I know this post is a little late to be of any help for this coming year, but as I’ve done my annual search for a halloween costume idea this year I’ve found the market to be overly inundated with “sexy” versions of everything (see this roundup on Hello Giggles for either a good laugh or a good cry).
Well here’s the thing. I don’t want to be sexy for Halloween. I want to be awesome. And badass. And represent the awesome women of history.
So in the hopes that maybe in a coming year, some of you may join me in that quest (or at the very least find it helpful – quest or no quest), I’ve compiled a list of 9 Badass women from history that would make great costumes.
1) Suffragette/Silent Sentinel
Most people are pretty familiar with the image of the suffragette – women like Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony who campaigned for women’s right to vote throughout the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th. But the Silent Sentinels are a group less familiar. These are the ladies who had the cojones to stand vigil outside of the White House for not one, but two and a half years in order to lobby President Wilson (who was doing some serious feet dragging on supporting any national action on the issue) into supporting a national version of women’s suffrage. These ladies were verbally abused, arrested, and assaulted repeatedly throughout their protest, but they didn’t back down, and the vigil didn’t end until the 19th amendment was passed by both houses.
Bonus: you get to carry around signs with delightful things on them like, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” “Democracy Should Begin at Home,” and possibly even a sign referring to the president as “Kaiser Wilson.”
How to achieve the look: Matching long skirt and overcoat/long blazer, white blouse with ruffles (or a floppy bow tie), ankle boots, and a sign with a suffragette saying on it.
2) Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart is probably one of the most familiar figures on this list – and for good reason. While she is most known for her disappearance as she attempted to circumnavigate the world, this Distinguished Flying Cross recipient was the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic, and set numerous speed and distance records in women’s flight. She served as a faculty member at Purdue University in their aviation department (in 1935 – not exactly women’s territory at that time), and was an active member of the National Women’s Party. Basically, Earhart did a whole lot more than just famously disappear.
How to achieve the look: Brown or grey trousers, a leather bomber jacket, some sort of leather cap (optional), riding boots, and flight goggles.
3) Clara Barton
Barton is a woman who waded through the worst that humanity had to offer during her lifetime – she served as a nurse during the US Civil War during several battles – Antietam (the bloodiest single day in US history) included – before heading across the ocean to do it all again, helping prepare military hospitals and supplies during the Franco-Prussian War. While she was over in Europe, she was introduced to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and when she returned to the US promptly began lobbying for the creation of a US chapter and recognition of the International version by the government. Barton, essentially, founded the American Red Cross. As if that’s not badass enough, Barton also ran the Office of the Missing Soldiers (an organization dedicated to finding and/or identifying the remains of men missing in action) and was an active advocate for civil rights.
How to achieve the look: Just throw a full-size apron with a red cross on it over any late 19th century (or late 19th century looking) dress. You can also add a white bonnet for a little extra “oomph.”
If you want badass women, you can’t really make a list without Boudica, a leader of the Iceni tribe in Britannia (Roman Britain). This lady led a rebellion against the Roman occupation after they failed to honor her husbands will (to leave his kingdom, which had been an independent ally of Rome jointly to his wife and daughters and the Roman emperor) by annexing the kingdom outright, and also publicly raped and flogged Boudica and her daughters. Now this was not just any rebellion – this was a rebellion that succeeded in taking three cities, including throwing the Romans out of Londinium (the roman settlement on the site of modern-day London). All said and done, Boudica and her forces managed to take out upwards of 60,000 Romans before her rebellion was put down.
How to achieve the look: Unfortunately due to lack of archeological evidence, there’s not a terrible amount of information to go on for this one – the best way to go is to just approximate a generic iron-age Celt costume – a baggy wool dress, a leather belt, and a tartan wool blanket pinned as a cloak paired with a chunky gold necklace that mimics the celtic torc look. Carry around a fake spear, and you’ve got it.
… Now this list as of right now is looking a little, well, white and western. So let’s go ahead and add some badass women of color into the mix too:
When women decide they want to be an ancient Egyptian for halloween, everyone always defaults to Cleopatra – who, while she did rule as a pharaoh of Egypt, was not actually Egyptian. She was actually of Greek decent. But if you reach much farther back, there are a number of amazing women to draw from, foremost of which is Hatshepsut. Hatshepsut was not necessarily the first female pharaoh, but she had one of the longest, and certainly one of the most prosperous reigns of any other female pharaoh. This lady reestablished important trade routes and spearheaded major building projects. In the end, she made her mark on the kingdom so thoroughly that she even managed to survive the attempts by her successors to erase her from the historical record.
