A few years ago, my local newspaper, The Nottingham Post, interviewed me to get a Halloween story in regards to the psychology of fancy dress. Before I found myself interviewed, I have done searching of academic literature databases and couldn’t get a single academic paper which had been published on the subject. Although this didn’t surprise me, it did signify everything I believed to the journalist was opinion and speculation at best.
The explanation for compiling an inventory similar to this was to have a better concept of precisely what the psychological motivation is behind dressing within a fancy dress costume. Although a lot of people might claim that the biggest reason for dressing in fancy dress is because it’s a fun or exciting thing to do, the list I compiled clearly shows the range of motivations is much more than one might initially suspect. I’m not claiming that my list is exhaustive, but it really demonstrates that reasons behind wearing fancy dress costumes are lots of and varied. Reasons might be financial (to earn money, to boost money for charity), sexual (particular fancy dress outfits being arousing either for the wearer or maybe the observer), psychological (feeling element of a united group, attention-seeking, exploring other areas of an individual’s personality), practical (concealing true identity while involved in a criminal act), and/or idiosyncratic (trying to break a world record). For others it might be coercive (e.g., being required to dress as a type of sexual humiliation, or punishment for losing a bet).
“It is not only punks and skinheads who placed on fancy dress; Scottish country dancers, bowls players, musicians and more have their special costumes. Mass kinds of leisure will not assistance to give feelings of identity, with the exception of supporting sports teams, which certainly does. This is basically the more engrossing and fewer common types of leisure who do most for identity”.
It’s debatable whether this really identifies fancy dress but for many, fancy dress will be about either self-identity and group identity. I also found an internet article by British psychologist Dr. Catherine Tregoning that investigated what folks embark on most at Halloween and exactly what it says about them in relation to their occupation (I must add that the content was over a job-hunting website). At Halloween, would you watch horror films? Can you carve pumpkins? Do you go on ghost hunts? Can you like dressing in d.va costumes? If you do, Dr. Tregoning claimed that:
“This may mean you’re the type to maintain reinventing yourself and frequently change career! Or would you operate in different guises inside your current role, changing your personality and presenting your outward self differently as outlined by who you’re with or even the task at hand? Or do you want some kind of escapism out of your regular job? If you’re proficient at acting a part on Halloween – then make use of your skills to “act” confident in an interview or “act” calm under pressure when delivering a presentation”
Another article by Rafael Behr published within the Guardian examined the politics and psychology of fancy dress. With regards the psychology, Behr’s views had some crossover with all the interview I did so with my local newspaper on the subject:
“Children love dressing up, specially in clothes that will make them feel grown up. Adults like dressing up because it reminds them of that sense of being children getting pumped up about dressing such as a grownup. What this suggests is that actually being a grownup is normally overrated and involves spending considerable time in disappointing clothes. Anyone who will go to a celebration in fancy dress will feel a pang of anxiety immediately before arrival they may have produced a mistake 05dexopky it is really not a fancy dress party by any means. When you have these feelings before coming to a wedding or funeral, go home and change. Only senior people in the clergy may wear ridiculous clothes in churches”.
Finally, another online article that examined dressing up for Halloween was one by psychotherapist Joyce Matter who examined whether mermaid tail enhance a person’s alter ego (or as she termed it, an individual’s “shadow side”).
“Do many of us reveal our shadow sides with the costume choices? Do those elements of self which we have repressed express themselves uncontrollably if we are in Spirit Halloween? Perhaps… Expressive play may be one of by far the most cathartic experiences as well as giving us the liberty to learn hidden elements of self that may contain valuable resources our company is repressing. A refusal or inability to do this reveals difficulty with self-acceptance and perhaps a preoccupation together with the opinions of others…Through my act as a therapist, We have come to believe the shadow side is not really necessarily dormant characteristics which are negative-they often contain positive elements of self which we now have not been free to embody. When we honor and integrate them, they may become powerful strengths”.
For an adult, I actually have never place on fancy dress for Halloween. The truth is, the only time I have decked out in anything approaching fancy dress was as i played a French butler in a murder mystery evening with friends. While there is no scientific research on the topic I don’t know should i be typical of middle-aged men or whether I am just just content with my life that I don’t want to do something out or experiment within the confines of costume role-play.