How to Dress Your Kid (or Yourself) as a Rad American Woman for Halloween

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Reprinted with permission from Medium

Ah, Halloween season is upon us—and so are the mercurial whims of our children (“I want to be a princess! No I’m gonna be Cinderella? I changed my mind, I want to be a fairy! Elsa! Alice in Wonderland!…”) as well as the grossly gendered commercial costume options. Cue the collective groans of feminist parents across the land. There are a number of websites and blog posts that feature feminist Halloween costumes, and cool alternatives to boring princesses. But there’s always room for more! Rad American Women A-Z has got you covered!

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You too can dress your thoroughly indoctrinated offspring up as an inspiring and super-cool activist, athlete, pilot, dancer, rock star, judge, doctor or writer. All costumes are easy, super low/no budget and seriously righteously cute. No store-bought Elsas here, OK?

(No disrespect to Elsa/kids who dress up as Elsa/parents whose kids dress up as Elsa. I’m the author of a freakin’ feminist kids’ book and my kid was a store-bought Elsa last year. She might be Elsa again. At least I got her to dress up for this post!)

For real though, at a time when GOP candidates can barely name an important woman from American history, dressing up as a rad woman from history is a great opportunity to have fun and educate others. I learned about pilot Bessie Coleman from a Halloween costume! (See below).

Without further ado, behold — the Rad American Women of Halloween!

ANGELA DAVIS

A is for ANGELA! Angela Davis is an iconic activist/author/professor/scholar. With her signature Afro and raised fist, Angela makes for a pretty sweet costume. The red/orange turtleneck was a frequent wardrobe item, though any funky ’70s top could work. She sometimes wore glasses, and often rocked hoop earrings. A black leather jacket, a la the Black Panthers, could work as well. Also, a note to my fellow White People: No Afro wigs. No blackface. Ever. Cultural appropriation is real. Halloween is fun, but please be culturally respectful and responsible when dressing up. OK? OK.

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This is Malik, age 4, as activist, author, scholar, professor and Black Panther Angela Davis! His mom, Hindatu, says she was trying to get him to do a more militant expression — but Angela loves to laugh + smile too! Costume is a wig and red turtleneck. Super simple, fierce and cuuuuute.
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A is for ANGELA by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (L); iconic Angela D (R)

BESSIE COLEMAN

Amelia Earhart is a popular not-a-princess costume for girls, but “Queen” Bessie Coleman is a rad option too — especially for kiddos of color! Aviator hat and goggles and a bomber jacket or trench coat is all you really need. This costume is from a few years ago, and it’s what inspired this post — I had never heard of Bessie Coleman until I saw this kiddo on Halloween and asked her mom who she was dressed as. “Bessie Coleman!” Camille told me proudly, and I promptly went and looked her up.

Here’s CV several years ago when she was not even 2! (She’s a big kindergartner now). Mama Camille tells me she’s going as Misty Copeland this year! CV’s costume is the aviator hat and googles and adorable trench coat. And that smile, and the great children’s book as reference!
Here’s CV several years ago when she was not even 2! (She’s a big kindergartner now). Mama Camille tells me she’s going as Misty Copeland this year! CV’s costume is the aviator hat and goggles and adorable trench coat. And that smile, and the great children’s book as reference!
Q is for QUEEN BESSIE by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (L); the brave and bold Bessie Coleman (R)
Q is for QUEEN BESSIE by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (L); the brave and bold Bessie Coleman (R)

DOLORES HUERTA

D is for DOLORES! How about legendary labor leader Dolores Huerta?! All you need is a sign, some ‘work clothes’ (sweatshirt/denim shirt, jeans, boots), and maybe an UVAS NO button if you’re fancy. And voila! Si se puede! Dolores is 80 years old and still fighting the good fight — I like to think she’d be honored to know that kids are representing her on Halloween!

This is Sawyer, age 2.5, as Dolores Huerta! Costume is one of her regular adorable outfits plus a sign and button that crafty mom Amanda made!
This is Sawyer, age 2.5, as Dolores Huerta! Costume is one of her regular adorable outfits plus a sign and button that crafty mom Amanda made!
D is for DOLORES by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (L); Dolores striking in California — “Huelga” means “strike”! (R)
D is for DOLORES by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (L); Dolores striking in California — “Huelga” means “strike”! (R)

FLO-JO

OK so maybe radical activism isn’t your Halloween thing, and maybe you’re more into Olympic champions with super rad style. How about Flo-Jo?! The possibilities are vast—flashy one-legged leggings, red white and blue, gold medals, ’80s athletic attire, long fake nails…dress your kid up and let her run down the street like the fastest woman in the world!

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Anisya, age 14, rocking a one-legged Flo-Jo costume! OK, fine, those aren’t actually Olympic gold medals, and we didn’t have time to apply crazy fake nails, but it works! If you have a florescent ’80s nylon sports jacket thing it’d be an excellent addition.
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F is for FLO-JO by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (R); fast and furious Flo-Jo (L)

ISADORA DUNCAN

Is your kid is reaaaaaallllly into being a ballerina? How about suggesting Isadora Duncan, who basically invented modern dance and wore super fun flow-y costumes? Think scarves (uh, be careful though…), Grecian gowns and bare feet (but not for trick-or-treating, duh). Show her some YouTube videos of Isadora and let her dance all evening.

