What are you going to be for Halloween? It’s a question I begin asking children in my life around Labor Day, remembering the excitement of planning, purchasing (or making!), and finally wearing the perfect costume. Halloween is a day for dress-up and make believe, when kids get to be their favorite superhero or character.
This year more kids are answering the question of what they want to be by dressing up as superhero than a princess. After an 11-year run at the top of the National Retail Federation’s Costumes Survey, the mighty princess has fallen. Direct explanations for the change include the popularity of shows like Supergirl and a new Wonder Woman reboot along with a three-year lag since the release of a new Disney princess movie.
More broadly, the rise of the superhero and comparative fall of the princess costume may be another sign of a changing culture when it comes to gender. Last year Target moved away from gender-based signs in their stores, marking Toys, Home, and Entertainment products by theme rather than gender – for example, “Action Toys” rather than “Toys for Boys”. Similarly, 2015 and 2016 Superbowl advertising included two campaigns that flipped common gender scripts: Always’ “Like a Girl” commercials that featured active girls running and throwing, and Dove’s “#RealStrength” ads depicting emotional men caring for their children. While you will still find plenty of rough-and-tumble truck commercials when tuning into a football game, marketers are finding that new messages of what it means to be a woman or a man are resonating with their customers.
Who knows, maybe next year the princess costume will be back on top, driven by boys who finally get to be Elsa for Halloween.