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Is Halloween becoming more about beauty than fashion?


TextCharlie Brinkhurst-Cuff

In the age of contour, we are seeing a whole new take on what Halloween means

Since the days of the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, our ancestors have revelled in the opportunity to spend a spooky midwinter evening dressing up in costumes to ward off the dead. But, in the age of beauty, is the concept of Halloween transformation changing?

Although the National Retail Federation posits that US consumers – who have always been the most enthusiastic market for Halloween – plan to spend $3.2 billion on costumes in 2018, at a time when the beauty industry as a whole is booming and make-up is becoming ever more ubiquitous, there is no doubt a correlation between the fact that in 2018 I am more likely to see a friend in a face-full of gothic make-up than in a store-bought Halloween costume. By 2024, the global make-up market is estimated to be worth about $85 billion and thanks to the drip feed combination of Fashion Week and Halloween, sales of make-up naturally pick up in the autumn.

While the Celts who began the festival of Samhain wore costumes like animal heads and skins, it’s been suggested that when Americans first made their costumes to go house to house asking for food or money (a primitive ‘trick-or-treat’), items such as make-up were commonly used as substitutes for more elaborate and expensive masks. During the 1970s, Halloween make-up became even more popular with children and adults painting their faces as green witches, harlequin clowns and devils – as well as more problematic costumes that we wouldn’t stand for today. (Nearly) all of us know not to daub ‘tribal’ marks on our face or give blackface a go.

However, it’s only been in the noughties that Halloween make-up has really taken on a life of its own. In 2013, Google found that views of Halloween make-up content had quadrupled year on year and that 57 per cent of make-up views from August had come solely from Halloween videos.

“Jeffree Star turning himself into Voldemort (‘his true form’, as put by one of my colleagues) has been the most impressive tutorial I’ve seen in 2018”

A deep dive into the world of YouTube Halloween tutorial videos shows that they range from the mundane to the absurd, with my personal favourite being Brandi TV, who gets high on edibles before showing off some of her best Halloween looks. Jeffree Star turning himself into Voldemort (“his true form”, as put by one of my colleagues) has been the most impressive tutorial I’ve seen in 2018, but Pinterest’s annual roundup of the platform's most popular Halloween make-up looks show that its pins of pumpkin make-up are up 884 per cent, while ‘celestial’ make-up is the second most-trending (as seen on Lupita and Emma Stone) at 158 per cent, and pins of Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas are up 91 per cent.

For cosmetics brands, Halloween is a bluntly obvious celebration – this is essentially the only time of the year where visuals, the way we see and perceive one another, play such an important role in the majority of people’s lives. It has been pointed out by the NYU Inquiry that sometimes in the past, “when beauty companies market themselves for Halloween, they are doing just that—marketing products. No new products are being made, just previously-released, run-of-the-mill products are repackaged with a new, festive design to lure shoppers”. But these days, alongside original collections, gothic-leaning make-up by brands like Illamasqua, Urban Decay and NYX are also cashing in on the hype by creating reams of tutorial videos. Last week, the ever-popular Fenty Beauty even dipped their toes into the swamp by getting Rihanna herself in front of the camera to show off her black stunna lip paint in a gothic tutorial.

“Beyond those of us particularly talented at creating impossible-seeming illusions with an eyebrow brush, accessibility and price are the key factors driving the move toward a make-up-heavy Halloween”

However, beyond those of us particularly talented at creating impossible-seeming illusions with an eyebrow brush, accessibility and price are the key factors driving the move toward a make-up-heavy Halloween. While celebrities might be able to justify spending hundreds on outfits only to be worn once and a face full of latex moulded into the shape of a werewolf (or, in Rita Ora’s case, Post Malone), for most of us, Halloween outfits can’t be treated akin to a wedding dress. Despite the fact that fashion and beauty can work in tandem, a pound shop pot of white face make-up, a red lipstick turned blood substitute and a black eyeliner paired with your everyday LBD is ultimately going to be more affordable than the most basic of bunny ears outfits – and is likely to look better than the ghostly holes you cut out of your mum’s old white sheet.

We all remember the moment from Mean Girls when it’s explained that "In girl world, Halloween is the one night of the year, where you can dress like a slut and no other girls can say anything about it", and there is also something to be said about the lean toward literal beauty and desirability being expressed through make-up influencing people’s Halloween choices. Dressing up as a sexy character can be affirming and exciting, but while a nurses outfit isn’t going to scare anyone, a nurses outfit crossed with some creepy painted fangs, a smokey eye and red contact lenses might just pull it off (and still allow you to keep your sex appeal). Halloween is also one of the only times of the year that men are just as likely to be found wearing make-up as other genders – make-up, in this instance, strangely allowing for a flattening of beauty standards.

With all this in mind, as the beauty industry barrels onward, I wouldn't be surprised to find that in ten years or so, overall, Halloween make-up ends up becoming more important than the fashions that have preceded it. There is no end in sight to make up tutorials nor the laziness (or economic insecurity), of millennials and Generation Z. And we all deserve to look horrifying at Halloween.

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