Halloween is once again upon us, and if you’re like most people, you’re probably feeling a little blindsided and underwhelmed by the costume ideas you’ve managed to cobble together at the last minute. Perhaps you’re still undecided, or you’re looking for a better option. If you’re studying a language (or even aspiring to study one soon), why not drum up a few international costume ideas to further embody the language you want to speak?
We’ve pulled together some suggestions for seven of our most popular learning languages, bearing in mind that dressing up as a specific fictional or historical figure is generally a more culturally sensitive way to pay homage to another people’s heritage than, say, dressing up as a generic member of that culture. (Please don’t do that.)
Here are some of our favorite international costume ideas to inspire you as you set out for your hauntings and hell-raisings this year. Bonus points if you can get into character by speaking the appropriate language!
Spanish: Don Quixote
When Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes wrote the first volume of Don Quixote in 1605, he probably wasn’t planning on writing what would become, even 400 years later, one of the most widely read works of Western literature. If you’re not familiar with the plot, an aging man (our buddy Don), after reading too many novels, suddenly believes he’s a knight and sets out on his horse to seek romance and adventure. He falls for a girl who barely knows him, but he mostly winds up fighting windmills because he thinks they’re giants. A fun bonus is that you can have someone else dress as either Sancho Panza or a windmill for a literary couple’s costume.
Alternative costume idea: Frida Kahlo
French: Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette was an infamous historical figure who became a symbol of the extravagance of the French monarchy (and was also the last Queen of France prior to the French Revolution). You probably don’t have to be a French history buff to know the basic costume requirements: a dress befitting an 18th century monarch, a powdered wig, perhaps a guillotine for good measure, and maybe a slice of cake you can offer to the peasants. By the way, “let them eat cake” translates to Qu’ils mangent de la brioche (though it’s a myth that she said that).
Alternative costume idea: Le Petit Prince
Italian: The Mona Lisa
Rome was a pretty big deal thousands of years beforehand, but Leonardo da Vinci put Italy solidly on the map when he painted the Mona Lisa in the early 1500s. You, too, can be the most valuable work of art in the world when you dress up as his signature creation. You’ll need robes, perhaps a wig, and a well-practiced, enigmatic smile. You’ll probably get a lot more instant nods of recognition if you walk around with a giant picture frame around your head, though. And for the purposes of your studies, you can dispel the assumption that Lisa didn’t have much to say.
Alternative costume idea: Giorgio Armani
German: Karl Marx
Karl Marx belonged to a class of very prominent German intellectuals, and you might know him best as the patron saint of communist thought. You might need more than a suit and a white beard to pull off this costume, however. Carrying a copy of the Communist Manifesto with you will help drive the point home (bonus points if it’s in German).
Alternative costume idea: Angela Merkel
Swedish: Greta Thunberg
If you like your international Halloween costume ideas to be topical (and, in this case, laced with political overtones), consider going as the Swedish activist who has been one of several recognizable leaders driving the youth climate activism movement. You’ll need braids, a parka or raincoat, and a protest sign written in Swedish. Here’s some photo inspo (and a sign you can copy) if you’re not sure where to start.
Alternative costume idea: Your favorite character from Midsommar
Football (you know, what we call soccer in America) is a huge deal in Brazil, and a giant among the greats is Pelé (born Edson Arantes do Nascimento). He won three World Cups and eventually went on to win the title of FIFA Co-Player of the Century in 1999. Don’t have the quads or calves of a football superstar? That’s okay. Cobble together a soccer uniform with his name on it (preferably a yellow and green jersey, like this one) and practice your Brazilian Portuguese sports slang.
Alternative costume idea: an Enchanted Moura
Russian: Baba Yaga
Even non-Russians are familiar with the fearsome crone who dominates Slavic folklore. There are many contradictory accounts of Baba Yaga, which all add up to create a mythic enigma that is at once “helpful nature witch” and “death goddess who will absolutely cannibalize you.” She lives in a hut that has chicken feet, and she’s rumored to have a fence made of human bones. If this is too much to convey in a simple Halloween costume, aim to include a large mortar and pestle with your witch costume (which she preferred to ride in lieu of a more traditional broom).
Alternative costume idea: Rasputin