Today, you’re a horrible goose from Untitled Goose Game, and the internet is laughing with you. Five months from now, if anyone looks at your photos from tonight, all they’ll see is waterfowl. Near-instant obscurity is the fate of many Halloween costumes, but their descent from timely and hilarious to huh? now skids down an ever steeper slope. Online, a meme’s ephemerality is a given, and old jokes more or less evaporate. When meme-famous geese or chicken sandwiches or preoccupations with tariffs jump from a server to a Halloween soiree, their lives don’t get any longer, but they also never really disappear.
For years now, costume companies like Yandy have been gaining customers and media attention for their ability to turn online moments into sellable, sexified scraps of fabric within days or even hours. Yandy is behind the infamous “Sexy Undecided Voter” costume of 2016, which took Kenneth Bone’s Icarus flight into internet fame and made it a crop top. This year, the company is offering web-savvy buyers the option to be a sexy college admissions scandal, a sexy chicken sandwich, a sexy Kylie Jenner singing “Rise and Shine,” a sexy Miss Impeachment, a sexy tariff, a sexy “tater thot,” or a sexy gluten-free cauliflower-crust pizza. Yandy knows these costumes will be irrelevant next year. Its business is built around it.
Merchandizing Halloween (which is really merchandizing fandom) started in the 1930s, when Ben Cooper Inc. started snapping up the rights to characters like Snow White so it could sell masks to kids. By the 1970s, adults were getting in on the fun, and costumes got steadily scarier and sexier until they arrived at the place they are today, when the most likely Halloween celebrants aren’t 8, but 18 to 24. The rise of social media, particularly Instagram, has only raised and added a high gloss to the stakes—for many, DIY won’t do, not when you’re trying to stand out in a feed that also includes Heidi Klum or Neil Patrick Harris and other costume-obsessed celebrities. “The Yandy customer is absolutely tapped into Instagram,” says Alicia Thompson, Yandy’s director of brand marketing. “That’s their world. We want them to stand out and look killer but also look sassy and smart and witty.” Hence the meme costume.
Dressing up like an internet phenomenon has been around for at least a decade, definitely since folks started throwing HallowMeme costume parties in New York City in 2009. Now, meme costumes are practically de rigueur. Which, judging by the laws of the internet, should mean they’re over. Memes tend to die after everyone finds out about them. Yet, they persist, largely because memes are just another form of pop culture now. If dressing up like Moulder and Scully is still cool even though The X-Files is no longer airing new episodes (yes, this is decidedly still cool), then so is dressing up like Grumpy Cat. Memes may be ephemeral, but their existence in the collective consciousness is not. Folks just have to decide which one to embody.
To make meme costumes possible, Yandy’s business works much differently than Ben Cooper’s did in the 1930s. Yandy isn’t buying rights. Costumes have to be instantly recognizable without infringing on copyright and be buyable before everyone forgets that that meme ever existed. Part of the strategy is true of many Instagrammy fashion lines: Make super limited runs of an item, as few as 50 costumes, and if they sell out, order more and reap the hype benefits of selling out your stock. It also helps when you’re able to extend buying times by making up your own rules. Yandy kicked off the season on October 3 in Los Angeles with an influencer-stuffed party. “After 13 years, Halloween starts when we say it’s ready to go,” Thompson says.
social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/story/halloween-meme-costumes