Psychoanalyzing 10 Popular Halloween Costumes

Think that French maid costume is meaningless fun? Psychologists say it tells us something about you.

A close up of a vampire's teeth.
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Tarzan. Tarzan and Jane swung into your party, huh, flaunting their abs? These folks probably invest a lot of time and energy in their bodies, and perhaps they feel unappreciated or like no one cares how much iron they can pump. Halloween provides a chance to shine.

Snooki. Long, dark hair with a pouf. Tight minidress, preferably in cheetah print—or short shorts and a white tank with the Italian flag. Larger-than-life sunglasses, a pile of silver necklaces, and platform shoes. You're Jersey Shore star Snooki. "She can be very rude and disrespectful, but she goes to the beat of her own drum," Von Ornsteiner says. "Although people might find that shocking, there's an element in us that wishes we had the freedom to be like that. We either admire or resent her, because we want to be able to do whatever we want, like she does."

The Grim Reaper. We're drawn to what frightens us. By dressing up as what we fear, we feel protected from it; we diminish its power. If we become it, the thinking goes, we can't be hurt by it.

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Dominatrix nun. Foster showed up at one of her annual Halloween parties in traditional nunwear on top—and a sultry leather skirt. She wore high-heeled boots and carried handcuffs and a whip. "It was a mix of the pure and the overly submissive," she says. "If I wanted to psychoanalyze myself, both of those urges are within me. Which part of my sexuality is more important? And that conflict was displayed very neatly."

Princess. Taking that Cinderella or Snow White dress for another whirl? You may yearn to return to early innocence, when life was safe and simple. Women who dress as princesses are often subconsciously reverting to childhood, a time defined by fairy tales and the belief that Prince Charming was waiting. "We want to recapture that, or live it out again," Von Ornsteiner says. "It's very romantic."

Spiderman. Men who dress up as superheroes often foster childlike fantasies of saving the world and extinguishing evil. Such costumes embody the desire to be brave, strong, and admired. Sometimes, men wear these costumes to compensate for feelings of inadequacy; other times, they're simply expressing affection for the character.

Vampires. The black cape, red lips, splattered blood. "There's an underlying sexual passion about vampires—there's seduction, in a predatory manner," Von Ornsteiner says. Neck-biting, for example, is a form of intimate contact often linked with gaining control over another person. It's an appealing premise we often feel safe expressing only on Halloween.

And, of course, you'll see hordes of women wearing … very little. That's OK—364 days of the year, they may lead repressed lives, and Halloween presents an opportunity for much-desired attention, Von Ornsteiner says. "It's a great, fantastic holiday," he adds. "You get to return to your inner child, or unleash some emotional burdens, or get over your fears. You can act in the manner you wish you could act in—but can't, since you really don't live a life of true abandonment. Once a year, you get to do that."