Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
Opinion L.A.
Opinion Opinion L.A.

Banning the kimono as a Halloween costume

Is wearing a kimono as a Halloween costume offensive?

Pottery Barn withdrew two costumes it had marketed—a kimono and sushi chef—after objections from Asian American groups. It’s related to a larger campaign against ethnic costuming that was started by Ohio University students several years ago, using the motto "We're a culture, not a costume” and advising people who would buy outfits such as kimonos or sombreros,  "You wear the costume for one night. I wear the stigma for life."

Certainly there can be and have been demeaning and insensitive costumes depicting one group or another. Blackface, as Julianne Hough somehow didn't know, is unacceptable. Costumes that reinforce negative stereotypes are insulting, in terrible taste and simply wrong.

But it seems to me that there’s a big difference between a costume that depicts an Arab as a terrorist or a Native American with a dripping tomahawk, and one, like the kimono, that simply represents traditional dress of a particular group. Where is the stigma in belonging to a culture where kimonos have been worn?

It’s daunting to think that any costume that belongs to a particular group would be considered off limits. Cowboys are a particularly American tradition; are cowboy costumes off limits? How about Crusader costumes? Traditional clothes of the Swiss alps, can-can dancers, matryoshka dolls? Would a French chef costume be OK, just not a sushi chef? Do the Wiccans get to complain about how Halloween witches are depicted?

Obviously, to a particular group, its traditional clothing is not a costume. It’s what they wear. But the same is true of nuns and popes and, for that matter, soccer moms, all of whom get a share of ribbing via costumes on Halloween. It’s a time of raucous make-believe during which the very point is to try on identities that are unfamiliar to the wearer. Within that tradition, revelers should exercise some common sense about not insulting others. But taking all traditional garb off the table, or the store rack, seems further than we need to go.


Halloween warning: Don't frighten cops with your costume

There's no reason, or excuse, for blackface Halloween costumes

Dangerous 'Carrie' remake sends victims of bullying the wrong message

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Halloween warning: Don't frighten cops with your costume

    Halloween warning: Don't frighten cops with your costume

    Residents in Santa Rosa have expressed skepticism about a sheriff’s deputy’s decision to fatally shoot a popular 13-year-old boy who was carrying a pellet gun that looked like an assault rifle.  

  • I've got the perfect job for Donald Trump right here

    I've got the perfect job for Donald Trump right here

    In a few days, the queen of England -- “Elizabeth the Second, by the grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" and so forth -- becomes the longest-reigning monarch in the even longer history of that sceptered isle.

  • Can Californians' privacy be protected in a wired world?

    Can Californians' privacy be protected in a wired world?

    State lawmakers have been trying for four years to provide Californians with more protection against warrantless snooping into their Internet-connected lives. The Legislature is about to take up the issue again, voting on a bill, SB 178, that would require state and local law enforcement agencies...

  • Do you think like an economist?

    Do you think like an economist?

    Let's see if you think like an economist.

  • Making the most of a cigarette tax hike

    Making the most of a cigarette tax hike

    A bill that would more than triple the California cigarette tax was gaining little traction in the Legislature until it received a push forward from Gov. Jerry Brown's special legislative session on funding healthcare for the poor. The additional $2-per-pack tax imposed by the bill would initially...

  • Living on $2 a day in America

    Living on $2 a day in America

    When we first met Ashley, she was 19 and a new mom, living with her mother, brother, uncle and cousin in one of Baltimore's public housing developments. Everyone in the home was out of work; no one was on welfare. The unit was furnished with only a three-legged table propped up against a wall,...