What’s “Too Sexy” for Kids’ Costumes?

Must children’s costumes be “business appropriate?”

Although nearly anything can be labeled racially or culturally “insensitive” at any time, Halloween means the far left is pulling out all the stops to put an end to pretty much any costume that is not derived from your own race or culture. No sombreros, no sarongs, and certainly no costume with rubber skin of a different color than your own. Predictably, many on the left have attempted to bring a taboo of “cultural appropriation” down upon the Moana costume. Polynesian characters are only to be worn by children of Polynesian heritage: for a white girl to wear the costume would be appropriating a different culture and this would “belittle” it — or so the thinking goes.

The commentary sphere is currently bubbling with hot Moana takes, including an egregiously bad one from Cosmo, which stated that wearing the costume is “probably not a good choice if your kid is white.”

Hoping to stir the pot a bit more (which is sometimes a good thing), Bethany Mandel wrote her take on Moana in Acculturated:

One of the benefits of the Moana costume, I thought, was that I could combine my love of making people outraged for no good reason with my daughter’s favorite movie. The plan was scuttled after seeing what the costume looks like, unfortunately.

Admitting that she had become more prudish since having a daughter, Mandel said she would not let her daughter wear the costume because it is immodest:

The top of the dress is strapless, and the bottom, a straw skirt, comes to the knee with a slit up the front that goes all the way past mid-thigh. I wouldn’t wear it to a business meeting; so why would I allow my preschooler to wear it trick or treating?

Let me just say, as the reigning prude and scrooge both here at Iron Ladies and The Federalist, I beg to differ — and I say this both as a mother and a Halloween party-pooper. It seems Mandel is taking a legalistic approach to modesty. While the rules seem pretty cut and dry (you may not wear spaghetti straps, you may not wear skirts above the knee, etc), legalistic restrictions end up adding a racks full of clothes to an “immodest” list that simply don’t need to be there. While I and millions of other women share Mandel’s frustration with finding shorts that “leave the bottom half of my anatomy to the imagination,” and other clothes that keep a little mystery to the feminine form, legalistic modesty puts unnecessary pressure on already stressful shopping excursions — especially when applied to toddlers.

Yes, there is a slit up the side of the skirt, and yes it’s strapless. Of course you wouldn’t wear such a thing to a business meeting: but toddlers don’t go to business meetings. What is appropriate for a toddler may be inappropriate for an adult, and vice versa, because their forms are different and their behavior and the kinds of behavior they may encourage are different. If a grown woman or a teenager gives everyone an eye full of cleavage as she bends down in public, that is clearly inappropriate. Yet if your four year old’s swimsuit gapes just a tiny bit at the top as she gets ready to go down the waterslide, is it the end of the world?

Along the same lines, a bodycon dress on a size 2 model is going to give a different impression than the same style of dress on a curvy woman. And while a very thin woman can manage a lower neckline without being provocative, women more generously endowed cannot. I have even found it the case that a shorter dress with a high neckline looks much more modest (on me, at least) than a long dress with an exposed back or low neckline. Rules don’t make modesty: the overall impression does.

The overall impression of a toddler in a Moana costume doesn’t read “sexy” or “provocative.” It reads, “cute little Disney princess.”

While rules of thumb can be helpful, a legalistic approach to modesty can treat all women, from young girls to the elderly, the same. (And while I am aware that certain religious communities, such as Orthodox Jews, have strict rules governing clothing, and I have deep respect for fellow humans of all backgrounds, I’ve no bones with saying this is a doctrinal difference stemming from a deep theological divide.) Thankfully, we are all different, beautifully and wonderfully made at every stage of life. That means our approach to modesty can flex with each individual as they grow and mature.

While I sympathize with the idea of building the habit of modest choices when your daughters are young, toddlers don’t need as many rules in that regard simply because they are toddlers. Really, come back when your toddler is wearing a mini prom dress and a full face of makeup and we’ll talk about inappropriate attire.

Of course, the probability of a wardrobe malfunction is much higher with small children than with adults, and in that sense, I can understand Mandel’s concern about the tube top. One might say it’s easier to redirect the child’s enthusiasm to a different costume, but if mom is really set on melting snowflakes this Halloween or daughter is absolutely set on being Moana, the problem is easily remedied by having the child wear a tank top underneath, or if you are crafty, simply adding straps. The skirt’s slit could be sewn up or a slip or leggings could be worn underneath. In any case, I’m fairly certain toddlers are not overly concerned about “authenticity.” They just want to be princesses.

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