When I was a kid, it was completely normal to dress as a cultural stereotype for Halloween. Suburban streets thronged with black-wigged Geishas and be-turbaned Sultans. Uncle so and so brought back a sombrero from that weekend jaunt to Tijuana? Go as Juan Valdez! (Never mind the fact that Colombia isn’t Mexico.)
Obviously this sort of thing is no longer OK, even if well-intentioned. You can’t go as a nebulously iconic something from the foreign culture of your choice.
But you can still use your interest in travel and culture to inspire a perfectly appropriate costume idea. Here are some ideas.
Mexico: Frida Kahlo
Wear a red shawl, chunky jewelry, and a long skirt. Put red roses in your long dark hair (which should be worn in crown braids or some kind of chignon). Draw in a unibrow with eyeliner, assuming you can’t achieve one by skipping tweezers for a couple of days. Check out Take Back Halloween for a full costume guide.
China and/or Korea: Ai Weiwei as PSY
Are all your friends sharing this viral video of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s take on Gangnam Style?
All you need is a pink shirt, black blazer, sunglasses, and a ZZ Top beard to get his look.
If your friends aren’t as tuned in to the art world, you could also just dress as PSY himself. You know, if you happened to have a powder blue tuxedo and a can of pomade lying around the house.
Russia: Pussy Riot
Maybe you’re looking for a super easy last minute group costume. If you can’t find colorful ski masks (check Goodwill or an Army Surplus store), cut holes in watch caps from American Apparel. Hat tip to Bust’s guide to feminist Halloween costumes for the idea.
Norway: The Scream
In too much of a hurry to cut holes in a hat? Throw on a bald cap and the flowing blue garment of your choice. Art Info suggests a Snuggie, but anything long, blue, and tinged with existential despair will do. (By the way, one of several versions of Munch’s masterpiece is currently on view at MoMA.)
Cleopatra is so over. Inject new life into the classic Egyptian costume by going as female pharoh Hatshepsut. You’ll need a white robe, miscellaneous Egpytian-esque accessories, and that Pharaonic headdress costume stores sell to people going as King Tut. Get the full inventory at Take Back Halloween.
And a bonus idea, assuming you’re not going to the same Halloween parties I am:
New York: Joey Ramone
I plan to achieve the look with a classic white tee, ripped jeans, Converse Chuck Taylors (photos show that Joey favored beat up plimsolls, but I couldn’t find any, so I’m taking poetic license), a motorcycle jacket, and dark shades. It also helps to have long dark hair with heavy bangs, but you could probably multitask the iconic Cleopatra wig found in any Halloween pop-up shop. If you’ve got the whole kit except for the moto jacket, throw on a black blazer and call yourself Patti Smith.