a nun with a briefcase ("Nun of Your Business"), and Louise dresses as The Dragon with the Girl Tattoo.
  • The Halloween Episode of BoJack Horseman depicts Mr. Peanutbutter and his ex-girlfriends' various costumes over the years. Mr. Peanutbutter always tries to match costumes with his girlfriends, showing his need to connect with them, but it doesn't always work out. The costumes also usually reference something contemporary for the time period during which the flashback takes place.
    • In 1993, Mr. Peanutbutter dresses as a hippie, while Katrina barely dresses up ("Can't I just put on a stupid hat and say I'm Blossom?"), hinting at how little she cares about the party and the apathetic personality she would develop in her later years.
    • In 2004, Mr. Peanutbutter misunderstands his girlfriend Jessica's request to go as characters from The Notebook and dresses as an actual notebook. This hints at how poor he is at communicating with his girlfriends.
    • In 2009, Diane's costume (Baby Bjorn Borg, a pun on the Baby Bjorn from The Hangover, The Borg from Star Trek, and tennis player Bjorn Borg) is something complex that Mr. Peanutbutter supports even though he doesn't understand it. The only one who gets the costume right away is BoJack, showing that even before he and Diane formally meet each other, they already connect on a personal level.
    • In 2018, Mr. Peanutbutter's girlfriend Pickles, an influencer obsessed with social media, dresses as a strange new app that Mr. Peanutbutter barely understands, demonstrating how young she is.
    • At every Halloween party, Princess Carolyn dresses as an aviator, alluding to a previous episode that depicted her childhood fondness for Amelia Earhart and her desire to take risks and do great things.
  • In the Halloween special for Codename: Kids Next Door, Genki Girl Numbuh 3 goes dressed as a butterfly and Workaholic Numbuh 1 goes as a cyborg.
  • Most of the Duck family's costumes in the DuckTales (2017) episode "The Trickening!" are rather character-appropriate.
    • Della and Donald are a demon and an angel respectively, Della being a devil-may-care adventurer that tends to cause problems for everyone else, while Donald is the put-upon voice of reason.
    • Huey goes as Gizmoduck, Huey being the smartest and most tech-savvy of the triplets (who also idolized Gizmoduck early on). His costume is also relatively elaborate, showing that he puts great effort in everything he does.
    • Dewey wears a Hawaiian shirt and eyepatch to be a pirate on vacation, Dewey being the imaginative one with a lust for adventure and a carefree attitude.
    • Louie goes as Huey. More specifically, he just wears his hat, playfully mocking his sibling while also not putting in any real effort.
    • Webby goes as Balor from Celtic Mythology, relying on her historical knowledge to make a costume no one else gets.
    • Scrooge dresses as a skeleton, him being the oldest member of the family.
  • Ed, Edd n Eddy: In "Ed, Edd n Eddy's Boo Haw Haw", Ed dresses up as a viking called Lothar (reflecting his obsession with fantasy comics), Eddy is a zombie Elvis (his desire to be cool), and Edd is a bacterium (since he's a science nerd), which his friends don't find all that exciting.
    Eddy: What the heck are you supposed to be?
    Edd: Guess, Eddy. I am less than five micrometers tall, yet, I pack a truly terrifying punch. [his friends stare in confusion] Don't get too close to me, or I may infect you! [they still don't respond] In the Dark Ages, I caused millions of deaths. [still nothing] The Bubonic Plague! I'm the Bubonic Plague!
    Ed: Like on your teeth?
    Edd: NO! Not plaque, plague! Plague!
  • In Gargoyles, Elisa dresses up as Belle, which neatly summarizes her relationship with Goliath. When the holiday comes around again in the comic book continuation, she further establishes herself as a Disney Princess fan by dressing as Jasmine this time.
  • It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown:
    • Lucy says that the key to a good Halloween costume is to pick something that is the opposite of your personality. She chooses a witch, the joke being that it's actually in line with her crabby personality.
    • Charlie Brown wears a botched Bedsheet Ghost costume with at least a dozen scattered eye holes, reflecting his Butt-Monkey status.
      • In the comic, this costume is worn by Linus, demonstrating his youth and inexperience.
