INSPI(RED) Costume Ideas: 10 Activists to Dress as This Halloween
With Halloween just around the corner, it’s costume season. Why not shake it up this year? Put away the zombie makeup and creepy mask and use your costume to pay homage to an iconic activist. There are so many amazing people who strove to make the world a more welcoming, inclusive, and peaceful place—and so many of them have unmistakable style, or at least a few of memorable looks. So pick your favorite activist, and create a different kind of costume this year.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Who: Rosa Parks
Why: You probably know the story of seamstress Rosa Parks refusing to surrender her seat to a white male passenger on an Alabama bus in 1955. But that was just the beginning—her arrest set off a wave of protests across the United States that would lead to her being named “the mother of the modern day civil rights movement.” Rosa Parks devoted her life to championing equal rights, serving as a mentor, role model, and advocate for youth and disadvantaged communities.
What to Wear: The booking photo of Rosa Parks has become a powerful symbol of the struggle for human rights — and a great costume idea if you want to raise awareness. You’ll need a plain pair of glasses, a white collared shirt, a small cap, and a button-up jacket with a skirt to match. But most important is the famous plaque with the number 7053—and of course, a small white flower in your hair.
Who: Billie Jean King
Why: Regardless of whether you’re a tennis fan, you’re likely familiar with Billie Jean King. In 60s and 70s, while touring as a professional tennis player (and winning a record 20 Wimbledon titles), Billie Jean King fought for gender equality in sports. She championed sports being opened to women, women’s sports being covered by the media, and equal pay for women in sports and all other workplaces. She testified before Congress advocating for the passage of Title IX—a law ensuring that anyone, regardless of gender, has equal access to federally-funded educational opportunities and programs, such as sports. Though her tennis career is long over, at 74 years old she continues to fight for women’s equal rights in sports, equal pay and inclusive leadership in the workforce, and LGBTQ rights.
What to Wear: To dress as Billie Jean King, you’ll need large, clear glasses, a tank top or short-sleeve shirt with a collar, white athletic shorts or a tennis skirt, and sneakers with mid-calf socks. If you feel like getting really into your costume, add sweatbands on your wrists or carry around an old tennis racket.
Who: Princess Diana
Why: In addition to being a style icon, Princess Diana of Whales was an activist who worked tirelessly on behalf of a number of humanitarian issues. She is perhaps best known for challenging the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and gay men. In 1987, she publicly shook hands with an HIV-positive patient without wearing gloves, disproving the myth that HIV/AIDS was passed through touch.
What to Wear: Big earrings and bright colors were essential parts of so many of Princess Diana’s looks. To channel your inner Princess Di this Halloween, pair a long dress with bold accessories, add a tiara, and you’ll be good to go.
Who: Nelson Mandela
Why: Who better to pay tribute to this Halloween than a Nobel Peace Prize Winner? Nelson Mandela was a nonviolence activist, global human rights advocate, and the first-ever black president of South Africa. For 20 years, he directed a campaign that peacefully fought the South African government’s racist policies. His actions landed him in prison for 27 years and also made him the face of the anti-apartheid movement around the world.
What to Wear: Nelson Mandela was known for wearing boldly-colored shirts with crazy patterns. So if you want to dress up like him, you’ll want to wear the craziest shirt you own. Take your costume up a notch by spray painting your hair gray or printing out a Nobel Peace Prize certificate to carry around.
Who: Gloria Steinem
Why: Gloria Steinem has been fighting for women’s rights since the late 1960s. She co-founded New York Magazine and Ms. Magazine, and helped to found the Women’s Action Alliance, a national information center that specialized in nonsexist, multiracial children’s education, and the National Women’s Political Caucus, a group that works to advance the number of pro-equality women elected and appointed to public office. On top of all this, she wrote many articles and made frequent appearances on TV and at rallies, making her one of feminism’s most famous figures.
What to Wear: You likely already have almost everything you need to pull of Gloria Steinem’s classic 70s look. To start, be sure to wear your hair in a middle part. In terms of your outfit, you’ll want to wear one of your favorite fall turtlenecks with your widest leg jeans. If you really want to complete the look, find yourself a pair of Steinem’s signature blue aviator glasses, or any big glasses for that matter.