How to achieve the look: This one is a little less DIY friendly, as you’ll have to purchase a headdress like this. Pair with a linen tunic, some gold roping as a belt, and a heavily beaded collar necklace (maybe something like this). Bonus: create your own false beard to go with the pharaoh headdress, as Hatshepsut was known for adopting the garb of a man in order to reinforce her authority.
6) Queen Liliuokalani
Queen Liliuokalani was the last reigning monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Liliuokalani maintained a strong opposition to the annexation of her kingdom by the United States and ended up getting arrested and forced to officially abdicate by the American businessmen of the island after they wrested control from her. But even after abdication, Liliuokalani continued to fight against annexation tooth and nail, being a serious advocate for her people and her former kingdom right up until her death.
How to achieve the look: Pair a black lacy gown with a bustle and a thick black velvet choker. Add a white sash with an ornate broach for extra “oomph.”
7) Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman is a figure that few know about, but as far as I’m concerned, everybody should. Amelia Earhart gets all the glory for female aviators, but to me, Coleman is the much stronger figure. Coleman was not only the first black female pilot, but she achieved huge popularity on the air-show circuit as a stunt pilot through the early 1920s, despite her gender and race. Because she was unable to get admission to flight schools in the US because of her race and gender, Bessie was forced to travel to Europe to get the training she needed/wanted, and there she became not only the first female to earn her international aviation license, but the first American of ANY gender or race to do so. If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.
How to achieve the look: Long leather coat paired with a white shirt, brown pants, and tall lace-up riding boots. Top off with a leather cap and flight goggles.
8) Madame Ching (Ching Shih)
Talk about badass… Madame Ching was a woman who, after her notorious pirate husband Zheng Yi died simply took over the helm of his ship and through some genius maneuvering ended up becoming the commander of the entire Red Flag Fleet of pirates. With over 300 ships, and anywhere from 20,000-40,000 pirates under her command, she became one of the most feared pirates to sail the seas during the early 19th century. She became so successful, actually, that she was able to retire into wealth and luxury after beating not only the Chinese Navy, but also naval forces from Portugal and Britain.
How to Achieve the look: This is one of the hardest to figure out, because as far as I can find there are no real images of Madame Ching (illustration above aside). However, based on traditional Chinese garb of the time, and accounting for the fact that as a pirate she would have to wear something easy to maneuver in (likely mens clothing), I think pairing a chinese brocade jacket with a pair of martial arts pants (something baggier with elastic or ties at the ankle would work well), black flats (a pair of black TOMs make a good stand in for traditional martial arts shoes), and a fake sword would make for a decent approximate*.
And last but not least…
9) Rosie the Riveter
Because you all know me. I can’t make a Historical Women Costume list without including Rosie, even if she is probably the one costume on this list you’ve seen before. Probably multiple times. Now, the “Rosie the Riveter” image on the “We Can Do It!” poster is one that pretty much everyone and their brother knows about, and is mostly what is imitated for costumes. I’ve even been that particular Rosie for Halloween an embarrassingly large amount of times, mainly because I love what she stands for, and to be honest, it’s an easy costume to throw together at the last minute.
But here’s the thing: Rosie is so much more than the “We Can Do It!” poster – in fact, the “We Can Do It!” poster wasn’t even really associated with “Rosie” until the poster’s rediscovery in the 1980’s. Before that, Rosie was a far more general representation of women of all shapes, colors, and creeds who worked behind the scenes in factories to help aid the war effort. And these women are SO badass because ultimately they helped win the war – many historians specifically credit the massive production infrastructure backing Allied troops as one of the main reasons for the eventual victory. So here’s to Rosie the Riveter, in all her incarnations!
How to achieve the look: Pair wide-leg jeans with work boots, and a blue or chambray shirt and a belt. Add a red scarf or bandanna, and you’re set.
So here’s to representing the strong women of history!
Any women you think should be on this list? Please share in the comments!* If anyone is more knowledgable on this subject and has any input, please share in the comments – I’m by no means an expert on early 19th century Chinese pirate attire!