Straight Talk Advice

Oct 07, 2013

Mom struggling with daughter’s Halloween costume

Dear Straight Talk: I'm at wit's end. My daughter, 15, is planning her Halloween outfit. Last year, I was embarrassed by how "trashy" she looked but I didn't want a fight. I would like to set boundaries this year and wonder what the panel thinks is appropriate. Also, when do kids stop trick-or-treating? I felt sorry for the little kids exposed to her marauding band of underdressed overly-endowed "ladies."  Any ideas how to win on this? My daughter is horribly stubborn and hates me "interfering" with her life. —Trying to be a better mom in Vacaville, Calif.

Justin 26, Redding, Calif. Ask me a question

Rule of thumb: Trick-or-treat if you're dressing like a kid, but if you're dressing “adult,” it's over. At 15, your daughter wants to dress like her friends to fit in. However, taking a slutty look too far just makes a girl look insecure and needy. She will get attention, but even on Halloween, guys find girls more attractive when they are less revealed.

Brie 22, San Francisco Ask me a question

In high school, I loved Halloween. It was the one time I could dress “trashy” without being judged because everyone was dressing that way. I, too, was stubborn. I didn't value myself enough (the more revealing the costume, the better) and I'm sure I offended my mom. I adore her for believing in me enough to let me make mistakes. I would have rebelled more if she'd been too hard line. I also admire her for knowing the best parenting style for me, which was what I call “disappointment parenting.” When I messed up, she didn't yell or ground me, she just expressed disappointment. This made me feel awful instead of resentful of my punishment. Your daughter will come around. And no, she should not trick-or-treat now that she's in high school.

Taylor 16, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

This war won't be easily won. Halloween is the one night girls can be whatever they want; if it's a slutty nurse, so be it. I know girls whose parents set rules and they just change when they leave the house. Just be glad she doesn't dress like that every day!

Carlos 18, Fairfax, Va. Ask me a question

One can “be a kid” and go trick-or-treating — up to about age 19. Regarding slutty dressing, it's the norm for girls today. Best strategy: Discuss boundaries in a tone that has empathy for her reality. Otherwise she will automatically shut down. My mom set an unrealistic rule with me on a different topic and I just went behind her back. When she caught me, only then did we find a compromise. She had a point and so did I. You have to find that balance.

Dear Better Mom: Great wisdom from the panel! The most effective parents are neither rigid authoritarians nor pushovers, they find that sweet spot in-between (which varies with age, child and milieu). To hit the sweet spot on this topic, I recommend complaining loudly about a world gone mad, expressing alarm over your daughter's safety, setting matter-of-fact “exposure” limits, going over safety precautions, and getting coordinates for her parentally-supervised destination. What you may NOT do is name call or shame her for her choice of costume. She has one endgame: fitting in. Assuming her innocence while bemoaning societal norms sends the message that while you don't approve of the fashion, you do approve of her, which will make her more eager to please you the other 364 days. Take heart that even if she junks the exposure-lessening adjustments to her costume, you have impressed your values and care. 

Regarding trick-or-treating, I like Justin's rule. Parents of nine-year-old girls, you might want to leverage this.

Editor's Note: We covered this topic two years ago. The question then, about the risks of risqué dressing, led us down an important road not covered here. To read the whole column, click "Risks of risqué Halloween dressing." Below are some of the highlights of the panel's advice. Please note Katie's SAFETY TIPS.

Katie, 18, Auburn, Calif.: Halloween is my once-a-year "hall pass." But, be warned! Slutty dressing sends a message — even at Halloween. Safety rules: Never go anywhere alone. Stay with your friends. If they aren't immediately around you, stay where it's crowded. Be cautious of creepy guys (they are everywhere). Don't set your drink down, EVER. 

Jessie, 19, Eugene, Oregon: A "sexy" costume is okay, but there is a line between "trashy" and "sexy". I judge girls who overdo it and boys consider them easy — yes, even on Halloween.

Brie, 20, Santa Barbara, Calif.: It's fun to be slutty for one night. But be aware that it will attract negative attention. And parties only increase that. The thing to do is look sexy, not like you're working a corner. Remember: bad things can happen no matter what you're wearing, so stay with your friends.

Molly, 19, Berkeley, Calif.: Girls definitely dress more revealingly on Halloween and I suspend judgment that night. Nonetheless, slutty dressing is ALWAYS slutty. And while it isn't an invitation to sleep with someone, it IS an invitation to look. Many boys get these two things confused. For a sexy (not slutty) look, choose between low-cut or short, but not both. Best: a clever costume. 

Straight Talk TNT.ORG is a nonprofit that tackles youth’s toughest issues with youth’s wisest advice.Thanks to donations like yours, our acclaimed column benefits over 1 million people a week.

Click here to join our effort with a contribution!


  1. By Treyvon, age , from Yorba Linda, Calif. on 10/10/2013

    I don’t see any concrete reason to interfere with your daughters apparel.  Her dressing in this way that you find inappropriate is, in all likelihood, not the cause of any unhappiness on the part of anyone.  Also, I think you should re-examine your preconceptions in this situation.  You invoked the word “trashy” in your letter.  This word, and the “slut” word, are used to disparage women who are perceived as being too sexually active, but when men are very sexually active, they do not face this same sort of social social shaming.  Traditionalists in many countries seek to conceal the bodies of women from the world, however it is very unclear what benefits society reaps from such actions.

    Reply to this comment

Comment Form

Straight Talk Advice readers are known for their frank and constructive posts that lead to insightful conversations that help many people! Please keep these guidelines in mind when posting:

  • Be constructive: Needlessly cruel or obscene comments will probably be removed. Be conscious of this so your point can be heard.
  • Be relevant: Spam or senseless character attacks irrelevant to the discussion will also probably be removed.

Happy posting!

Straight Talk Advice Recommends