The Debrief: Clothing and Costumes

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This piece originally appeared on The Debrief, a sex, dating, and relationships column by Mimi Arbeit that appears every Wednesday on

Rated PG-13

What are your favorite costumes to wear? What makes you feel good, socially, emotionally and physically? What turns your head?

I’m not just talking about Halloween costumes-although this week’s main event was certainly the inspiration for this post. We’re talking costumes for fun, like something funny for a costume party or costumes of a popular TV show character. What about costumes for the bedroom? Something like this milk provider would be great to sleep in… or did you have something different in mind when you think of bedroom costumes?

I spoke over the phone with a Jewish Bostonian who chose to remain anonymous. He opened our conversation with the reflection that the last time he wore a costume for Halloween, it was to an adult party. Here’s what he said:

I like conceptual costumes with sexy components. I dressed as Eros (the Greek god of love): little clothing, wings and a quiver full of “sex toys“. It was easy, and it also sparked a lot of conversation. I felt sexy and fun.

All clothing is communication. I ask myself, what am I hoping to communicate? Do I want to communicate that I’m in a sexual place, or not? If yes, then what kind of sexual place am I in? What do I want people to know about that place?

For some people, it’s about wearing clothes they don’t wear regularly; maybe flowy skirts or leather, doing their hair, or grabbing some accessories to turn themselves into their favorite superhero (even if it’s not the hero this source here has identified as their state’s favorite). Something different can give you a new opportunity to feel sexy, beautiful, interesting, fun or arousing. Whatever you’re yearning for.

When I wear costumes, that’s my excuse to not wear a kippah. I can do my hair in more interesting ways. Also, I’m aware that people might see a kippah and think I would judge them, when that’s not what I’m there for.

My costumes tend not to be too elaborate. A favorite of mine for a while has been tina belcher from bobs burgers. For a sexual experience, I prefer nudity and skin-to-skin contact. I feel more comfortable.

But there is a lot of eroticism to things being revealed and framed by clothing. How am I displaying my body? How are other people seeing me? Are they seeing something through clothes, in spite of clothes, or because I’ve moved clothes around? Even my most ordinary item of clothing may become erotic if I use it as a delay tactic, taking more time with removal, heightening the tension.

Clothing can become erotic through consensual use of control too. Maybe one person grabs the other person’s clothing, pulling closer. Maybe a piece of clothing, once removed, serves another role. Maybe it’s about one person removing the other person’s clothing. As you change these dynamics, you change the dynamics of the sexual encounter. Clothing is a part of sex, each time, whether intentionally or by happenstance. Costumes are one way of intentionally shaping the role that clothing plays in sex.

And like all sex, there are awkward, fumbling moments. Costumes can be intricate and frustrating. Sometimes there’s no way to take off my costume in a hurry. Wearing the Eros costume, I want to take my wings off carefully and hang them up before diving into the moment.

As I plan my outfits, I ask myself several questions. Am I going to feel better if I’m comfortable, or am I going to feel more excited by an elaborate and restrictive costume? Comfort contributes to confidence, which I usually find sexier. But other people may be trying to get something different out of the experience.

When considering comfort, I also reflect on how much of my body I choose to reveal. In costume, I’m more naked than usual. What parts of myself am I more comfortable revealing, and what parts am I not? Wearing a costume may be an opportunity to explore and explode some of my own self-consciousness about my body. If I spend the whole time feeling bad about how my knees look and hoping other people don’t notice, then I’m out of the moment. I’m in my head instead. But at the same time, if I get out of my head, and my knees are revealed, and I feel sexy anyway, and other people still think I’m sexy, that could shift how I feel about myself. So there’s this tension between accepting what I like and don’t like about my body right now, and taking a risk that may help me experience myself in a different way and grow even stronger self-confidence.

Is today a day when I want to choose safety, or a day when I want to choose risk?

No matter what, there’s still awkwardness.

I’m a giggler. I laugh. It’s a normal part of my sexual life. Sex is inherently kind of absurd-a lot of fun, but a really silly way to spend your time. I just try to make sure I laugh at what’s going on rather than at my partner. I like laughing during sex. It offers a nice moment to pause. I use laughter as a tool to get out of the romanticized ideal of non-communicative sex in which everything is perfect and everyone knows exactly what everyone wants. That never works. Laughter can be an entry point for communication in sex. Laughing and talking, talking and laughing, can be sexy.

I feel blessed to be queer because I didn’t have a blueprint for sex and sexual encounters, so I had to use more communication early on in my sexual experiences. I think that’s good for everyone. I’ve benefited from examining my own assumptions about sex, what it means to me, and how I’m supposed to approach it. A lot of people in the BDSM communities that I’ve been part of are geeky about sex. Researching, investigating and learning, which is valuable regardless of what you like to do sexually-and I wish it were more available to vanilla folks, people who aren’t part of BDSM culture or conversations. I love to continually learn and think about sex as something that is interesting.

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