Each October, whenever my errands take me to the mall or anywhere reasonably close to a Halloween store, I like to take a look at the costumes. I usually put together my own Halloween outfits, but that doesn’t stop me from checking out everyone else’s potential costumes. I guess I like knowing what different people are into each year.

Lately, I’ve noticed an odd trend in kid’s costumes, specifically the costumes for girls. Designers have been dreaming up these outfits that are not actually costumes, but character themed dresses. For example, instead of dressing up as a My Little Pony character, girls can wear a dress in their pony’s colors. The dress sports a tutu skirt, a T-shirt style top with a picture of the pony on it, and it comes with a head piece that features tiny ears and a little lock of puffy hair. Is the outfit pony inspired? Absolutely. Yet, no one will think that kid is actually dressed as a pony. Other characters to get the dress treatment are Hello Kitty, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pikachu, Batman, Spiderman, and all the Ninja Turtles.

This design choice begs the question: do little girls actually want character dresses or would they rather have more accurate costumes? Is this really the design that most girls prefer? Or is this design just cheaper to mass produce? Or are designers just incapable of imagining little girls wearing anything other than poofy dresses? I can’t speak for kids today, but when I was a small child, I wanted to look like the character I was playing, and settling for a character-themed dress would have felt like a waste of a Halloween.

And yet…

When I was a teenager, I remember reading a short article in a gaming magazine about a Pokemon-themed ball gown. This was not a child’s costume, this was formal attire for an extremely upperclass high society masquerade ball where everyone had to wear costume-themed gowns or tuxedos. If anyone arrived in a traditional costume the other guests would probably drop their monocles into their champagne glasses. And for what is was, the Pokemon gown was really nice. It was Pikachu yellow and it had little pokeball pins holding up the scalloped edges of the skirt. I don’t know if it was the dress itself or the fact that someone had actually combined video games and women’s formal attire, but I liked that dress. So it’s not impossible for me to believe that some little girls would prefer the costume dress to a traditional costume.

Of course, the role of the costume dress may be something different altogether. My cousin, the mother of two young daughters, pointed out how often costumes double as play clothes these days. It’s not unusual to see little girls wearing their Disney Princess gowns to the playground, Kids of all ages and genders wear costume-themed hoodies to school and such. Animal-ear hats have never been more popular. I’m a big fan of this costume-clothes trend. I think it helps kids express their interests while encouraging them to live up to the heroic attributes of the characters they take with them. (Or maybe I just like costume clothes. Either way.) So, if girls are planning on wearing these Halloween costumes year round, maybe parents are more comfortable putting them in a dress that can be mistaken for regular dang clothes instead of letting them run around the playground in a full Hello Kitty mask. My cousin even suggested that some parents are buying multiple costumes for their daughters – the actual costumes for Halloween night and the thematic dresses for everyday wear.

I guess the best thing I can say about costume dresses is that they give girls more choices, and choices are almost always a good thing. (Of course, the more effeminate, harder to design characters like My Little Pony and Hello Kitty seem to only exist in dress form, but that feels like a whole other issue, so I’m gonna move on.) My only big complaint is how many costume shops confusingly categorize the dresses as “girls’ costumes” and everything else as “boys’ costumes.” I have noticed a few shops that designate their costumes as “kids’ costumes” and “girls’ costumes” which is more accurate (and, I imagine, these labels would sell more merchandise.) Personally, I would label them “kids’ costumes” and “costume dresses.” Then there would be no confusion.

Parents of daughters, if you haven’t gone costume shopping yet this year, I strongly advise you to find out which version of the costume your kids wants before money changes hands. This is another precious opportunity for kids to choose how to express themselves, which is one of the best things* about Halloween.

*Aside from candy.