Last Minute Costume Help!

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Sometimes, it’s just more fun to make your own costume. Besides, you know you’ll have a one-of-a-kind.

Christina Davis said she and her husband, Brian, balked at the prices in Halloween specialty stores when they started hunting costumes for their daughter, Kendri.

“It’s hard to pay so much for a costume so little — and will probably be worn that one night only,” says Davis. “It’s just so much easier to go through our daughter’s closet to see what dress-up items she has and go from there. I remember when my mother made me into a bag of jelly beans. All she needed was a giant clear garbage bag and lots of colorful balloons. We made holes for my legs to go through the bottom, blew up the balloons, stuffed them in and tied the bag at the top around my shoulders. So, why can’t I just do something simple, too?”

She said adding some new accessories or make-up will put a new spin on last year’s outfit, ultimately saving them a bundle and adding to the fun.

“We make Halloween fun by making her costume into a fun-filled event one night,” Davis says. “That just makes our daughter like it even more.”

Robert Tabor, a costume designer and artist who has worked for companies such as Nickelodeon and Mattel, advises parents to find inspiration — and cheap materials — in their surroundings.

“There is so much available in your house that can be turned into something else, without making you spend a cent,” he says.

Large appliance boxes, old pillowcases, Christmas decorations — they all can be re-purposed into something new with a little creativity, Tabor said. Turn your kids’ old character sheets into a fun ghost, or paste pages from old picture book onto an inexpensive rain poncho to make a walking storybook.

“You can get 50 percent of what you need in your house,” says Tabor. “It’s really kind of fun to look at things with a different eye, and it’s all right there.”

Here are some tips for do-it-yourself magic this year:

Out with the Old
Get out last year’s costumes to see what base pieces, like a black-hooded grim reaper’s smock or white angel’s dress, can be refashioned into something new. Sweat suits and dancer’s leotards also make good foundations.

Play with Toys
Look in the toy bin for light sabers, swords, plastic guns, fairy wands, crowns, butterfly wings and the like that can be used as accessories.

Use Makeup for a New Look
A little fake blood and face make-up can go a long way. If you’re after a scary look, a grotesquely made up face is all you really need.

Prowl Through Your Closets
Old bridesmaid dresses or outgrown suits can make great fodder for costumes. Use checked shirts for cowboys or scarecrows. Groovy plaid shirts or shorts can create a cool nerd outfit.

Get inspired
Leave the credit card at home, and go look at costumes for inspiration. Read through children’s books and see what your child seems to like. Take a trip to the costume store and look around at what they have to offer. You can come up with several good ideas just by doing this. Examine the store costumes and think of how you could do it yourself.

Hit the Thrift Store — Quick!
Goodwill, Salvation Army and consignment shops can be a gold mine for bargain hungers. Look for boots, hats and accessories that can liven up your look. Old costumes, oversized clothes, crazy patterns and pieces that can be cut up or decorated can make costuming fun.

Parents who do want to tap into their inner costume designer to fashion outfits for their kids often have limited time and resources. Plenty of shortcuts can be found at craft stores such as Michaels, Hobby Lobby and JoAnn.

“A lot of parents don’t have time or don’t want to sew,” says Debbie Thomas of Michaels. “But there are new products out there to help them.”

Liquid Stitch, a clear-drying fabric glue, is one solution, she says. It binds fabrics together like sewing, but shortens the labor. It’s also machine-washable, non-toxic and non-flammable.

Another product, Stitch Witchery, uses iron-on strips to adhere fabrics, and is fairly easy to use, Thomas says.

Foam or felt sheets can be bent into shapes and glued to make hats, or cut up to make appliqués for other costume pieces. Fabric paint, including a glow-in-the-dark variety, is a fun and easy way to dress up a fabric or sheet used as a costume base.

Craft store items such as face paint, masquerade masks, feather boas, beads, feathers and ribbons can make inexpensive adornments to your own clothes.

For a Native American girl, attach feathers or beads to a simple brown dress. For a hippie, tie-dye a white T-shirt, iron patches onto a pair of jeans and paint a peace sign on your face.

A variety of foam hats also can lead the way to simple costuming, Thomas says. An Indiana Jones hat can be paired with your own clothes and a whip. The sombrero can go with a poncho and dollar-store maracas. An alligator-shaped foam visor can be worn with a bright green shirt.

A couple of years ago, Thomas created a “Fifties Girl” costume for her granddaughter. She made the skirt, then attached a poodle appliqué and sequined leash. Her granddaughter wore it with a white blouse and a handkerchief around her neck.

“I find nowadays parents don’t have the time to put a lot into a costume,” Thomas says. “But there are things out there to make it easier.”


Julie Landry Laviolette is a mom of two kids and a freelance writer.

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