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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Frugal kids' Hallowe'en costumes

Hallowe'en is a week and a half away. I'm sure it has not gone unnoticed in your household. Candy displays fill the stores. Neighbors have begun decorating their houses (since when did Hallowe'en become a "season" needing weeks of decorated houses?), and your kids may have begun to talk about what/who they want to dress up as.

Maybe you don't do trick-or-treating, but do a harvest party at your church. The church we went to in another town held one of these every year. Our child did dress up for this event, too.

If it's a priority to you to buy a fabulous factory-made Hallowe'en costume for your child (read-spend a lot of money), that's up to you. But if you're looking for a frugal alternative, let's brainstorm a bit and see what we can come up with.

When our kids were young we came up with some very frugal costumes. We never spent more than $2 per costume, and many years spent nothing at all. Here are some costumes we used:
  • mummy -- wrapped child up in 1 roll of bath tissue
  • robot -- cut holes in large cardboard box, for head and arms. Taped stove knobs on front. Drew "technical" stuff on front, sides and back. Wore box over gray sweats.
  • skeleton -- dressed child in black sweats. Cut out bones from white contact paper, and adhered to sweats. Made skull mask out of a paper plate.
  • mad scientist -- borrowed lab coat from work. Used rubber tubing as props. Spiked up hair all over to look Einstein-ian
  • geek -- dress clothes, bow tie, black glasses "fixed" with duct tape, pocket protector in shirt pocket, calculator on belt in holder
  • ghost -- white sheet-turned curtain lining, turned ghost costume. Ghost has since been reincarnated into Goddess toga, and Julius Ceasar toga
  • princess -- doesn't every little girl have a bunch of princess dress-up clothes?
  • ballerina -- same as above?
  • fairy -- leo and tutu, wings made from poster board and ribbon straps
  • flower -- white sleeper pjs (from Value Village), with a yellow, petaled hood made by moi (I was quite proud of this!), out of one of my maternity t-shirts
  • a hand-me-down tiger suit that 2 of my kids wore multiple times each (came from a cousin, she wore it once. My kids loved it so much they asked to wear it year after year, go figure?!
  • an artist -- beret, wore one of husband's old white shirts, for a smock, liberally splattered with paint, and carried a "palette" cut out of white poster board, along with paintbrush
  • hula dancer -- swimsuit plus a "grass" skirt made out of a roll of green crepe paper and elastic waste
  • black cat and bat pair (obviously this was they year both daughters had some black clothing, leggings and long sleeved tees). I made cat ears from black poster board and glued onto a headband. I made bat wings from a black garbage bag, using black electrical tape to secure the top edge of the "wings" to her tee shirt sleeves and neck.
  • butterfly -- she wore colorful clothing and wore dress-up wings that she already had
  • Tinkerbell -- green dress, with an over-skirt I made out of the lime green lining of a jacket that was handed down to me, that I would never wear. I think we made some green wings that year from green poster board.
  • Oreo cookie -- 2 sheets of black poster board, cut into circles with Oreo motif drawn on in felt pen. This was worn sandwich-board style (shoulder straps made from some white fabric stapled onto poster board), over white turtleneck shirt and jeans

My Hallowe'en costume designing has centered around using clothing and props that we already had or had access to, supplemented with homemade cheap accessories made from posterboard, plastic garbage bags, cardboard boxes, sheets, and clothing destined for giveaway. 

Kid costumes only need to survive a 3 hour window. But they do need to be safe. Things that could be a tripping hazard, highly flammable, strangulation hazard, masks that obscure vision, all need to be used with great care. 

I am a bit worried about fire and kids. So that possibility was always on my mind. The hula skirt we made from crepe paper was probably the most flammable item we made, so we made it on the short side, so no pieces of paper could accidently come in contact with a candle in a jack o' lantern sitting on the ground. The bath tissue mummy, could have also been a fire hazard, so we made this costume stop at the waist, and child wore very light gray sweat pants. And as it turned out that evening, it rained and rained and rained. By the time we got home, the bath tissue was as inflammable as any could be.

The only actual mask any of my children wore was the skeleton mask that my son made from a paper plate. He wound up removing it halfway through the evening, because it was sweaty. We never did any masks after that. 

We never had longish costumes that could pose the possibility of tripping. Our costumes never came below the knees (mostly because that's how much fabric or other materials we had on hand, but not being a tripping hazard was a nice bonus).

None of these costumes would win any prizes, but my kids were always very happy to have them. I think kids are easier to please than we adults know.

Some things to keep in mind with kids' costumes and trick-or-treating. If your children are quite young, you have the opportunity to keep their costume and candy expectations small. From very early, we put it in our kids' minds that costumes would be home-made from what we had on hand, from a thrift store, or, handed down. 

