For the Love of Homemade Halloween Costumes

Yesterday Jezebel posted this Target ad in which a kid is clearly embarrassed by his homemade Iron Man costume made by his proud mom. It’s meant to be cute, and obviously Target is in the business of convincing people they should buy their costumes rather than make them, so you can’t get all that annoyed at them, but it did get me thinking about homemade Halloween costumes and why I always find them so much more interesting.

What a kid wants to be for Halloween is a big deal, it reflects who they want to be, what they’re afraid of, or who their role models are. It also lets them express themselves and can be both a fun bonding experience and a creative challenge for kids and parents alike. While a kid, or an adult, can have just as much fun dressed in a store-bought costume, there is something about homemade costumes that’s uniquely charming. Whether answering the door for trick-or-treaters or attending a party for grown ups, it’s always exciting when you see a one-of-a-kind costume. Obviously, as the Target ad shows, it can be hard to make a costume for a licensed character who looks a very specific way, but plenty of kids want to take on a persona that can be created without buying a package.

For example, my older sister as Cyndi Lauper in the early 1980s at around age three, there was no sewing involved, just stuff we had around the house, some spray-on hair color, creativity, and lots O’ fun, the result—adorable!

Here is my fiancé as Hulk Hogan a few years ago. I’ve gone to the Halloween parade in Manhattan many times and I’ve never seen people as excited by a costume as they were when they saw him that year. People were constantly stopping to take his picture and shout catchphrases at him—and he threw this costume together in a couple of hours. There were other Hulk Hogans in store-bought costumes, and they didn’t get nearly as much attention.

This owl costume was a combined effort, I made the head-piece and the glasses to wear one year, and my lovely future sister-in-law improved on my original costume a few years later with the fur trim, feathers, and orange owl feet—hoot!

My friend Jessica donned this awesome Joan Holloway costume last year, I’m shocked there aren’t packaged Mad Men costumes out there yet, but this shows how you can use stuff from your own closet (plus a few store-bought accessories) to come up with a great costume.

My Grandma made these adorable Campbell Soup kids costumes for my dad and uncle sometime in the mid fifties—simple, creative, and cute!

Me as Courtney Love and My fiancé as Ernest P. Worrell, both fun and easy costumes to make.

This was the first costume I made all by myself. My mom made me wear that stone-wash jacket over it since it was cold out so you can’t see it here, but I found an old satin dress, tore it up, caked on a bunch of face-paint, put baby powder in my hair, and threw on a tiara just for kicks. I called it “bloody Mary” I think I got the idea from an episode of Are you Afraid of the Dark?

Anyway, my point is that sometimes (like if your kid wants to be Iron Man) a store costume is necessary, because moms can be busy and kids are easily embarrassed. But putting together your own costume whether you’re a kid or an adult, can be lots of fun, and usually yields more entertaining and memorable results—plus those packaged costumes can be damn expensive.

If you don’t have anything in your closet that works as a costume, check out a thrift store, or the sale rack at Forever 21, you may even wear it again unlike the flimsy polyester packaged costumes. Get any accessories you may need that you can’t make (horns, wings, wigs) at the bigger stores, and never underestimate the potential of pipe cleaners and a hot glue gun!

On a side note, clicking through the pages on the Party City website has convinced me I need to do a whole post on inappropriate packaged costumes—I’m truly disturbed by some of the stuff out there for both kids and adults.

Send me pictures of your best homemade Halloween costumes—I know you must have some great ones!


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10 responses to “For the Love of Homemade Halloween Costumes

  1. mkz201

    I think I was in nursery school there, so maybe more like 5 years old. But you forgot the most important element in that or any other costume – the attitude.

  2. I’m emailing you photos Justine…a Snow White costume made by my mother first for me, and then worn by both of my sisters. I still have it stored away somewhere in the hopes that I will have daughters who will wear it one Halloween. Or now that I’m in Germany, Carnival. 😉

  3. haren

    It’s all part of the conspiracy to squash creativity, especially in children. Maybe the bad economy will make people find more inspiration in their closets.

  4. Laura

    I love what homemade costumes teach children about fantasy. I just don’t think that pulling a costume out of a plastic bag from Target gets you as in the mindset as a homemade one, making a piece of cloth a mask really makes you something or someone else. Alas, I think that the main reason for the store bought ones is convenience. It’s just easier for overworked families to grab the whole thing in a bag for $15 and be done with it.

    I think it’s one of things I miss most about my Mom was the Halloween scramble to get everyone together for their costumes. They were always home made, and some of my very few memories of her are her trying to make her make-up turn me into something else. There’s a sense of caring involved in dressing your children up that I think we forget until it’s no longer there. I’m sad that some children will miss that.

    • Fantasy and creativity seem to be discouraged in our culture, and that’s just sad isn’t it? I had this thought that maybe kids weren’t making their own costumes because they didn’t even know what they wanted to dress up as until they went to the costume store and looked at their options—and that idea *really* freaks me out, It’s like they can’t imagine it until they see it.

      There is definitely a sense of care and love that goes into making a costume for someone, and I think that’s often lost in the hustle and bustle of kids lives these days. That’s a lovely way to look at it Laura, and it’s so special that you have those happy Halloween memories with your mom.

  5. For me it is difficult to make costumes at home as I am weak in tailoring.

  6. jennifer

    I recall making a Thing 1 costume one year and I think it was the only costume I ever had. I remember dyeing a mop green and wearing it as a wig. I don’t think anyone knew what I was but I sure did like dyeing that mop green.

  7. Couldn’t agree more. I have so many memories of the great (and not-so-great) Halloween costumes my mom made for me growing up — Annie was one of my favorites.

    This was my first year trying a homemade costume for my daughter. I had a blast doing it and she loves it! You can see pics of the final product and a how-to-DIY here.

    • Oh my gosh, that costume is SO cute, and your daughter looks so happy in it too! That’s another thing about making your costume at home, you aren’t limited to the popular characters available in stores—sometimes getting to be your favorite character is worth so much more!! Thanks so much for sharing this Christa!

  8. That’s a really neat iron man costume and I agree that the people make costumes have made it a real effort to make people feel ackward about making there own costumes but there is absolueltly nothing wrong with making a costume.

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