Who: Elizabeth Taylor
Why: Honestly, who doesn’t want to dress up as Elizabeth Taylor, with her signature dark eyeliner and extravagant jewelry? The legendary movie star is one of the most acclaimed actors of all time. But what you may not know is that she was also the first high-profile celebrity to come out in support of people living with HIV/AIDS. In early 1985, Elizabeth Taylor took on the role of chairman for the Commitment to Life dinner—the first major AIDS benefit. She then decided to take her activism even further and co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Six years later, she established the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation to provide care and education to at-risk communities and people living with HIV/AIDS. When she started her campaigns, she was a lone crusader. But in just a couple years, she had changed the entire conversation around HIV/AIDS.
What to Wear: An Elizabeth Taylor costume is pretty simple to put together. All you need is a cocktail dress, a sparkly necklace or earrings, and that smoky cat eye makeup she’s so well-known for. Want some bonus points? Grab some colored contacts! Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes were such a deep, entrancing shade of blue that they were often described as lavender or violet.
Who: W. E. B. Du Bois
Why: Despite being born into the deeply divided America of the mid-1800s, W. E. B. Du Bois went on to graduate with a doctorate from Harvard and focus his academic career on social issues affecting the black community. In 1905, he established the Niagara Movement with the aim of ending racial segregation and disenfranchisement, and in 1909 he was instrumental in creating the interracial National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), where he served as both director and magazine editor. His activism helped make the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s possible.
What to Wear: You don’t need much to do a passable impression of W. E. B. Du Bois. His thick handlebar mustache and goatee are his trademarks. Wear a suit with a stiff, starched white collar and bowtie. Then when people ask, “Who are you supposed to be?”, you can surprise them with a crash course in civil rights history. Or simply hand them a copy of one of Du Bois’ books.
Who: Yoko Ono and John Lennon
Why: Talk about an activist power couple. If you and your significant other want to go trick-or-treating as a pair of global peacemakers, Yoko Ono and John Lennon are the perfect choice. They first met in 1966 at one of Yoko Ono’s conceptual art shows and married in 1969. The couple would go on to be the faces—and voices—of the counterculture with their frequent protests, pointed social commentary and songs such as “Give Peace A Chance.”
What to Wear: To impersonate these two, you’ve got to have two things: the voluminous long hair and the perfectly circular glasses. Beyond that, you’ll each just need a white outfit. If you have yellow-tinted shades for John Lennon, and a big floppy hat for Yoko Ono, you’re golden. Lastly, don’t forget to throw up peace signs in your photos.
Who: Greta Thunberg
Why: At only 16 years old, this Swedish badass has become the face of climate change activism around the world. In case you missed it, last month, Greta led the largest climate strike in history, which included an estimated 4 million people across 161 countries. She’s also responsible for launching the “Fridays for Future” movement, encouraging students to skip school on Fridays to demand action on climate change from their governments. Greta had the opportunity to speak at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York on September 23rd, but to avoid the carbon emissions that would have come from flying, she sailed across the Atlantic on a zero-emissions boat.
What to Wear: If you want to look like Greta, there is one absolute must: pigtail braids. In terms of clothing, you’ll likely be able to find everything you need in your closet (or a friend’s closet). Throw on any collared shirt, layer it with a zip-up hoodie sweatshirt, and complete the look with a beanie. To take your costume to the next level (and make sure everyone knows who you are), recreate Greta’s iconic “SKOLSTREJK FOR KLIMATET” sign—even if it’s just on a piece of printer paper.
Who: Gilbert Baker
Why: You’re no doubt familiar with the rainbow flag and what it stands for—but do you know about the man who designed it? Gilbert Baker was an activist for gay rights, as well as a talented vexillographer (aka: flag maker). As the LGBT community rallied for equality through the 1960s and 1970s, they realized they need a new emblem: that’s when Gilbert Baker stepped up with a design that stood for unity, diversity, hope and pride—and to this day, it continues to connect people worldwide.
What to Wear: As an accomplished textile artist, Gilbert Baker never shied away from glitz and glitter—beads, gems, sequins, you name it. Recreate his flair with bold costume jewelry and a floppy, bedazzled beret. Oh, and a rainbow scarf, of course.