Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Everything's Coming Up Rosie: Overthinking My Halloween Costume

For Halloween this year, I dressed up as Rosie the Riveter. So did a lot of other young women in San Francisco. There were two other Rosies at the Halloween party I attended on the Potrero Hill edge of the Mission; two other Rosies on the subway platform as I was coming home from work. (This embarrassed me so much that I quickly scooted down the platform so we wouldn't all wind up in the same subway car.) I was filled with a mix of pride at having successfully embodied the Zeitgeist and shame at realizing I was less clever and distinctive than I thought I was. And, naturally, I began to over-think the larger sociological forces that might have led to this spate of Rosies in San Francisco this Halloween. My conclusions:
  • Ease of putting the costume together. The day before Halloween, I wasn't even sure that I would dress up -- and then I realized that I had all of the components of the "Rosie" costume already in my closet.
  • Applicability to women of all ages, races, and sizes. Unlike many costumes, you don't have to have a certain body type or hair color to be recognizable as Rosie the Riveter -- all you need is the red bandana and blue work shirt.
  • It's an explicitly feminist costume that enables you to demonstrate how you're not into the whole "Halloween as an excuse to wear lingerie in public" thing, but it still allows you to look attractive -- wear red lipstick, show off your muscle.
  • Millennial-generation nostalgia for the "Greatest Generation" 1940s. Think about it: we fetishize handicrafts and the artisanal; we name our Etsy stores after our grandparents; we put up "Keep Calm and Carry On" posters. I also saw a lot of A League of Their Own "Rockford Peaches" this Halloween -- a costume that occupies a comparable place in our cultural iconography to Rosie the Riveter.
  • Amy Poehler's character on Parks and Recreation dressed up as Rosie the Riveter in 2012. I don't watch Parks and Rec, but you can't underestimate the influence of pop culture.
I also thought about how, when I moved to San Francisco six years ago, it seemed like every young woman dressed up like Frida Kahlo for Halloween, but I didn't see any Fridas this year. Could there also be a cultural significance in the shift from Frida to Rosie over these six years?
  • Dressing up as Frida Kahlo does require you to possess certain physical characteristics: you've pretty much got to have long, dark hair. And, if you are brunette but not Hispanic, you may also worry that dressing up as this iconic Mexican artist constitutes cultural appropriation. At least when you live in a city that is so consumed with debates over gentrification.
  • There was a big Frida Kahlo exhibit at SFMOMA in 2008, which might have contributed to all of the Fridas I saw that Halloween.
  • Frida and Rosie are both feminist icons, but they represent two different kinds of feminism. Kahlo's art often depicts the female experience as one of pain and suffering. (My most-read post of all time is called "Must a Female Artist Suffer?", written in response to the 2008 Kahlo exhibition.) Rosie the Riveter is about rolling up your sleeves and getting shit done. Which seems in tune with the forcefulness that feminism has attained in the last half-decade.
  • Six years ago, fashion was much more in tune with Frida's boho style than with Rosie's utilitarian workwear. But now, the tide has shifted. Clothes have gotten more minimalist, more tomboy. Call it a shift from Anthropologie to J. Crew. I didn't own a "Rosie the Riveter" blue button-down six years ago, but now it's one of my favorite shirts.
Mostly, though, I'm amazed at how a pop-culture character, intended to boost home-front morale in a war that happened 70 years ago, can resurface in 2014 and embody current cultural trends. This autumn has been marked by intense, Internet-fueled anxiety over various aspects of feminism and an even more fraught anxiety over the sociological category of the "basic bitch." If feminism (a radical ideology) is the thesis and basic-bitchness (the unthinking acceptance of feminine tropes) is the antithesis, a Rosie the Riveter Halloween costume is the synthesis. She's the feminist icon that everyone can embrace. A basic costume for basic, feminist girls like me.

Photo of me as Rosie at my office Halloween party taken by my colleague, Abdul Bassa.

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