Friday, October 29, 2010

My Favorite Part of Halloween: The Homemade Costume

My favorite Halloween costume from my childhood was, hands down, Batgirl. I have no pictures to document this costume, but I'm actually kind of glad because it remains as epic in my memory as it felt to wear it when I was seven years old. When I was a little girl, I raced home everyday after school to catch reruns of the old Batman series from the 1960s and I would watch the opening credits with baited breath, hoping that Batgirl would zoom by on her motorcyle at the end of them.  I think I loved Batgirl so much because she made both the tomboy and the girly-girl in me totally happy.

 So, as you can imagine, I didn't want to be anything but Batgirl for Halloween. Unbeknownst to me, times were really tight for my family in those days and we couldn't afford the storebought costumes. Plus, Batgirl was pretty obscure (imagine my horror when the kids at school asked if I made Batgirl up!), so the costume had to be homemade.

Now my mom will be the first to admit that she's no seamstress, but she used her imagination and limited sewing skills and made the Batgirl costume of my dreams. She made the cap out of an old pair of black bike shorts (she even sewed the corners to look like little bat ears), she bought some shiny yellow fabric for my cape and utility belt (she lined the outside of one of her own belts to make mine), and she made a fabric-covered cardboard cutout of the bat symbol for my belt buckle and chest. The rest of the costume was a black shirt and stretchy pants and she curled my hair to look like Batgirl's. I was certain that I looked just like the original. Best costume ever. And I still have the cape.

I mention all of this because homemade costumes can be a big money-saver and, in my humble opinion, can be even better than the storebought ones.  They can also be put together in a pinch if you're resourceful and creative. And even if you think you're neither resourceful nor creative (which, you're wrong by the way), you'd be surprised what you can come up with. Plus, have you seen the storebought costumes for women? Why do we all have to sexy nurses or scantily clad witches? Lame.

Ever since my husband and I got married, we've coordinated our costumes to match and every year they've been homemade (well, except for the year he was King Kong and I was Fay Wray. We had to buy the monkey suit). Today, I'm going to share a few things I've learned along the way.  I realize that this advice may come a little late for some of you, but I'm sure there are others who have procrastinated. Plus, there's always next year.

1. The thrift store is your best friend for costume-making.
Let me walk you through one of my favorite thrifted costumes...

A couple years ago, it was my turn to pick out our costume theme so I thought it would be fun to dress up as the characters from my favorite movie (as a child and now), Mary Poppins. These costumes came together really well and inexpensively. All it took was some searching through the thrift store racks and a little improvisation.

My shirt, jacket, dress, and hat were all thrift store finds. I picked up some flowers for the hat, some white gloves at one of those teeny-bopper accessory stores, and a length of ribbon for the bow around the collar. If I remember right, my costume came in close to $15. The Mary Poppins umbrella was a gift, so that came at no extra expense. As for my husband (aka Bert), he bought a faded pair of pants and an old t-shirt for a $1 so he could use the fabric for patches. He wore an old collar shirt and jacket he already had. The only extra expense was finding an English cap ($10 at Target), some cheap fabric for the scarf (no more than a dollar or two's worth of fabric), and the materials for his brush (more on that later). We did the same thing for my son's costume (who was two at the time) - we put him in similar clothes, bought him a cap at the store, made a scarf out of the same cut of fabric, and made him a smaller broom. To top it all off, we used real soot for the guys' make-up -- we just burned up some paper in a container and used the ashes for make-up. The costumes were not only great, but they cost hardly anything to put together and didn't require a stitch of sewing.

There are lots of options for thrifted costumes. When I was Fay Wray (who plays the damsel in distress in King Kong) for Halloween, I just found an old trenchcoat, a simple skirt, and a blouse. Add an old-fashioned hairdo, bright red lipstick, and some of those nylons with the seam up the back and I was done. Using thrift store finds, I've also been a hippie, a gypsy, Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter, a trailer trash lady (it was my husband's idea for our first costume as a married couple. How romantic.) and a Pink Lady (as seen in Grease), just to name a few. If you have the patience to search through all the racks, you can put together a great costume!

One other tidbit: eBay can be a great source for items, too. I found the perfect shirt for my son's Woody costume from a lady selling her kid's outgrown clothes. 

2. Raid your own closet -- or someone else's.
Often, you can make costumes out of clothes you already have or maybe something from your parents' or friend's closet. A couple years ago my parents dressed up as hippies and we joked about how their entire costumes came from my brother's closet! Then there's my brother-in-law's costume this year: Tobias Funke from Arrested Development. All he wore was cut-off jeans and a bathrobe {he's very, very brave}.

For our annual Halloween party this past Saturday, my husband and I were "the grim, grinning ghosts" who came "out to socialize" (It's our favorite Disneyland ride, what can I say?).  I just wore a white skirt and white, long sleeved shirt under my cape (made out of tulle and a little yarn - the materials cost less than $20.).  Kevin dug up his old tuxedo from his days in high school choir - he only had to buy the top hat (which only cost around $10 at a Halloween store). Made me just a little jealous/mad that he could fit something from high school...

3. Go to the fabric & craft store, even if you can't sew.
You'd be surprised what you can make without sewing a stitch. Take my cape pictured above -- it didn't require any real sewing. I found the directions in Martha Stewart's Halloween special (you can find a link to it here). It took me maybe 20 minutes or so to make. There are lots of no-sew options online - here's a link to a bunch of great no-sew costumes (also from Martha Stewart). I have on more than one occasion made a costume out of some pieces of fabric and a few (okay, a lot) safety pins.

4. Check out the other aisles of your local discount, craft, or hardware store for costume supplies.
I recently read a post on Simple Mom about making a knight costume out of duct tape, bucket lids, and cardboard. Totally fun and it looks really easy. When my husband made the brooms for the chimney sweep costumes pictured above, he only used some cheap wooden dowels, pipe cleaners, and black electrical tape. One of my favorite parts about my son's costume this year came from the bathroom fixture aisle at Walmart:

For my son's Woody costume, we attached a towel ring for this "pull string" on the back of his vest (homemade, of course).  It only cost a dollar and it adds so much to his costume. 

5.  A beard, a wig, set of horns, or a hat can change even plain clothes into a costume.
This month's issue of Family Fun is full of simple costumes that are practically made with just a simple beard, wig, horns, or hat. You don't have to buy any of these, either; check out these links for a simple, homemade beard, horns, and wig.  My favorite of costumes featured in Family Fun: the Abraham Lincoln costume. I may have to try that one on someone in the family...

6. Use other people's ideas.
If inspiration just isn't coming your way, there are tons of great homemade costume ideas on the Internet (like this one I just found). Parenting magazines have lots of ideas in their October issues; I also love Martha Stewart's October and Halloween special issues for ideas.

7.  Set your expectations accordingly and just have fun.
Unless you're an expert seamstress or tailor, your costumes won't look perfect. Chances are, they'll look homemade. I'm certain my Batgirl costume looked pretty homemade. But it didn't matter at all. And that's the key, especially when it comes to kids' costumes: using your imagination and playing the part is what Halloween costumes are all about. If you spend a huge amount of money on costume and you don't have fun with it, it will fall flat. While there's nothing wrong with store-bought costumes (one of my other favorites as a child was a fairy one my mom bought at the mall), there is something fun and extra-personal about the homemde ones. Use your imagination. Get creative. You'll make some fun memories along the way, I promise.

Have a safe, spooky, and happy Halloween!

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails