Like almost every industry, TV’s been a boy’s club for decades—still, a few determined women have snuck in under the radar and into history. Step away from the store-bought staples this year (definitely avoiding these) and into some duds that are just as recognizable as, say, a sexy cat—but way more inventive.
We’ve compiled a collection of both real and fictional women from the small screen that you can spin off for Halloween this year. And on short notice, too: We’ve made sure each guise can be put together with items you can easily find at your local thrift or craft store. Ready?
1951: Lucille Ball
Wanna talk barrier-busters? Though Lucille Ball began her career as your typical model/actress, she soon found she had a knack for cracking people up with her over-the-top antics. When she began shopping around a sitcom starring herself and her Cuban husband, Desi Arnaz, she was shot down by numerous studio execs who, in so many words, were scared off by her husband’s heritage. Lucy & Desi took their show on the road—literally—and sold out theaters left and right. Only then did CBS come clamoring for her talents, and her show became the most-watched show on television for four out of its six seasons. An icon for equality in the arts, she was the first female owner of a TV production company and, later, one of the first female studio heads in television. Not bad for the Vitameatavegamin lady.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Polka-dot dress, waist apron, red lipstick, false lashes, pearls and a curly red ‘do.
1963: Julia Child
Though it sounds every bit like wacky Internet lore, the beloved TV chef started her career as a WWII spy, until her State Department husband was posted to France. The pair moved to Paris, and it was there she fell in love with food. From there she published the seminal volume, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which lead to television appearances. Audiences couldn’t get enough of her, and she hosted cooking shows for the next three decades—most famously, The French Chef, which ran for 10 years on PBS.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Matching pearl necklace and studs, a long dress, tightly-curled light brown hair, and an apron. Basically everything Dan Aykroyd is wearing here.
True story: My (male) friend, who is now a chef, dressed up as her one year in college. Double-roll TP makes an excellent bust if yours isn’t as, ahem, ample as Julia’s.
1970: Mary Richards
The O.G. of inspiring TV women, Mary Richards, led an entire generation of girls out of the kitchen and into the workforce. Emerging at the peak of the Women’s Liberation movement, The Mary Tyler Moore Show featured accomplished TV comedian Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards, a single woman fresh out of the free-thinking ‘60s and working as a TV news producer. A character theretofore never seen depicted on television, Mary Richards often clashed with the men in her office, but whipped them into shape with her work ethic and, when necessary, a disapproving smirk.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Tweed, wool suits, silky neckties, a peacoat if it’s cold. Don't forget to bring a hat, which you'll probably start tossing into the air after you've had a few.
1984: Clair Huxtable
Cliff, Schmiff. The real head of the Huxtable household was Clair, a moneyed, hard-working attorney who, perhaps most importantly, did not take shit from her man-child husband. Though her character was originally slated to be a housewife, she was smartly rewritten as a lawyer, which came in handy when it came to ruling the roost—she could talk her kids out of (and into) anything. And if her argument for some reason didn’t work, she could just give them the look.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Ridiculous gold earrings, your mom’s hot-roller set, anything with shoulder pads.
1988: Roseanne Conner
No matter what you think of her, you can’t deny that Roseanne Barr’s character on her eponymous sitcom gave a voice to working-class moms, who even 20 years later are still rarely represented on TV. Roseanne was also notable in the way she shared parental responsibility with her husband, Dan—a far cry from the June Cleavers of old—and in many ways, eclipsed him as the head of the household. Though she may not have always had work, her number-one priority was providing for her family.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: This one’s easy: oversized flannels, jeans and sneakers.
1989: Lisa Simpson
Lisa’s a perfect parallel for every geek girl’s growing-up experience. Perched in perpetual adolescence, Lisa often struggles to align her firm Buddhist, feminist and vegetarian beliefs with the miserable milestones of tweenhood, like getting picked on and crushing on boys. She’s not yet a woman, and she’ll never be one, but we have no doubt—heck, we know—that in some alternate timeline, Lisa has gone on to kick serious ass somewhere, likely while wearing a lab coat.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Red tube dress (like this one), pearls, red Mary Janes, yellow tights and hair like this. Modify an old Barbie to make a Lisa Lionheart, or, if you can find one, bring along a toy sax strung up around your neck.
1989: Elaine Benes
Where my big-haired ladies at? Forget Rachel: Through Soup Nazis and sponges, bad dates and bad dancing, Elaine was the ‘90s sitcom character you wish was your best friend. Elaine was revolutionary on Seinfeld in that she was ordinary—her character didn’t for a second depict being a woman in New York as all Manolos and martinis. On a show about nothing, all she had to do was be herself: a sarcastic, exasperated copywriter who could out-snark almost anyone.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Long floral dress, a Bumpit if you need it, socks with heels. (I know. Just trust us on this one.)
1999: Olivia Benson
A direct descendent, culturally, of Mary RIchards, Liv’s got no time for shopping excursions, leisurely lunches, or other big-city frippery—not when someone in New York has needed saving like every week for the last decade and a half. Olivia spent most of her time in Special Victims as one half of dynamic detective duo Benson and Stabler, but when Stabler up and left in 2011, she cried for a hot second, then got back to work. No matter how gritty the case or how cheesy the dialogue, Olivia Benson is and will always be SVU.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Steel-grey pantsuit and a mock turtleneck, and toy handcuffs or a phony badge in a passport holder would help round it out. The haircut is up to you: The most iconic is the short, spiky number from season two, but there are plenty to choose from.
2012: Olivia Pope
Full disclosure: I’ve never seen Scandal (it's on my list, I swear!), but everything I’ve heard about it talks up Olivia’s place in the pop culture pantheon as the first lead female African-American character on a TV drama with a rich, complex character. It also helps that she as a distinct penchant for striking pantsuits on the show, which should make you instantly recognizable at any Halloween gathering.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Consignment stores are probably a better bet for this one. Look for well-tailored suits in flattering pastels.
2011: Tina Belcher
Having earned numerous critical accolades for being a “smart, strong, sensual woman” of the cartoon world (specifically Bob's Burgers), Tina Belcher picks up where Lisa Simpson left off. Boy-crazy and proud of it, she doesn’t let her geeky tendencies get in the way of going after her latest object of affection. Though she sometimes has to psych herself up, and though she sometimes fails, she still has the healthiest self-esteem of any woman we’ve ever seen on TV—and she’s not even real.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Buddy Holly glasses (or cheap wayfarers with the lenses popped out), blue T-shirt, mid-thigh skirt, tube socks and Chuck Taylors.
BONUS COUPLES COSTUME: Tina and Amy
String up some thick cardboard, cigarette-girl style, around your neck to serve as your Update desk (also makes a handy snack tray at parties).
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Blazer, jeans sneakers, sarcasm.