The Best Halloween Costumes Are Homemade

By Andrea Karim on 28 October 2008 (Updated 10 June 2011) 22 comments
Photo: Zombie Me

For me, Halloween has always been a homemade holiday. We always made our own costumes, created our own tree-ghosts, carved our pumpkins with frighteningly dull knives from the kitchen, and put together our own haunted houses. In fact, I don't think I had ever set foot into a Halloween store/kiosk until a year ago, when I strolled in to find a cheap costume for an office party, only to find that my costume choices, as an adult female, were limited to Naughty Nurse, Dirty Kitten, Slutty Bunny, and a host of other sexualized forest creatures or blue-collar occupations or icons (there's actually a Statue of Liberty costume that includes garter belts). (See also: 28 Ways to Have Cheap Halloween Fun)

What a disappointment! As someone who enjoyed a childhood dressing as an Arab merchant, gypsy fortune-teller, flapper, super-hero, Alice in Wonderland (the non-slutty version), spider or Killer Bee, I was pretty certain that I could do better on Halloween than merely exposing a bunch of cleavage. Hey, that's what everyday life is for — I like my Halloween to be less boobalicious than that.

I settled on dressing as an undead thoracic surgeon (that's me in the above pic). I was working for a company that designed medical software, so it was topical. My office mates and I purchased some cheap pajama bottoms for scrubs, covered ourselves in 99-cent red lipstick and dark eyeshadow, and lurched around terrifying our coworkers. It was great.

It taught me that the trick to a fabulous costume is really all in the attitude and originality. If you FEEL scary (or cute, or crazy), people will be genuinely impressed with your spirit. Also, there is nothing more pleasing than getting compliments on something you put together yourself.

The simplest materials can net the biggest return, as in some of the examples below:

Yards of Material/Old White Sheet

The old white-sheet with holes cut in it trick still works pretty well, although a more diaphanous material than cotton sometimes works better. Togas are a simple costume, allowing you to go from Edith from Accounting to Julius Caesar (bloody holes in the costume), Sappho (be creative), or Socrates (white beard and hair, pensive expression).

Gwen Stefani recently attended a costume party dressed as a fried egg, in what I believe would be a fairly simple costume to create at home with some white and yellow felt and hot glue (her husband went as bacon, but there don't seem to be any good photos of this).

Mummy costumes are extremely easy to accomplish, given an old white sheet and a pair of scissors.

Cardboard

Cardboard boxes are probably the best thing ever invented by man — never has a more versatile shipping container been seen in the history of mankind. It can occupy your kids, thrill your kittens, and makes for a great basis for many a Halloween costume. You can be a truck, Lego block, or a popcorn box.

One of my favorite people in the world went as his own Facebook profile last year. This year, I'm planning on going as a tombstone — very few things are as easy as a sandwich board costume. I imagine that iPhone costumes will be ubiquitous this year; you could always go dressed as the G1 and challenge all the iPhone-costumed people to a fist fight.

Fake Greenery

Far from being limited to home decor, fake plants, silk flowers, and foliage can make for some adorable and fairly easy homemade costumes. Fake flowers can be expensive, but almost every craft store has a section for flowers that are "out of season."

My dogs are going to be dressed as pumpkins this year, but why not consider a Chia pet outfit for your pooch?

Loads and Loads of Puffy Materials

This smart lady came up with what I think is my favorite Halloween costume of all times: a bath scrubby. I'm particularly fond of the ease with which one could become cotton candy. Pumpkins are easy costumes to create, as are tea bags. I'm personally in love with the idea of going as a bag of jelly beans, except that I have a mortal fear of balloons popping, but I've considered using those cheap, swirly rubber balls and dressing as a bag of marbles.

Paper Mache

Paper mache takes a good deal of work, but if dressing your child as a California Roll isn't worth hours of your spare time, I don't know what is (although some of that is technically upholstery foam, I guess).

Miscellaneous Ideas

The year that I dressed as a surgeon with a taste for flesh, two co-workers down the hallway dressed up as the Blue Man Group — they wore blue sweats, blue swimcaps, and blue greasepaint (they won the office costume party). I've had great success as a bride before — old, tacky bridal gowns are easy to find at thrift stores, and there are plenty of variations of bride: the left-at-the-alter bride, the '80s bride, the bride who decapitated her groom and is carrying his head around...the possibilities are endless.

There are some some good ideas for humiliating your children before they are old enough to realize it, including my personal favorite, a baby Chippendale's dancer. And of course, there is nothing that duct tape can't do.

