Grownups in Costumes: Have Adults Ruined Halloween?

Grownups have inserted themselves into the one time of year when, traditionally, children could escape adult authority

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American adults now spend significantly more money on their own Halloween costumes than on their children’s. In fact, this year’s holiday is projected to ring up a recession-proof $8 billion in spending, only 13% of which ($1.1 billion) actually goes to kids’ costumes, compared with the 17.5% ($1.4 billion) adults spend on their own Dracula capes and French-maid getups, in addition to the food, alcohol and holiday decor. And let’s not leave the family dog out of the festivities: we spent $370 million on pet costumes in 2011.

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There’s nothing wrong with adults having a good time, needless to say. But you have to wonder why they have co-opted this children’s holiday to such a startling degree and whether they are taking away some of Halloween’s magic in the process.

Adult Halloween celebrations are well established, with roots in San Francisco’s gay community in the 1970s. Young heterosexuals without children quickly followed, and today the biggest Halloween spenders turn out to be men from the ages of 18 to 34. But it’s not only adult revelers who are edging kids out of the festivities. Overly vigilant parents have played a part too.

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Many communities have gutted trick-or-treating in favor of trunk-or-treating parties, in which kids move around parking lots, grabbing candy out of the cars of parents dressed as Professors McGonagall and Snape. The traditional going-door-to-door experience has been sanitized, conducted in near daylight with curfews, dwindling numbers of children and smothering adult supervision. Even the Halloween candy seems micromanaged by meddling adult hands: the influx of miniature candy bars and yogurt snacks seems a mean-spirited rebuke to a nation’s children whose health problems are surely linked less to Halloween than to the other 364 days of the year.

Controlling the Halloween environment is meant to keep children safe, of course, but most of our fears are unfounded. There hasn’t been a single documented case of Halloween candy poisoning. Ever. Sexual-predation rates are no different on Halloween than any other night of the year. The one thing we should be worrying about is keeping cars off the roads where children are trick-or-treating, and there are straightforward solutions to that problem.

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Some parents cherish family time on Halloween, of course. But we pay a steep price — and not only a financial one — when we insert ourselves into the one time of year when, traditionally, children could escape the long reach of parental authority without serious consequences.

When parents exert a lighter touch on Halloween, kids can learn a lot of important lessons: how to look after younger children, how to make a special costume out of almost nothing, how to greet strangers with confidence, how to test their own internal limits. Do they cross the line and egg the neighbor’s house? Shout rude things at the person who gives out apples? Even the freedom to choose when and how to eat one’s stash of sugar teaches consequences (like stomachaches) and discipline. But above all, a child-centered Halloween helps cultivate a child’s imagination, unfiltered by adult eyes and wallets, through the time-tested pleasure of make-believe.

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By stage-directing details that generations of kids managed just fine on their own, today’s parents communicate the message that fun requires large amounts of money and adult input to be meaningful. Really, who wants their child to reach that conclusion?

37 comments
AshleyHopeSimoneau
AshleyHopeSimoneau

I work in a Halloween store, and I can honestly say that I do see adults spending a lot more on their costumes than for the kids. But the reason for that is obvious. Children's costumes are smaller and cheaper! Most of the children's costumes I ring out are around 20-25 bucks. Families have multiple children, or they're trying to be money conscious when purchasing something they'll only fit or want to wear for one year. Adult costumes aren't meant for trick or treating usually, but Halloween parties. Adults are more willing to spend more on theirs because their costumes are more expensive to begin with. Good luck finding a nice adult costume for less than 49.99, and that may not even include all the accessories that you want. Another thing with adult costumes is that adults don't grow anymore! You can save the costume and be the same thing again in a year or two to get your money's worth out of it. Saying that adults care more about their costumes than their kids is just plain ignorant.

Jason Xu
Jason Xu

merica. the place of indoctrination of fear

an_lobo
an_lobo

@lapiedrarosetta *USE to be...Instead of used?

Miles Lacey
Miles Lacey

The helicopter parents driven by the paranoia someone might hurt their kids based on sensationalised media reporting on crime has ensured kids can't go anywhere without being under adult supervision, no matter where they live and regardless of the tradition in question.

teaber
teaber

@TIME @timeideas it would be nice if at least Time checked their grammar before tweeting... #losinghope

Hloniphizwe Coleman Motha
Hloniphizwe Coleman Motha

Child costume industry 1 billion dollars yearly. Adult costume industry 1.2 billion dollars yearly. They can't ruin their own market by having it cater to themselves (stuff you missed in history class)

catmikk
catmikk

Hey @time -- Vernacular much? "Didn't Halloween used to be a kid's holiday?" Gee. I'mma not sure. http://t.co/yeLrAIPG #badgrammar

slivedlittle
slivedlittle

@TIME @TIMEIdeas last year I banged two Disney characters

jmstela
jmstela

@TIME USE. Grammar Check.

Lisa Graham
Lisa Graham

Adults dressing up for halloween is nothing new!

Ron Smedley
Ron Smedley

The few weeks leading up to it is almost as bad as the pre-Christmas

Susan Layser
Susan Layser

When I was a kid I always enjoyed it when adults wore costumes, too. But they didn't have the poor taste to wear all of the ridiculous, "sexy" female costumes. Many people made their own costumes, which can make it more fun. I love Halloween and may dress up this year for my doctor appointment that day. I am pretty ill so the clinic staff has become close to me, and they will be dressing up that day.

Jim Laymon
Jim Laymon

I dread taking my daughter into the Halloween costume store and then having to explain all the Sexy Nurse, Sexy Policewoman, and Naughty Nanny costumes.

Sugar Berry
Sugar Berry

"Adult Halloween celebrations are well established, with roots in San Francisco’s gay community in the 1970s." Um...I've seen pictures of adult Halloween parties from as long ago as the '20s. Did anyone actually try and research before writing this article?

Bianca Ubeda
Bianca Ubeda

Helicopter parents, drunken frat guys and any costume with the word "sexy" added onto it have ruined Halloween.

Lisa Dee
Lisa Dee

Not this mom. I hate halloween!

Anna Koncz
Anna Koncz

Seriously! Adults are ruining halloween. Really?

Josh Robinson
Josh Robinson

Corporate-pressed consumerism ruins holidays...

Joe Kloos
Joe Kloos

Adults ruin everything, don't they?

tesuit
tesuit

@JulianeStockman Back atcha!

Jacks5Jacks
Jacks5Jacks

@TIME @TIMEIdeas No even made it sweeter

99islandsummer
99islandsummer

@TIME @timeideas I disagree when I was a kid my Mom was in on Halloween the adults dressed up & had a party separate from trick or treating

TrajanSaldana
TrajanSaldana

Are we even allowed to SAY Halloween any longer?

DavidSher
DavidSher

Do not forget the incident in Baton Rouge La a few years ago when a householder shot and killed a child in Halloween costume and was acquitted when brought to trial.