Bland pre-fab costumes (and frightening price tags) got you biting your nails? Fear not, moms and dads. Here, Detroit dad blogger James Griffioen –the kids’ costume wizard who was behind the popular blog SweetJuniper.com – offers nine thrifty tips on whipping up memorable, perfectly imperfect outfits for your children this All Hallow’s Eve.
1. Upcycle on the cheap
Don’t spend a fortune at the craft or fabric store. Head to the thrift store for all the dirt-cheap, recycled materials you could possibly use. Remember: Kids are small, and it’s likely you can find enough fabric for any costume in an adult coat – and you can repurpose leather belts, bags, hats and even old stuffed animals.
2. Whatcha got?
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“Shop” for materials in your own basement and recycling bin. Clothes and toys you were planning to donate to charity can be repurposed. Old plastic jugs and containers can make a phenomenal superhero, robot or knight costume with nothing more than a hot glue gun and a can of spray pant.
3. Templates, be-gone
Forget about the how-to’s for specific costumes you saw in the Martha Stewart mags. Just gather your materials and trust your own creativity and abilities.
4. One of a kind
Original costumes are more forgiving. If your kids say they want to be a licensed character from TV or movies, encourage them to use their imaginations to come up with something original. Have your superhero-obsessed son create his own costume and superpowers. Avoid the Disney Princess Industrial Complex by telling your daughter about actual historical princesses or even better, have her invent her own princess with her own story.
5. Add your mark
If your child insists on being a movie character, supplement store-bought materials with your own. You may not be able to make a Darth Vader mask out of plastic jugs, but you can buy one and then make a great cloak from that black dress you never wear in the back of the closet.
6. Hello, hardware store
Make friends with your local hardware store employees. Whenever I’m stuck, I go to mine for ideas on repurposing materials for costumes. Adding a few extra brains (who know how to make things work) never hurts. The guys at my neighborhood store (Busy Bee Hardware in Detroit) were so excited about helping me make a robot costume a few years ago that they rushed around the aisles with suggestions and ideas.
7. Realistic expectations
Remember, you’re not making costumes for a three-year nationwide tour of The Lion King. Don’t be too hard on yourself if the sewing or workmanship isn’t perfect. If your kid feels transformed inside that costume for one night, it will be a success.
8. Kid input is key
Sit down with your child and your materials and talk about the costume. I always ask my daughter to draw a picture with her expectations and seek her help throughout the process. This way she not only feels like she designed it herself, but that she had a real role in making it. Older kids can take on much more of the responsibility of making their costumes with parental guidance.
9. Freeze frame
Remember that the pictures you take will be a huge part of the memories your children have of Halloween. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures, though indoor and outdoor nighttime shots can be tricky and ultimately disappointing. Don’t be afraid to take it a step further and do an earlier daytime “photo shoot” of the costumed kid(s) in a location that makes a great backdrop for the costume.
When my kids were a mermaid and King Neptune, I took photos of them on the beach at Belle Isle. When my daughter dressed up as Medusa one year and Pegasus the next, we used the “Greek temple” mausoleums at Mt. Elliott Cemetery in Detroit as atmospheric (and spooky!) backgrounds. You worked hard on your costume, and great atmosphere in the photos will make it look even better.
Now, make your own treat pouch to bring along with you trick-or-treating!
Photo by James Griffioen
This post was originally published in 2011 and has been updated for 2016.