A plethora costume ideas (without pictures, but with instructions) can be found at LifeTips. Guide Spot has some really good ideas for easy homemade costumes. Coolest Homemade Costumes has some incredible reader-submitted ideas, as does Costume Works. I like the quick-n-easy punny costumes listed at Costume Idea Zone, too. Group costumes are always fun (Japanese tourists are a fun and easy one to mimic without having to purchase much of anything — knee socks with brown sandals, button down shirt, shorts, goofy hat, possible black wig, glasses, and your fingers raised in a permanent peace sign).

Please feel free to share your favorite costume ideas in the comments!

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Guest's picture
IdoruNYC

Old hot pink bridesmaid dress that I'll never wear again plus a tiara that I already had and a few bucks of white ribbon = Beauty Pageant Contestant

Guest's picture
Guest

A few years ago I dressed my then 8yo son in a black sweat suit, black shoes, black hat, and a black cape. I hot glued straws, leaves, a ton of action figures, a plastic cow, etc. onto the cape. He would raise his arm to hide his face and then spin around to become the tornado that he was.

I really wanted him to go as "urban sprawl" by taping fast-food napkins, empty Starbucks cups, White Castle boxes, drinking straws and crumbled mcd's bags to the cape but he would have nothing of it.

Guest's picture
lucille

We have almost always made costumes. Last year we went to one of the big halloween stores to look around at costumes. I was rather repulsed. They even had the slutty ones in kids sizes.

Clothes and drapes are dirt cheap at goodwill (or similar), with enough creativity you can make pretty much anything that way.

Guest's picture
Nate

I made my own SNL skit costume this year. I did "**** in a box" the skit with Justin Timberlake. Last year I was the gingerbread man using a carhart jumpsuit. possibilities are endless

Guest's picture
Alli

I bought a box of safety pins, pipe cleaners, and a plastic headband at the dollar store. I then proceeded to pin socks all over my shirt, front and back. Used the pipe cleaners and the headband to make myself some antennae, and I became the SOCK MONSTER! You know, the one who steals all the socks out of the drawer.

Andrea Karim's picture

I was going to suggest dick-in-a-box, but since I suggest that for Christmas and Hanukkah presents every year, I was afraid I was... over-exposing the concept. As it were.

Guest's picture
Karen

In high school, I dressed up as a wad of bubblegum under a table. Pink sweatsuit and hightops, lightweight cardboard table on my head and voila! :)

Guest's picture

Homemade Halloween costumes are so thoroughly under-appreciated. Thanks for showing people how a little creativity can go a long way!

Drop by my site for some homemade makeup tips!

Guest's picture

Working in retail makes me want EVERYONE to make their own Halloween costumes, but then they would just come buy all the other essentials to make them, so either way I'm screwed!

Jesse W.
http://www.subprimeblogger.com

Myscha Theriault's picture

Very cool post. Tons of ideas to do your own thing. You must have spent forever compiling these ideas.

Guest's picture
gt0163c

Growing up, my favorite halloween costume was when my sister and I went as smurfs. White (or red if you want to be Papa) sweat pants, blue sweat shirt, blue face paint and "elf hats" made by mom (add Santa beard for Papa smurf). This was early-80's so it was perfect.

A couple of years ago, I was traveling on Halloween. Some of the airline staff dressed up. I had a bumblebee flight attendant serve me my drink. One of the gate agents in Chicago was dressed as a fold-over bag (she was very petite and the bag fit her like a dress, just add arm, leg and head holes...she even had pockets!).

If I wasn't out of town this year, I was planning on going to a fairy tale themed party as a tree (there's always a tree/woods in fairy tales). Dark brown pants, long sleeve green t-shirt (untucked). Fake leaves attached (stapled or possibly glued/taped). Green ball cap with more leaves. Possibly also a wadded up and shaped paper bag on a shoulder for a bird's nest. And, to add that fairy tale touch, a piece of clear contact paper with a heart and some initials (I was planning on P(rince) C(Charming) + S(now) W(hite)) written on it with black sharpie and stuck somewhere on my leg.

Guest's picture

Gwen stole that from us--my husband and I were bacon and eggs about 5 years ago. I made the yolks puffy with batting underneath. We saved them, and maybe next year will reuse with our daughter as toast.

