Looking for something different for your kid this Halloween? Here are 10 costumes inspired by heroic American women.

YES! Magazine

Halloween season is upon us — and so are the mercurial whims of our children.

“I want to be a princess!”

“No, I’m gonna be Cinderella!”

“I changed my mind, I want to be a fairy!”

“Elsa! No, Alice in Wonderland!”

Back too are the grossly gendered commercial costume options. Cue the collective groans of feminist parents across the land. There are a number of websites and blog posts that feature feminist Halloween costumes, and cool alternatives to princesses. But there’s always room for more, and "Rad American Women A-Z" has got you covered!

Like me, you too can dress your thoroughly indoctrinated offspring as a super-cool activist, athlete, pilot, dancer, rock star, judge, doctor or writer. All costumes are easy, low-budget, and seriously cute. No store-bought Elsas here, OK?

(No disrespect to Elsa, kids who dress up as Elsa, or parents whose kids dress up as Elsa. I’m the author of a feminist kids’ book and my kid was a store-bought Elsa last year. She might be Elsa again this year. At least I got her to dress up for this post!)

For real though, at a time when Republican presidential candidates can barely name an important woman from American history, these costumes are a great way to have fun and educate others. 

Without further ado, behold  —  the Rad American Women of Halloween.

Angela Davis

Angela Davis

This is Malik, age 4, as Angela Davis. His mom Hindatu said she tried to get him to do a more militant expression — but Angela loves to laugh and smile too!

Angela Davis is an iconic activist, author, professor and scholar. With her signature Afro and raised fist, Angela makes for a pretty sweet costume. A turtleneck was a frequent wardrobe item of hers, though any funky ’70s top works. She also sometimes wore glasses, and often rocked hoop earrings. A black leather jacket, a la the Black Panthers, could work as well.

A note to my fellow white people: No Afro wigs. No blackface. Ever. Cultural appropriation is real. Halloween is fun, but please be culturally respectful and responsible when dressing up. OK? OK.

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman

CV as Bessie. 

Amelia Earhart is a popular not-a-princess costume for girls, but “Queen” Bessie Coleman is a rad option too — especially for kiddos of color!

An aviator hat, goggles and bomber jacket or trenchcoat is all you really need. This costume is from a few years ago, and it’s what inspired this post . I had never heard of Bessie Coleman until I saw this kiddo on Halloween and asked her mom who she was dressed as. “Bessie Coleman!” Camille told me proudly. I promptly went and looked her up.

Dolores Huerta

dolores huerta

Sawyer, age 2, as Dolores Huerta. Costume is one of her regular outfits, a sign, and button that her crafty mom Amanda made.

How about legendary labor leader Dolores Huerta? All you need is a sign, some “work clothes” (a denim shirt, jeans, and boots), and maybe an UVAS NO button if you’re fancy. And voila: Si se puede!

Dolores is 80 and still fighting the good fight — I like to think she’d be honored to know that kids are representing her on Halloween!

Florence Griffith Joyner


Anisya, age 14, rocking a one-legged Flo Jo costume. If you have a florescent 80s nylon sports jacket it would be an excellent addition.

OK, so maybe radical activism isn’t your Halloween thing. Maybe you’re more into Olympic champions with super rad style. How about Florence Griffith Joyner, or as her friends call her, Flo Jo?

The possibilities are vast — flashy one-legged leggings, gold medals, 1980s athletic attire, long fake nails.

Dress your kid up and let her run down the street like the fastest woman in the world.

Isadora Duncan

isodora duncan 1

The Peach, age 6, with some serious dramatic flair dressed as Isadora Duncan. She insisted on taking photos outside because, as she put it, "that’s where Isadora got her inspiration.”

duncan 2

Hazel, age 8, who got excited to try out Isadora’s moves!

Is your kid really into being a ballerina? How about suggesting Isadora Duncan, who basically invented modern dance and wore super fun costumes? Think scarves, Grecian gowns, and bare feet (you’ll want to have your kid slip on some shoes for trick-or-treating, of course). Show your daughter some YouTube videos of Duncan and let her dance all night long.

Kate Bornstein

kate bornstein

Ivy, age 6, as Kate Bornstein.

Kate Bornstein is a radical transgender author, activist, and advocate with fabulous style who's always smiling. Dressing up like Kate was super fun for this kiddo.

Costume is tinted glasses, a cute hat, lots of fabulous jewelry, denim vest, a big smile, and a drawn on labret piercing below her bottom lip. And if you want to get creative with some markers, Kate also has great tattoos.

Patti Smith

patti smith 1

Here’s Sawyer again, this time as Patti Smith. Costume is a white shirt, black ribbon tucked into black leggings, and a black jacket over her shoulder. Also some hairspray.

patti smith 2

Anisya, age 14, doing a teenage version of Patti.

Or maybe you want go a little more rock 'n' roll with a Patti Smith costume? It’s a good time for it too — she’s got a new book out, and it’s almost the 40th anniversary of her album, Horses.

The iconic Horses album cover is insanely easy to recreate — white button-down shirt, black suspenders (or black ribbon made to look like suspenders), black pants, messy hair, black jacket slung over shoulder, badass facial expression. Long live Patti!

Sonia Sotomayor


Nia Bella, age 12, as Sonia Sotomayor. Costume is last year’s wizard robe, a paper doily, a cardboard gavel made by her mom Karya, and a stack of books that look old and somehow law-related.

If you have a black graduation gown (or last year’s wizard robe), it’s incredibly easy to become Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Sonia Sotomayor! Make a cardboard gavel, grab a lace doily, and BOOM — you’re on the Supreme Court.

Dr. Virginia Apgar

virginia apgar

Nia Bella, 12, as Virginia Apgar. Costume includes a white doctors coat, stethoscope, homemade paper mask, and Raggedy Ann doll posing as a newborn baby.

A doctor is a pretty common Halloween costume, but consider getting more detailed and being a specific doctor, like Dr. Virginia Apgar. Apgar was a pioneering physician and anesthesiologist whose work with newborn babies and mothers was revolutionary. Just add a baby doll and when people are like, “Oh, you’re a doctor, that’s great,” be like, “Yeah, I’m Virginia Apgar specifically.”

Zora Neale Hurston

zora neale hurston1

Zoe, age 5, as Zora Neale Hurston. Super simple — tilted fedora, beads, and a hyper-brilliant stare.

zora neale hurston 2

Olive, age 6, as Zora Neale Hurston. Colorful head scarf, vintage earrings, fake fur — and bonus points for a copy of Hurston's rad book "I Love Myself When I Am Laughing And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean & Impressive."

And finally, if you want to go legendary, literary and vintage, how about Zora Neale Hurston? Zora was a major player during the Harlem Renaissance, so the look is 1920s or '30s New York City. Zora was wildly talented and seriously stylish, so this is a fun one.

These are just some of the women featured in "Rad American Women A-Z ." Your child could go as Lucy Parsons, with an old-timey dress and May Day sign; Rachel Carson, with a microscope and copy of Silent Spring; or Nellie Bly, with a vintage coat and travel bag.

Thanks to all the mamas — Hindatu, Soma, Miriam, Lena, Amanda, Leslie, Karya, Camille and Rhea — who dressed their kids up and took pictures for us.

Kate Schatz wrote this for www.medium.com. Kate is a writer, editor, and educator. Her children's book, "Rad American Women A-Z," was published by City Lights/Sister Spit in Spring 2015. This story was also crossposted by YES! Magazine, a nonprofit publication that supports people’s active engagement in solving today’s social, political and environmental challenges. 

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