Kids like to help make these things (kids like making stuff in general). So we always encouraged their help with the making. When my son went as a skeleton, I drew the bones on the contact paper and he cut them out and stuck them on his black sweats. The year my daughter went as an Oreo, all I did was help attach the straps to the poster board. My son's robot costume was designed by him. All I did was cut out arm and head holes. He did need an adult to do the winding of the bath tissue when he went as a mummy. As much as possible I got the kids to help me with this. Their part in it gave them pride of ownership in the project, and satisfaction with their costume, regardless of how perfect or imperfect it looked.

We also limited how many houses our kids went to in the first few years. We set the limit to one house per year of age. So when my kids were 3 years old (first year trick-or-treating) they got to trick-or-treat at 3 houses, 4 years old, 4 houses, etc. About age 9 we changed the trick-or-treating limit, not to how many houses, but a time limit, increasing as they got older. Mostly, with these limits, we wanted to minimize the greed-factor. A little bit of candy and treats are fine, but a huge sack full for a young child is just too much.

Now it's your turn. What inexpensive costume ideas have you used, seen or thought of?


  1. Love your list! My son is going as a pirate. He's wearing some pj pants that have gotten too small, that I'll rip a bit at the bottom, an old tee shirt, a red scarf of mine tied on his head, and I'm planning on making an eye patch with black paper and string or ribbon or something. My daughter, I don't know yet. Your list has given me some ideas. She does have a lot of dress up clothes. I'll have to think on this (she's only 5 and doesn't have an opinion on this yet).

    1. Hi Sandy,
      That sounds great. If you have any elastic, from a sewing project perhaps, you could do the "string" portion of the eye-patch with that. Any black or dark brown make-up you may have could be used to smudge some whisker stubble. Just some thoughts.

  2. This brings back memories. My boys are grown now, but when they were young, we didn't have much money and costumes were always made from what we had around the house. Many Halloweens they dressed as hobos. Not much more than a stick with a knapsack tied on the end from a square of fabric. I was going to suggest the same thing about eye shadow used to give the illusion of unshaven chins. Times change, I don't suppose anyone uses the term hobo any longer. Now I'm going to go dig up our old photo albums and find some pictures of those days.

    1. The word hobo has come back into fashion; in fact the young people I know refer to all homeless people as hoboes :(

    2. Helen, now that brings back memories to me! I remember a lot of my male classmates dressed as hoboes, cowboys, Indians. Not at all politically correct by today's standards.

      Anexactinglife, I hadn't heard that -- today's homeless people being referred to as hoboes. I've always thought that was a very specific term for the men who lived in the homeless camps during the Great Depression, as they travelled far from their families to find work.

  3. When my siblings & I were too young to choose our own costume ideas my mother always dressed us in one of my fathers white shirts buttoned up the back, a pillowcase hood and desitin ointment as face paint. Even when we began to want to be something else she insisted on ghost costumes so we could easily be seen in the dark.

    1. Hi frugal spinster,
      that sounds like such a mom way to look at the costumes, wanting something that could be easily seen at night!

  4. I finished my daughter's costume earlier this week. She is going as macaroni and cheese (idea found on I have spray-painted toilet paper rolls yellow and hot-glued them to an old yellow sweatshirt. I printed off a logo of Kraft mac n cheese, laminated it, punched a hole in the top, and tied it to the zipper pull. Cost--$3.47 for the can of spray paint--I had everything else. I'm working on my son's Jedi knight costume--brown fabric as a cloak, with a white tunic from a different costume underneath, tied at the waist by a piece of rope. He has a toy light saber that he can carry IF it stays folded up (he's pretty good about stuff like that). That's a little more--about $8 for the fabric--but I think we can re-use it, and my kids love to play dress-up.

    Last year my daughter was a black cat, similar to your daughter's costumes. My son was a Viking and that turned out great! He got a 2nd place award at his cub scout party--got the idea from It involved furry felt belted at the waist, furry felt around his legs with brown slippers, and the helmet was a duct-taped baseball cap with horns made from foil and tape.

    I prefer homemade costumes--more creative, and honestly, at $20-$35 for a costume in the stores, it's an expense I can't justify for a few hour's fun. You're right, they love the homemade versions.

    1. Hi Kris,
      very clever, the mac and cheese! I like all your ideas, very creatively executed! The mac and cheese reminds me of a similar costume I've seen, done with purple balloons -- a bunch of grapes.

  5. Thrift shops are great places to get good costumes. We got a couple from there that both of my sons wore for several years. We also used pajamas, usually super hero themed, that they wore at Halloween and all year round.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I remember having costumes that were also pajamas, when I was young. I'd forgotten all about that. And yes, we'd wear them the rest of the year. Totally agree, thrift shops have great costume stuff for kids and adults. Even some of their "regular" merchandise can make great costumes -- like some very 70s looking items!


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