For me, Halloween is all about the costumes. I love costumes so much that when my mom said I was too old to go out trick-or-treating and there were no Halloween activities for me to go to I got creative. I convinced my brothers and some friends to dress up and go Christmas caroling with me on October 31st. My mom gave us credit for creativity and let us go, so long as we weren’t accepting candy. It was such a good experience! We had 4 part harmonies and brightened quite a few doorsteps with “Joy to the World”, “Far Far Away on Judea’s Plains”, and other favorites.
Now that I have toddlers, I can resume trick-or-treating. For the last few years, I have done coordinated themes for the family and have made the costumes from scratch. I have a few strategies to making them super cheap. My family has been winning costume contests for less than $1 per costume (on average) every year with this 6 step process.
First: Choose mostly cartoon humanoids.
Humans are great because they don’t require huge construction pieces. For example, if you were to do an elephant, you'd need a trunk and huge ears. With humans, you are already the right shape.
Cartoons are even better because they usually have one or two iconic outfits making you easily recognizable without adding a ton of identifying accessories.
Second: Choose the idea you already have a base for.
Take a few ideas to your (and your kids) closet(s) to see if you already have the main pieces (a large red shirt, a bluish dress, black pants, or whatever). Choose whichever one is going to require the least scrounging so you can use what you already have.
Do a Google Image search for costumes of your character. Think very carefully about your words before you hit "search". You don’t want to end up with a bunch of scantily clad ladies in your search results. Adding the words “baby”, “Toddler”, “Children’s”, or “Kids” at the beginning will usually pull up appropriate costumes. I even add those words when looking for my costume just to keep it clean.
My other favorite is to use Pinterest and search “DIY *CHARACTER NAME* Costume”. Both of these types of searches will show you what the costume looks like on actual people as well as different directions you can go with it. I would have never thought of the jacket I used for Captain Hook nor realized you could use red trimmings (instead of gold) on Prince Charming if it weren't for Pinterest!
Fourth: Plan it out.
Break each costume into its components and see what you need: Prince charming needs red pants (check), a white shirt (check), a belt (not check), and some fancy cords or something on his shoulders (not check). What can I use for the belt and cords?
Do some more searches for those specific parts if you're not sure what you can use (i.e. "DIY Pirate Hat). Then figure out specifically what plan you’ll use. Do you need fabric? Cardboard? String?
Don't stress out if it looks like a lot of sewing. Most of the "sewing" portions can actually be "hot glue" portions. All I was taught about sewing came from sewing pillow cases and pajama pants in Junior High, but I can sew a costume. Costumes don't need to look professionally done and, if you're careful, they might never even have to withstand a washing machine.
Fifth: Gather resources.
Almost any part of a costume can be broken down into cardboard and fabric. Cardboard shouldn't be hard to come by. I usually use cereal boxes for my cardboard because it isn't corrugated eliminating the rough edges, but I've also used junk mail and gift bags for my structures.
The first place I always look for fabric is the thrift store. The key is to see clothes as fabric. Turns out it is generally a lot cheaper to get fabric from rejected clothes than to buy fabric at a craft store. Just walk in looking for a specific color and find the best fabric at the best price you can get. I’ve bought pillow cases, t-shirts, sweaters, and a dress all for fabric.
Actually, even cheaper than the thrift store is if you throw your unwanted clothes in your fabric pile to begin with so you almost always have what you need.
If you get stumped, hit a store that sells fabric by the yard. Often, they will sell as small as 2 inch strips of fabric so the little trimmings can be done cheaply that way.
If you plan 2-3 months in advanced for shipping out of China, you can get some really cheap accessories (tiaras, formal gloves, etc) from Ebay. Otherwise, keep hitting Pinterest and Google for DIY options.
My biggest advice here is keep moving. As soon as you find the pieces, build what you can while you look for the other materials. I would get stumped on one costume or feature of a costume and move on to the next while my brain kept working out the first.
Now time for the results!
Seriously, I can’t get over how cute these kids are.
I wish I had better pictures, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get my husband in his costume in time for a photo shoot.
Who Framed Rodger Rabbit (2014):
*Already had the suit/hat
*Handcuffs were borrowed, broken by a toddler, and replaced for $1.07
*Already had the dress/make up
*Sewed the gloves from a skirt that was falling apart
*Already had the onsie/pants
*Bow tie was made from the same skirt as the Jessica Rabbit gloves (yay matching!)
