True Scares: Kids’ Halloween Costumes

Child in a gangster Halloween costumeHalloween is a big deal at our house. It is my 5-year old daughter’s favorite holiday. Yes, it even beats out Christmas. Having two girls at Halloween is tough though. As they get older they will move away from princess costumes and witches into the phenomenon of all-girls-costumes-are-sexy.

Sexy nurses, sexy cops, sexy vampires, sexy witches, sexy Jasmine from Aladdin. At least I have a few years before I need to confront that head on.

Here’s one that does give me pause though. The Gangster as a Halloween costume. 

The books I read, the movies I watch definitely would not be kid-appropriate. For some reason I have no problem with little kid vampires, mummies or werewolves. They’re all killers. This year my daughter wants to be a zombie, and while I’m fairly sure she only has a tenuous grasp on what a zombie is really all about, I’m indulging her because, frankly, I think it will be cool and I get to dress up with her. Despite repeated requests, though, I will not let her watch The Walking Dead. I let her watch the trailer for Night of the Living Dead once. Boy did I get in trouble with the wife. Lesson learned.

But, if I had a son, would I let him dress up like Al Capone? I’m not so sure.

I think the difference for me, and the reason little boys in pinstripe suits carrying a Tommy gun is creepier to me than a kid with pointy teeth and a cape, is that the gangster costumes are emulating real people. People who committed real crimes. Caused real death.

I can’t get that upset over a kid wanting to paint his face green and walk with his arms out like Frankenstein’s monster (yes, I know the difference) because that’s fantasy. But notorious bootleggers, gamblers, prostitution runners and killers? Not so fast there, kid.

I know the kids don’t know the difference. No kid is studying Al Capone in grade school and no kid wants to go out on Halloween dressed as James Madison or U.S. Grant. Some nerd somewhere genuinely wants to be Johnny Appleseed but I’d argue that kid has more trouble ahead than the kid who wants to dress like Dillinger.

Pirates are big and they are usually referred to as “Bloodthirsty” or “Cutthroat” and I don’t have a problem with them. But again, they are more a fantasy character. Most kids picture Johnny Depp when they think pirate these days. And the rule of thumb is if my wife wants to sleep with the person you’re dressed as for Halloween, it’s not that scary.

What about Jason, Freddy or other movie killers? Really I’m talking about kids under six here and I don’t see many bloody hockey masks being marketed to the kindergarten set. If a parent wants to improvise a homemade Scream costume then be my guest, just don’t dare go on the news ten years from now and say, “I don’t understand it. He was such a quiet unassuming boy.”

But what parent is buying a costume complete with toy machine gun and a backstory of law breaking and early execution? When did gangsterism become kitschy and cartoonish? We don’t let our kids out on the streets dressed as crips and bloods and say, “I’m Doughboy from Boys in the Hood!” It’s a little too real, too close to home. I guess there is a statute of limitations on running the biggest crime outfit in Chicago.

Maybe it’s just the revival of speakeasy culture. From Boardwalk Empire to Ken Burns’s Prohibition, we are getting a new influx of classic gangster images.

Yeah, I’m taking it too seriously. I know. It just freaks me out a bit. So I’ll be out there in my zombie costume with my zombie daughter on Halloween night on the lookout for pint-sized Capones. I’ll probably shake my head, silently judge the parents, and then go home and read a book. About gangsters. Hey, I’m an adult and I like crime fiction. So sue me.


Eric Beetner is an ex-musician, one time film director, and a working television editor and producer, as well as author (with JB Kohl) of the novels One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two daughters, and one really great dog. His upcoming novella Dig Two Graves will be out later this summer, along with short stories in the anthologies Pulp Ink, D*cked, and Grimm Tales.

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