In the first episode of Easy, Netflix’s second sad attempt at an anthology series, Andi (Elizabeth Reaser) goes in search of enticing Halloween costumes to spice up her and her husband’s sex life. Later we see her decked out in the garb of a “sexy” 1950s housewife — basically, as if June Cleaver were a porn star. Keeping with the theme, she’s bought her husband a construction worker costume. No, not one involving ass-revealing chaps or something last seen on Magic Mike—it looks like an adult “Bob The Builder” costume.
The scene is a perfect representation of a spectrum that plays out each Halloween — there’s a glut of “sexy” Halloween costumes for women, but in the Year of Our Lord 2016, men who’d like to put a little more on display have to do the work themselves.
“My perception of a sexy male costume is something that is more revealing or less clothing,” says Jordan, who assembled a Laura Croft costume last Halloween (black speedo, gray combat boots and gun holsters). “I was a swimmer all my life; I’m very comfortable being half or fully naked,” he says adding that “It was really cold.”
A quick Google search of “sexy male Halloween” costumes turns up everything from penis-centric costumes like “Candyman Mechanic” to phallic jokes like “Genie in the Lamp.” (The lamp is your dick. Get it?) But the men I interviewed said they didn’t think these costumes were “sexy”; they were seen as borderline inappropriate, depending on the company.
“Do women want to see an emphasis on the penis? Generally speaking, I would say no. Just like most men would not want to see an accentuated camel toe,” says Kristy De Leon, a licensed marriage and family relationship therapist in Orange County, California. “Penis accentuation will come across as too needy for attention and that you are entirely sex-driven.”
So how can men do “sexy” Halloween, without being too sexy? The online stores for major costume chains offer little help. SpiritHalloween just returned costumes of The Wise Men on the first page of results. Adjusting keywords to “sexy male costume” revealed mostly sexy women’s costumes and an array of wigs described as “handsome.” 3wishes.com, which is geared toward lingerie, turned up slightly sexier results that were bad for other reasons: a male Belle from Beauty and the Beast (it’s not even drag) and the problematic “Native Men’s Loincloth.” Halloween’s big box stores may be rife with sexy female elves, lumberjacks, police officers, Donald Trumps, and even Big Bird, but they offer few parallels for men. Usually, those men who dare just end up improvising.
“I think my thought process was definitely a little pretentious in that I wanted to be a little subversive,” Corey recalls of his first attempt at sexy Halloween, a Cupid costume he made using a sheet as a diaper as a college junior in 2010. “I felt like no men really ever wore sexy costumes, and the costumes that guys wore were lame.”
Robert, who wore a sexy priest outfit involving a Speedo and an unbuttoned frock as a part of a couple’s costume, agreed. “I guess it was half wanting to poke fun at the sexy Halloween costume and half wanting to show my body,” Robert says.
But showing skin isn’t necessarily for everyone. “Even the most physically attractive man will look unattractive in a sexy costume if he wears it with no confidence,” says Samantha Strazanac, director of marketing at 3wishes. De Leon suggests that women are more likely to respond to costumes that cater to the fantasy of the confident, romantic man, like Jon Snow or even a longstanding “sexy” trope, like a fireman. (It turns out the handyman costume from Easy isn’t as crazy as it seems—maybe just stay away from anything resembling a children’s cartoon character).
For gay men, it’s a different story. In Robert’s experience, co-opting the cliché of of the “slutty” costume raises less eyebrows. “We’ve sort of turned [it] into our own thing.”
Corey has discovered the most basic rule of “sexy” dressing with his own Halloween adventures. Noting that his more revealing costumes tended to spark both men and women’s amusement and interest, Corey explored increasingly sexy costumes in subsequent years — a Spartan warrior, a stripper cop, and a spandex-clad Peter Pan. The more revealing the costume, the more attention it got, even if it was less creative.
“With stripper cop I got a lot of female attention I think because I wanted to stay in character,” he says. Yes, the costume got him laid, he added when asked, but still, the experience left something wanting.
“It was frustrating. Because the stripper cop was not my best costume.”