    • Pig-Pen, like many of the other kids, also wears a ghost costume; but it's as dirty as he normally is.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy Halloween Episode "Grim or Gregory": Billy’s costume is a toilet paper mummy, reflecting his silly and simple nature. Mandy’s is as she says, “a ruthless, high-priced, prosecuting attorney”, with the addition of monster claws for “rending human flesh”, which reflects her cold, ruthless personality.
  • The Loud House episode "The Whole Picture" has Lucy dressing for Halloween as a vampire during a flashback, which ties into the fact that she's a Goth, her favourite TV show is about vampires, and she wants to be a vampire.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has two episodes set on Nightmare Night (the pony equivalent of Halloween), "Luna Eclipsed" and "Scare Master".
    • In "Luna Eclipsed", the studious Twilight Sparkle demonstrates her interest in history and magic by dressing up as the wizard Starswirl the Bearded—a historical figure so obscure, none of her friends recognize her costume. In "Scare Master" she continues the history theme by dressing in a Roman soldier's armor; this might also be a tribute to her older brother, who's the Captain of the Royal Guard.
    • Rainbow Dash wants to be an elite stunt flyer in the Wonderbolts, so both of her costumes involve flight: first a Shadowbolt (the fictitious evil counterparts of the Wonderbolts), then an astronaut.
    • Applejack has a Wizard of Oz theme, as she dresses up like a scarecrow, then a lion. The latter's also an ironic Stealth Pun: Applejack represents the Element of Honesty, so she's the last pony you'd expect to be lyin'.
    • Rarity, The Fashionista of the group, dresses in a fabulous merpony costume of her own design in "Scare Master". (She's completely absent from "Luna Eclipsed".)
    • Fluttershy, the Lovable Coward of the group, normally doesn't dress up because she finds the whole holiday too scary. In "Scare Master", when her friends convince her to give Nightmare Night a try, she has trouble finding a costume she likes: she notices how most of Rarity's suggestions would obscure her vision so she can't see danger, or prevent her from running away from danger. She eventually settles on a simple vampire-esque black dress, likely as a Call-Back to her turn as a vampire in "Bats!"
    • Pinkie Pie, the unpredictable Fun Personified character, chooses costumes that are silly and otherwise don't follow any pattern: a chicken, then a roller derby skater.
    • Spike, the dragon, dresses up as a dragon in both episodes. As in, he wears a full-body costume to make himself look like a slightly different dragon. This hints at Spike's ongoing attempts—as a dragon raised by ponies, who doesn't yet have any other dragons as friends—to define his own identity and relationship with dragon culture.
  • In both Halloween Episodes of Ready Jet Go!, the kids wear costumes that reflect their personalities:
    • Jet, the local alien, wears an alien costume to conceal his identity even further. He also thought that the costume was a cucumber, showing his eccentricity.
    • Sydney wears a Commander Cressida costume, showing her nerdiness and her love of the titular comic book heroine.
    • Sean wears a Neil Armstrong costume, showing his love of space and adoration of Neil Armstrong.
    • Mindy wears a costume of her teddy bear, Stuffy Bear, showing her innocence and her Animal Motif that involves bears.
    • Mitchell wears a Sherlock Holmes costume, showing his aspiration to be a detective. Sherlock Holmes being a classic literature character also shows Mitchell's love of classic books and desire to be taken seriously.
    • Finally, Lillian wears a pirate costume, showing Hidden Depths - she's more than just a girly girl.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants, "The Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom" has Mr. Krabs, who is very greedy and cheap, dress up as a dollar bill. Sandy, the resident science nerd, dresses as a mad scientist, Plankton, the show's regular antagonist, wears a devil costume and SpongeBob, who doesn't like how scary Halloween is, dresses as a lovely flower.
  • In the South Park episode "Pinkeye", the characters wear the following Halloween costumes:
    • Cartman, being a racist jerk, dresses as Adolf Hitler.
    • Stan dresses as Raggedy Andy because his crush, Wendy, was going to go as Raggedy Ann.
    • Kyle goes as Chewbacca and so does pretty much every other student, showing that he has trouble standing out.
  • Mr. Garrison, being gay and gender-queer, dresses as fabulous actress Marilyn Monroe.

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