We've also done 2 trees and a hammock (Felt tubes with shoulder straps for the trunk over brown shirts and pants, and I stuff big yellow fro wigs with leaves, and made little leaf wristlets), and I've been a pizza (hula hoop with felt). We use Sharpies to draw on texture. One year I got an orange wig and made a Daphne dress. Saw the rest of the cast of Scooby Doo when we were out on State Street in Madison.

This year, we aren't dressing, but my 16 month old daughter is a Candy Corn I made with felt and batting. She looks so cute! There are no purchasable baby costumes without headpieces, which she refuses to wear. I am the queen of felt, hot glue and a few simple sewing machine stitches.

I believe in rated-G costumes, and almost always make my own. I am so sick of the slutty crap. You have a lot more fun when you're not worried about your naughty bits falling out, or being mauled by a drunk dork in makeup and a plastic cape.

Linsey Knerl's picture

It took me many months to get the Justin Timberlake tune with matching twirly box out of my head.  WHY?????? did you have to bring it up again.

:)

Guest's picture

That California Roll costume was one of the best I've ever seen. Although, I'm guessing if it were an adult women's costume sold in a retail store, they'd figure out some way to turn it into a "Sexy Sushi" get-up.

If you're crafty or know how to sew, I agree, homemade costumes are the way to go. Plus, have you seen how much those cheap quality costumes in the Halloween superstores cost? Insanity.

Guest's picture

Gross to some, offensive to others, but most people I know found this funny: a friend of mine was a "douche bag" a couple of years ago. He took a black plastic trash bag, cut holes out for his legs, and wore it around his middle, taped along the top with duct tape so it wouldn't come down. Then he cut out the front of a douche box and pinned it to the front of his bag.

On another note, man I wish I had seen this yesterday! My boyfriend and I bought our costumes last night because we thought we'd basically run out of time, and he's hosting a big bash on Friday. Great ideas Andrea!

Andrea Karim's picture

Sorry! I was supposed to get the post up Monday, but was having technical issues.

Guest's picture
Margaret

That baby Chippendale dancer seriously made my day. He was adorable, very clever idea!

I love these ideas for costumes, not too late to figure something out, thanks!

Guest's picture
Guest

When my first girl was born and she was 2 years old, she was dressed up as a tooth fairy princess in a ballerina pink outfit I got from a Thrift Store. Attached some pipe cleaners and fish netting for the wings on her back and a homemade wand (chopsticks and paper star)and a tiara. Then I was dressed as a large tooth made of a felt material, attached were promo items of toothbrushes and toothpaste. Of course, I just superglued everything. And my husband the pillow and a baby blanket that I pinned on him. Other items I could have added: quarters, dollars on the pillow, a note; dental floss on the tooth, etc...but this was all in one 1/2 day's process.

Guest's picture

widely described. Nice article.

Guest's picture
Ashley

Starting again for this year..
Last year at my job we had to dress up the whole week leading up to Halloween, each day being something different. Of course, I wasn't going to spend a fortune for a bunch of costumes, or even to make a bunch, and settled with things I already had around my house. The best idea I came up with was an old woman. I scrunched up my face to reveal my "wrinkles" and lighting traced them with a brown eye liner pen. Then took face powder and made them look just like shadows. I took some of my grandmother's plastic hair curlers, and put my hair all up in them. I bought a $1 can of white hair spray from the dollar store to make my brown hair "gray" and wore my grandmother's night gown and robe that she had for who knows how long, along with some slippers. I in total only spent a $1 and I had people complimenting how well it came out the whole day. I even had some people mistake me for an old lady a few times! I can imagine that even if you don't have all of the stuff that I did, you could get it from a thrift shop and dollar store for around $5 but no more than $10 if your a bargian hunter like I am!

Andrea Karim's picture

That's a really creative solution, Ashley. Thanks for the idea!

Guest's picture
kytty713

Last Halloween, my boyfriends family and I did a group costume. Were we all characters from Super Mario Brothers. Two of sisters were Mario and Luigi, one with red converse, red shirt, overalls, red baseball cap with an M painted on and of course a big fake mustache; the other in the same but green. The other sister was a Goomba, mushroom, which consisted of a big brown sweatshirt stuffed with pillows with eyes and a mouth glued on. I was a set of block which we made by gluing three boxes together and cutting a whole in the middle box and painting the whole thing like bricks. I wore a sky blue dress with clouds taped on it. The crowning glory if the whole thing was my boyfriend went as one of the green pipes. We used a hula hoop and draped green fabric over it and he had a flower on a stick. The whole mess of us was hilarious.