Halloween costumes are a big deal where I’m from in Massachusetts. I grew up just minutes from the Salem Witch Museum. Like most local children, I was immersed in the history of the witch trials. It had an impact and possibly influenced some kind of competitive creative spirit surrounding Halloween.
You really didn’t want to be the kid with the store-bought mask. When we could no longer collect trick or treating and Halloween became a social event, it was even more important to show ingenuity, coordination, and style.
A student who is still a good friend showed up for a Halloween themed school dance disguised as an amoeba. That’s right, one of those unicellular creatures you look at under a microscope in a science lab. He filled a clear garbage bag with balloons, pasted drawings of various parts of the amoeba, and bored two holes in the floor for his legs. We howled with laughter back then, but what creativity and imagination.
My friend’s costume was unforgettable, but it was also inexpensive, simple, and made with what was available to him. Being an amoeba may not appeal to most people, but think of the spirit of its attempt and let your surroundings inspire you. Once, while working in a town far from home, I was invited to a last minute Halloween party. I draped my roommate’s light blue tablecloth in the Greek style around me and painted dark circles around my eyes. In 5 minutes, I was a DIY zombie bride ready to dance the night away.
It’s not always easy to come up with a costume idea as brilliant as the ones above, but the inspiration for your next great Halloween costume idea can come from almost anywhere. You can make a DIY costume using items you already own, and things like face paint, extra fabric, and even spray paint can be used to make a simple DIY Halloween costume.
Benefits of making your own Halloween costumes
Halloween costumes don’t have to be perfect, complicated, expensive, or look like they belong on the floor of a comic book convention. This is great if you have the time and money, but you can work wonders with what you have at home, complemented by Dollar Store and thrifty second-hand supplies.
Creating your own Halloween costumes can be fun and less expensive than buying from a store. Costume templates are printed out year after year with just a few changes. As a result, you are left with cultural clichés: clown, witch, hippie, sexy fill-in-the-blank, cowboy, superhero. I even saw Native American costumes and Afro wigs in a costume store. They should retire.
You can do so much better and have fun doing it. The spirit of Halloween in the United States is about wisdom, disguise, and surprise.
If you don’t know what you want to be, check out the costumes available online for inspiration. Find the most popular costumes and consider making the product idea your own. They have a generic pirate costume. The first thing you might think of might be a certain pirate. Captain Hook came to mind and then The Man in Black from The Princess Bride. Hook is complicated. But I could definitely cut holes in a big triangle of black t-shirt and tie it around my head like The Man in Black. You have the idea.
You could also consider a couple’s costume – not being two halves of a horse, but maybe dressing up as a famous duo. Adults can also use ideas they used as a child. A bed sheet ghost still works (although seeing it at your Halloween party can be a challenge).
Easy ways to reuse what you already have in your closet for DIY Halloween costumes
The first thing to do when thinking about costumes is to take stock of the things that you have cluttered in your house: cardboard boxes, styrofoam, plastic bottles, lids, shower curtains, old sheets, and clothes that you want to cut up or change. You probably have more than you need.
The best things you can own for costuming purposes are plain old cotton t-shirts and cardboard boxes. They are a blank board for your creativity. T-shirt cotton and cardboard are easy to cut, paint, tear, sew, glue and staple. You can make almost anything out of cardboard: masks, body armor, helmets, what you call it.
Assess your stock of tools: scissors, children’s watercolors, Exacto knife, tape, hot glue gun, string, stapler, rubber cement, pencil, tape measure and binder clips. This is my basic costume DIY kit, but if you’re a hobbyist you will likely need to add specialized tools. And maybe all you have is glue, tape, and a stapler. That’s okay, use what you have.
You should also make a proper assessment of your own abilities. This may not be the first time you’ve used hot glue or tried to turn a fabric swatch into a DIY costume for hour-long dreams. Bad face-paint can be a disaster, but if your DIY Halloween costume falls apart it can be a lot worse.
How much time do you have until the party? If it’s tonight, move on to the quick tips. When you have a few days to a few weeks, you have more options, but just as much fun.
If you want to be a character from a series or movie, these might live in your closet! This cardigan? Mr. Rogers. Do you have a friend’s flower blouse and vest? Janet from “The Good Place”. Do you understand what I mean? Maybe you need an accessory or a pair of shoes to glue something to? Go to a local thrift store to find out the details. You can even shop for a cheap hat in a costume store.
You’d be surprised how easy it is to twist a dress or shirt. or any other object or things you already own in a clever costume.
How to make your own Halloween costumes from thrift and dollar store finds
When you have even more time and just a little extra cash, browse your local thrift stores. The rock set of the 1960s or 1970s? Phyllis Schlafly. Find a tuxedo? 007 or Kingsman. If it’s in poor condition, consider buying it to further undress it and spatter it with fake blood. There are so many characters who have shown up in disorderly tuxedos and suits.
And as I mentioned earlier, thrift stores can offer accessories from any era. They can even be a whole costume. Find a nice fedora and double breasted suit, you are a gangster. If you can find a beret, you’re half Bonnie and Clyde. When you’re part of a couple, you can shop together to coordinate your look.
Tips for quick Halloween costumes
Masks. All you really need is a mask to wear a costume, but a mask with a prop is even better.
Quick application: cut stockings and nylons to wear as a burglar mask. Ambush the Monopoly game for cash and stuff your pockets to overflow.
Makeup mask. Draw on a curly mustache, goatee, sideburns, stubble. Depending on your outfit, you will become an instant pop star or super villain. Hollow out your cheeks and blacken your eye sockets. Complete the look with a dress or sports fan gear and you are on your way to an undead prom or game. Think of the Beetlejuice waiting room.
Paper Plate Emoji Mask: Use Two Plates For Stability. Staple or glue them together. If you don’t have a yellow color, just get yourself a sharpie and get to work. You can pin the plate to a stick, paint stirrer, ruler, something flat, sturdy and light that is not valuable. Remember to make eye holes.
If you have more than an hour to spare, consider making the mask wearable by bracing the sides with 2-inch rounds or squares of stapled cardboard. Tie the string around the box like a button. Tie back.
Wear a suit so it looks more like a choice than a sloppy accident.
Box mask. It’s silly but charming. If you happen to have a box that fits your head. Cut a face out of one side. It can be square and robotic or emoji-like. You can put a section of someone’s face or something on top of it. Remember to make eye holes.
Robots: If you prefer a robotic look, make yourself rectangular cardboard gloves. Draw colored buttons and squares on it. Or if you have the time and an old computer, hot glue the keys to your gauntlets and maybe your mask.
Finally there is an emergency costume. On the way to the party, go to a pharmacy and choose the most ridiculous kid costume you can find. Get safety pins. Attach the costume to your clothes. And wear an expression of absolute confidence. Nobody will know and it will be a great conversation starter.
– From Nic Desmet