Halloween Costumes Made Easy (and Cheap)

Easy Halloween Costumes

Picture: every year Matthew J. of Chapel Hill bases his Halloween costume on a box.

Halloween night is creeping closer. Neighbors stock up on sweet treats in bulk. Party hosts sort through ghoulish recipes and decorations. It’s time to pull together costume ideas. Drawing a blank? Don’t fret. Triangle parents and other masters of disguise offer ideas about creating costumes for all ages.

Where to start

Closets, kitchen drawers and recycling bins hold a wealth of supplies that can inspire costume ideas.

“Look around your house with an eye for reusing materials,” says Ann Woodward, executive director of The Scrap Exchange in Durham. She suggests collecting everything you can find from extra fabric and hosiery to paper or plastic bags. “I think the big picture is thinking about how to use resources that we have everywhere,” she says.

Cardboard boxes are a great place to start. “Cardboard is everywhere and it is a great structural material,” Woodward says. It is easy to work with, whether you’re cutting, folding, painting, stapling or gluing. “One person I know created a flying toaster costume, like the old computer screensaver,” she says.

“My son Matthew insists on being something made out of a box every year,” says Laura Juel, mother of three from Chapel Hill. Matthew’s past costumes include an order of McDonald’s French fries, a box of Juicy Fruit, an aircraft carrier and a popcorn box. “All were made for under $5 with a glue gun and some paint,” she adds.

Fabric from unfinished projects or old sheets and tablecloths can be repurposed into costumes without requiring sewing savvy. Woodward says large pieces of material are easy to cut into capes. “If you’re making capes, then you start thinking about things like vampires and superheroes,” she says. A cape would also be a great start toward a Quidditch uniform for a Harry Potter costume.

Hosiery and coat hangers work well together to create wings, according to Woodward. “When you put those two together, I always think about wings for a bumblebee costume or birds or fairy costumes.”

Add depth with details

Paper clips, beads and other small items add an artistic flair to costumes. “Start saving some bottle caps,” Woodward says. “If you’re going to be a mermaid, they add some great texture.” For $5 per participant, customers can design their costumes in-store while they “make and take” from the wealth of gadgets available through The Scrap Exchange’s Open Studio (by appointment).

Applying face paint is another way to help bring a costume alive, whether applied as a simple mustache or covering the whole face to complete a zebra or clown costume. A high quality brush will improve the outcome of the design, according to Lisa Yu, owner of the Triangle-based Paint Savvy.

“Paint kits are inexpensive, but they come with cheap brushes,” Yu says. “Snazzaroo offers good paint kits for beginners. I recommend a Loew Cornell Artist Brush for a smooth application.”
She also warns against using craft paint or other paints that are not approved for use on skin, because they crack easily and can stain for days.

Body art is an easy way to add some festive flair without going to great lengths to design a costume. Yu says henna body art is popular with teens. Henna is a natural plant pigment used to dye the skin in a variety of artistic patterns, gradually fading away over a week or two from application. It can be purchased in a kit with a variety of designs at stores like Whole Foods, Michaels and AC Moore.

Finding more resources

If the contents of the recycling bin and junk drawer fail to spark creative costume ideas, do not give up. Vicki Olson, costume designer with Raleigh Little Theatre, suggests looking for inspiration in online catalogs, magazines, or in costume and makeup guides in bookstores and libraries. “Get together with friends and family to come up with ideas, shop and make the costumes,” she says.

Homemade costumes offer good quality, less cost and a personal flair. “Purchased costumes are usually cheaply made and cost a lot, and they are not original,” Olson says. To purchase a unique costume (or sell one), she suggests thrift stores and eBay. “Be creative,” she urges. “It’s just more fun.”

Mary Parry is a freelance writer from Chapel Hill who once braided yarn to help her daughter transform into Princess Leia.

Costume Ideas for Any Age

Mad Scientist
What you need: A lab coat and a beaker or other lab equipment.
Adding flair: Create messy hair and sponge areas of black paint on your face as if you’ve been concocting explosive experiments.
Courtesy Ann Woodward, executive director of The Scrap Exchange in Durham

Swamp Thing
What you need: Solid black clothing and fake foliage to be affixed at random.
Adding flair: Rub dirt or brown paint on your face and the backs of your hands for an organic, swampy look.
Courtesy Ann Woodward

What you need: One cardboard box with two holes for arms and three holes down the costume front with red, yellow and green cellophane taped across the three holes.
Adding flair: Pull one arm into the costume along with a flashlight, signaling others to stop, go or slow down.
Courtesy Jodi Lopeman, Hillsborough mother of three

What you need: A large circle of red felt covering a hairstyling cape for the volcano base and cardboard for creating a hat that serves as the volcano top.
Adding flair: Cut a hole in the top of the hat and insert red fabric for an active volcano that can erupt on command.
Courtesy of Judy Panitch and Andy Hart

Safe Trick-or-Treating
Keep your trick-or-treaters out of harm’s way this Halloween by following this costume advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

* Consider nontoxic makeup and decorative hats as safer alternatives to masks, which can limit or block eyesight.

* Add reflective tape to costumes and trick-or-treat bags for increased visibility.

* Make sure swords and other accessories are not sharp or too long to avoid injury during a fall.

* Choose flame-resistant wigs, hats and other accessories.

Find more safety tips at www.aap.org/advocacy/releases/octhalloween.cfm.

Cute, Easy Costumes in a Day

You can cut and stitch a cute costume in a day with the right tools. Cute and Easy Costumes for Kids (CICO Books, 2010) by Emma Hardy provides all the know-how you need to make 35 dress-up outfits. Costumes are organized by type: animals and insects, adventurers, fairy tales and nursery rhymes, classics, and outfits specifically for Halloween.

Full-size patterns to fit three sizes are included, along with step-by-step directions and techniques to help with the basics. Patterns fit children approximately ages 2 to 7.

Whether your child wants to be a traditional black cat, a king or queen for the day (or longer!), or a cowboy with a horse, Hardy provides the guidance you need to make a costume your kids will love.

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