How Far Is Too Far? How to Avoid Insulting Others With Your Costume

It seems like a great idea: a costume that is so over-the-top, so ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh at it. Sometimes funny costumes are the centerpiece of the party and make for great conversation starters, but other times, your humor needs to be tamed according to the occasion.


The fact is not every costume is appropriate for every situation, and in some cases, a costume can even be offensive to others. Even if your intentions are good, it’s important to consider others’ feelings before you dress up.

Rule #1: Consider the Situation

Every party is different. The crowd at your friend’s annual Halloween party will be different than the one at the costume party fundraiser sponsored by your child’s school, which is different than the crowd at a hot night club. When you’re choosing a costume, consider who else will be at the event and choose an outfit that’s appropriate for the occasion. That most likely means that the sexy devil costume you wore for a night on the town should probably stay in the closet for the PTA party, where a more benign costume, like a fairy tale character or 1980s pop singer, would be better received.

However, even if you’ll be among friends, be sensitive to their opinions and potential hot button issues. For example, if you know that your friend is a staunch supporter of a particular political party, don’t wear a costume showing the leader of that party in a less than flattering way, such as wearing a dunce cap. The outfit might be funny, but your friend could feel that you’re disrespecting his opinions and you might end up in a heated debate that has no place at a social gathering.

Another potential landmine is choosing a costume inspired by a recent news story. Dressing up as someone making headlines can be timely and clever, but if that person is in the news for being controversial or committing a crime, others might find your look offensive. You never know when someone has been personally affected by a news story or if your costume could incite feelings of anger or hurt, so take care when using the evening news as inspiration.

When Making Fun Isn’t Funny

Dressing up as a specific person can often be funny — especially when it’s someone with an immediately recognizable feature or style. But when that person is someone you know, or likely to be at the event you’re attending, they might not appreciate the joke. For that reason, it’s usually best to avoid dressing up as one of your family members, your boss or co-workers or one of your friends. Even if you know for sure that he or she won’t be at the party, thanks to social media, there’s always a chance that the person you’re parodying will see a photo and have their feelings hurt.

That’s not to say you can’t dress up as another person, though. Public figures are fair game — chances are Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga or Elton John is not going to care that you imitated them for a costume party.

When You Make a Mistake

You thought your costume was great. But others didn’t, and they called you out on it. Your best bet is to simply apologize. Acknowledge that your costume selection was perhaps not the best choice, and reassure the other person that you did not intend to offend. If it’s a case of your costume simply not being appropriate for the event, excuse yourself and either make adjustments to your look or head home. If it’s a case of someone else at the event being insulted or offended by your costume, offer to have a conversation at another time to discuss why your costume was offensive. If they don’t want to discuss it, just apologize and move on. Do not ruin the party by getting into an argument or drawing others into the conversation.

The best way to avoid an insensitive or offensive costume is to use your best judgment. Even if you think a costume is funny or unique, if you even suspect that it could be offensive to anyone you’ll be hanging out with, keep looking. With thousands of costume options, it’s always best to choose something that you’re sure won’t land you in hot water with your friends or the president of the PTA.

About the Author: Stacy Lancaster loves any opportunity to wear a costume — as a kid, she even dressed up as a fairy for 6 months before her costume actually disintegrated. Today, she writes about party ideas and entertaining for several magazines and blog sites.


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