Online Retailer Fashion Nova Draws Criticism Over ‘Racially Insensitive’ Halloween Costume

The backs of three women dressed in traditional Japanese geisha outfits.
tiffgraphic / Shutterstock

Every year, Halloween sparks a new controversy over costume choices. With the celebration around the corner, evidence of the phenomenon is already shaping up as Fashion Nova has sparked controversy over a geisha costume that prompted some to describe the outfit as “racially insensitive” to Japanese culture.

The Los Angeles-based label is selling the costume on its website for $49.99. The outfit consists a kimono, a skirt, and an obi (a belt-like sash worn across the stomach to tie the robe together), as well as hair sticks. According to Metro, the website had misspelled the word “geisha” as “geshia,” which was later changed. Metro also reported the costume reportedly previously included the descriptor “sexy” on the website, which has since been removed.

Social media users took to the internet to express their criticism of the costume, with some calling it “racially insensitive” while others criticized the over-sexualization of the outfit, The Independent is reporting. Models of Diversity, a group that advocates for more diversity and inclusion in the fashion industry, questioned the retailer’s decision on its verified Twitter account.

“What are you thinking, do you care to comment?” the group wrote in all caps, tagging Fashion Nova on the tweet.

According to a spokesperson for the Students Teaching About Racism in Society, Fashion Nova’s geisha costume fails to accurately represent Japanese culture by being both inaccurate and insensitive.

“What makes Fashion Nova’s costume so racially insensitive is that it feeds into a stereotype of Asian women being sexual objects and temptresses for men’s (almost always white men) desires. We know this because the costume is explicitly marketed as ‘sexy,'” the spokesperson told Metro. “What is particularly alarming is that geishas were never prostitutes, they provided other forms of entertainment such as singing, dancing, poetry, or light conversation. But due to ignorance and lack of willingness to learn, this has been translated over to America and the rest of the western world as ‘prostitution.'”

The spokesperson added that the context is particularly damning given that these stereotypes were used during World War II to justify sexual violence against Japanese women, as well as against women of other Asian ethnicities, according to Metro.

Fashion Nova has not responded to the criticism.

Fashion Nova is far from being the only retailer currently selling geisha costumes, The Independent pointed out. Escapade is currently selling a “Playboy geisha costume,” which is described as the perfect dress to “serve jasmine tea” in. The costume, which was originally being sold for about $60, has been marked down to about $16.