Here is The Peach, age 6, with some serious dramatic flair! Costume is a repurposed pillowcase, mom Leslie’s scarf and white fabric to wrap around the dress. The Peach insisted on taking the pics outside “because that’s where Isadora got her inspiration.”
Here is The Peach, age 6, with some serious dramatic flair! Costume is a repurposed pillowcase, mom Leslie’s scarf and white fabric to wrap around the dress. The Peach insisted on taking the pics outside “because that’s where Isadora got her inspiration.”
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And here is Hazel, age 8, who got excited to try out Isadora’s moves!
I is for ISADORA by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (R); classic Isadora outfits and poses (L)
I is for ISADORA by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (R); classic Isadora outfits and poses (L)

KATE BORNSTEIN

K is for KATE! Radical transgender author, activist and advocate Kate Bornstein that is. Kate has fabulous style and is always smiling, so dressing up like her was super fun for this kiddo.

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Ivy, age 6, as Kate Bornstein! Costume is tinted glasses, a cute hat, lots of fabulous jewelry, denim vest, a big smile and a penciled-on labret piercing below the bottom lip. Kate also has great tattoos if you wanna get real crafty with some markers!
K is for KATE by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (center); the fabulous Auntie Kate (L & R)
K is for KATE by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (center); the fabulous Auntie Kate (L & R)

PATTI SMITH

Or maybe you wanna go a little more rock star…she has a new book out and it’s about to be the 40th anniversary of her album Horses, so how about PATTI SMITH? The iconic album cover is insanely easy to recreate — white button-down shirt, black suspenders (or black ribbon made to look like suspenders), black pants, messy hair, black jacket slung over shoulder, badass facial expression. Long live Patti!

Here’s Sawyer again! This time she’s Patti Smith: costume is white button-down shirt, black ribbon tucked into black leggings, and a black jacket over her shoulder. Also some hairspray.
Here’s Sawyer again! This time she’s Patti Smith: costume is white button-down shirt, black ribbon tucked into black leggings, and a black jacket over her shoulder. Also some hairspray.
Why stop with one Patti? Here’s Anisya, age 14, doing a teengage version of Patti.
Why stop with one Patti? Here’s Anisya, age 14, doing a teenage version of Patti.
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P is for PATTI by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (R); the classic cover of “Horses,” shot by Robert Mapplethorpe (L)

SONIA SOTOMAYOR

If you have a black graduation gown (or last year’s Hermione Granger wizard robe!) it’s incredibly easy to magically become…Her Honor Sonia Sotomayor! Make a cardboard gavel and grab a lace doily and boom, you’re on the Supreme Court.

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Nia Bella, age 12, as Sonia Sotomayor! That’s last year’s Hermione robe, a paper doily, an amazing cardboard gavel made by mom Karya, and a stack of books that look old and somehow law-related.
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S is for SONIA by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (R); Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina/o on the Supreme Court (L)

DR. VIRGINIA APGAR

“Doctor” is a pretty common Halloween costume, and it’s cool and all, but consider getting more detailed and being a specific doctor, like maybe Dr. Virginia Apgar, a pioneering physician and anesthesiologist whose work with newborn babies and mothers was revolutionary. Just add a baby doll (or a Raggedy Ann doll!) and when people are like, “Oh, you’re a doctor, that’s great” be like, “Yeah, I’m VIRGINIA APGAR SPECIFICALLY.”

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Nia Bella, 12, as Virginia Apgar! Costume includes a white doctor coat, stethoscope, incredibly homemade paper mask and Raggedy Ann doll posing as newborn baby.
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V is for VIRGINIA by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (R); Dr. Apgar at work (L)

ZORA NEALE HURSTON

Annnnnnd finally, if you wanna go legendary and literary and vintage, how about ZORA NEALE HURSTON! Zora was a major player during the Harlem Renaissance, so the look is ’20s/’30s NYC. Zora was wildly talented and seriously stylish, so this is a fun one!

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Zoe, age 5, as Zora! Super simple yet spot-on — tilted fedora, beads, hyper-brilliant stare.
Olive, we love you too! Olive, age 6, as Zora Neale Hurston. Colorful head scarf, vintage-y earrings, fake fur — and bonus points for a copy of this rad book that everyone should run out and read!
Olive, we love you too! Olive, age 6, as Zora Neale Hurston. Colorful head scarf, vintage-y earrings, fake fur — and bonus points for a copy of this rad book that everyone should run out and read!
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Z is for ZORA by Miriam Klein Stahl, from Rad American Women A-Z (L); Zora on the cover of I Love Myself When I Am Laughing… (center); classic Zora image (R)

These are just some of the women featured in Rad American Women A-Z — you could also go as Lucy Parsons, with an old-timey dress and May Day sign. Grab a microscope and copy of Silent Spring and be Rachel Carson! Wear a vintage coat and grab a travel bag and be Nellie Bly! Hopefully you have some Rad American Women Halloween inspiration…And why stop at just dressing up your kid? Why not go full-on and BE MATCHING like these guys?

Hindatu (the mama) and Malik (the kiddo) doing their bestest badass righteous Angela. POWER TO THE PEOPLE my friends!
Hindatu (the mama) and Malik (the kiddo) doing their bestest badass righteous Angela. POWER TO THE PEOPLE my friends!

Thanks to all the mamas (Hindatu, Soma, Miriam, Lena, Amanda, Leslie, Karya, Camille and Rhea!) and kiddos who dressed up and took pictures for us! You guys are all so rad.

About

Kate Schatz is the New York Times bestselling author of Rad American Women A-Z, a children's book (for everyone) published by City Lights Books.