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Rethinking sexy-ween

Spirit Halloween in Fargo carries the Essentially Hers line of costumes.

FARGO -- Spend Halloween weekend in downtown Fargo and you'll lose count of the sexy nurses, come-hither cops and provocative cats.

And it's not just the old costume standbys. It seems anything can skew sexy.

Click through lingerie retailer's pages and pages of skimpy Halloween costumes and you'll find Sexy Pizza (and various other foods), Sexy Sock Monkey and Sexy Rick Grimes (from AMC's "The Walking Dead").

"You can be anything you want for Halloween, as long as it's 'sexy,'" says 28-year-old Krissy Hibbard of Fargo.

Some women worry about what messages sexualizing Halloween sends; some think it's lazy costuming, while others embrace it.

"I have noticed that 'sexy' commercialization has ramped up (in the past few years)," says Hibbard, a nursing student who chooses to reject sexualized costumes. "It's harder and harder to pick up basic pieces that aren't under 2 meters of fabric."

In recent years, her homemade costumes have included a gender-bending Jack Sparrow, one of the three blind mice and a sneering "scary doll."

Hibbard's doll elicited the best reactions in downtown Fargo, and she says a look of fear is more satisfying than one of approval.

"I want to revel in the chance to show off my makeup skills and give people something to remember other than a bit of leg," she says.

Emily Wicktor, who calls herself a sex-positive feminist, supports women owning and expressing their sexuality, whether it's on Halloween or any other day of year.

However, the assistant professor in North Dakota State University's English department calls tacking on sexuality to a costume idea "intellectually lazy and creatively uninteresting."

"Really, if the only way to amplify a costume is to add 'sexy' to it, I'm guessing it's a weak costume from the outset," she says.

She's not saying a woman (or any adult) shouldn't dress sexy for Halloween, but that it's a missed opportunity for "clever expression and true costuming."

Even Sabrina Horning, who strips down to pasties with Bad Weather Burlesque, isn't a big fan of the super-sexy Halloween costumes.

The prepackaged costumes are too short for the long-torsoed "Alabaster Disaster," as the 29-year-old Fargo woman is known onstage, so she usually puts her own costumes together, borrowing from her arsenal of steel-boned corsets.

However, Hornung appreciates the silliness of sexy-ween. "I like the idea of sexy Abraham Lincoln or a sexy AT-AT walker," she says.

And she says if women have the confidence to rock an off-the-shelf sexy bumblebee costume, go for it.

"Though I do suggest a good pair of tights to stay warm and a good pair of shoes they can walk in," she adds.

Alison Graham Bertolini, Wicktor's colleague at NDSU, doesn't see the harm in wearing sexy costumes, either, as long as the women wearing them are adults and have some awareness of their social context.

"For adult women, I don't necessarily think it's a bad thing, especially when women are conscious of making these choices in a very over-sexualized culture that puts so much emphasis on our bodies and our appearance," she says.

Graham Bertolini, an assistant professor in both the English and women and gender studies departments, says Halloween allows women to be whatever they want for a night and to explore their fun side.

"I think it can be freeing, as long as women are aware that they're constantly being bombarded with these messages about being valued primarily for their bodies and for their appearance rather than for what's on the inside," she says.

Twerk or treat

Earlier this month, Spirit Halloween announced its line of costumes modeled after Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus' much-talked-about performance at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

The "Twerkin' Teddy" bear leotard and referee-striped "Twerkin' Suit" sell for $39.99 each, and the company expects it to sell so well it's limiting one per customer.

"It's going to be in demand, and we don't want someone to come in and buy them all," says Fargo Spirit Halloween owner Dave Cuzner.

According to the latest Google Shopping data, Cyrus is the No. 5 most-searched Halloween costume this year, behind four male and gender-neutral costumes.

Although Graham Bertolini has her own thoughts on the raunchy pop star's recent behavior, she says if women want to dress like her for Halloween, fine, but intent matters.

"If they have an awareness that this is an ironic act that they're taking part in and that it's meant to be humorous, then that's a lot different than if they're just going out there to seek attention for how they look," she says.

Cuzner's other big sellers for women this year are sexy superheroes, separates in lace and neon, and military themes (think "sailor girl").

Hornung, of Bad Weather Burlesque, says sexy women's versions of uniforms worn traditionally by men in positions of authority (police officers, firefighters) go back to the pinup days, when they were used for morale, fetish and satire.

"Anything patriotic was designed to boost morale, and anything else seemed to be a burlesque on role reversal," she says, adding that burlesque, by definition, means parody.

At the other end of the spectrum, Hornung points out the hyper-femininity of frilly-flirty Little Bo Peeps and sexy Disney princesses.

"Women love to play dress-up and to glam up and shop, even if it is in regards to the hyper-kitsch of the sexy Halloween costume," she says.