*Sewed scrap tulle in a ball for a tail
*Made the ears from a hat we already had and a paper plate
*Bought the suspender ribbons for $1.07
Barrel of DIP (wrapped in a blanket):
*Cut off the back of a black t-shirt that we had 3 of (from a career fair) and wrapped him up like a blanket
*Stitched on some thick paper (from junk mail) for lettering
Total 2014 cost: $2.14
Peter Pan (2015):
*Already had the pants/boots/belt
*Hat was made from a pair of pajama pants that were in my fabric pile, red spray paint ($2.68), and feathers from my neighbor’s bird
*Wig was borrowed from my parents
*Jacket was a red t-shirt from the thrift store ($0.25), black fabric from last year’s “DIP” and gold ribbon ($2.15)
*White shirt was free from the thrift store (bogo)
*Hook was a bike hook at Home Depot ($1.08).
*Already had the night gown/shoes
*Ribbon was saved from a present and used for the waist and a hair bow
*Already had the wings/tights/sandals
*Shirt/skirt were quickly sewn from an old girls camp t-shirt that was HUGE (in only one nap time)
*Puff balls on her shoes were from coffee filters
*Already had the belt/pants/shoes
*Shirt was made from a $0.25 thrift store pillowcase
*Hat was made from the same pillowcase wrapped around a gift bag core and a red feather given to me out of my mother’s craft box
Total 2015 cost: $6.41
*Already had the shirt/pants/belt/shoes
*Sash made from $0.50 thrift store pants
*Epaulets made from an old shirt stretched over cereal box cardboard. The trimmings are yarn and ribbon I’ve had for years.
*Monocle is two doughnut shaped pieces of cereal box with plastic wrap glued in between. The string is some old embroidery thread.
*Already had the dress/undershirt/shoes
*Hooded shawl made from a $0.25 thrift store dress
*Bow is from a thrift store sweater $0.50
*Wand is a small curtain rod we already had
*Already had the dress/shoes/tiara
*Necklace is a black elastic from a pirate patch (we have lots of them)
*Gloves are sewn from a white shirt in my fabric pile
Lucifer (the cat):
*Already had pants
*Ears are from a black baggie, felt from a creepy monkey stuffed animal (that I had already turned into an airplane pillow), and a broken tiara
*Shirt is a $0.25 thrift store sweater with a grey "fabric pile" shirt stitched on
*Tail is a black "fabric pile" shirt and the rest of the grey shirt
*Bought black eyeliner for $0.96
*Already had the pants/onsie
*Shoulder loops are leftover ribbon from the Rodger Rabbit suspenders
*Gold belt/armpit loop/pant stripes are leftover Captain Hook trimmings
Total 2016 cost: $2.46
The Wizard of Oz (2017):
*Already had the pants, shirt, belt, boots
*Hat is made from black worn out shorts and a ripped fitted sheet sewn into a braided cord
*False cloth neck is made from the same ripped sheet and a cord from stained pants
*Straw sticking out of the shirt sleeves and buttons are strips of the ripped sheet
*Scarecrow makeup is the black eyeliner I bought for the cat costume the year prior
Glinda (Good Witch of the North):
*Dress is an old prom dress modified with a corset back (so that I could fit into it again). We happened to have the fabric on hand from modifying the dress back in highschool
*Crown is made from a cereal box painted grey ($0.50 paint), glue and glitter, and an elastic from worn out pajamas
*Wand is a dowel that we use as a lock for our sliding door painted grey with a cereal box star painted grey and more glue/glitter
*Dress was given to us by a cousin who outgrew it
*Basket was found at a thrift store for $1
*Already had the sparkly shoes
*Lion costume was given to us by a cousin who outgrew it
*Makeup is black eyeliner from the year prior's cat costume
*red bow is from a present we received
*Shirt is my husband's worn out shirt sewn smaller and some white fabric from another old shirt
*Lollypop is another dowel used as a window lock with a cereal box circle painted like a lollypop
*Tights were his sister's when she was little
Total 2017 cost: $1.50
This brings my average cost to $0.66 per costume
Moral of the story: Halloween costumes can be cheap!
…or even profitable. See my other article on Self-Funding Halloween.
Happy costuming =)