How to come up with an easy, unique, and cheap Halloween costume

With a birthday on October 30th, it’s only natural that Kimberly Murphy takes Halloween very seriously. Murphy is a natural redhead and dressed up as iconic crimson haired characters like Wendy and Chuckie’s mascot Rugrats, but when she started dating her now-fiancé Brian nearly a decade ago, Murphy’s costumes got better. A selection of Murphy and Brian’s greatest Halloween hits: Dexter and Dee Dee dexter’s lab, Ms. Frizzle and the bus of the same name The magic school busJack and Sally out the nightmare before christmas Tormund and Brienne from Tarth game of Thronesand Shaun White and a snowboard.

“We put my snowboard on his back so I could actually ‘ride’ him,” says Murphy, who always dresses as a redhead regardless of the character’s gender. “It gave the costume a fun, experiential element.”

The couple, both in their early 30s, are getting married this October and will be portraying Chucky and Chucky’s bride for Halloween. (You can guess who will wear the white dress.)

As a child, Halloween is one of the few days of the year when you can wear your most imaginative attire to school and to strangers’ doors. As you get older, that sense of youthful creativity might wane, and figuring out what to wear to a costume party becomes another little mystery. Whether you love dressing up or are a cosplay fan, designing creative yet accessible Halloween attire doesn’t have to be a confusing or expensive experience. Costume art experts will advise you on the idea and implementation of your best costume, so that you can take home the best awards in this year’s costume competition.

Narrow your focus

When every character, celebrity, historical figure, animal, pun, and meme is potential costume fodder, it can feel overwhelming to focus on one idea. Constraints and parameters are your best friend. Use your own appearance – is there a person or fictional character who has a style similar to yours? Vaguely comparable functions? – and the media that interested you this year as a starting point. Everything from YA novels and nostalgic ’90s TV shows to extremely local jokes and gags (public transit, sports mascots) to niche memes (hello, Chris Pine Astral Projection) is prime inspiration.

Is there an alter ego you would like to explore? Cosplayer and photographer Hope Elmekies often dresses up as characters she has a personal connection with, like Morticia Addams. “I felt like I was related [her] because she doesn’t fit in,” she says. “I felt this kinship with this character.”

A woman wearing a long black wig and black velvet dress holds a black umbrella and stands with her hand on the hood of a black hearse.

One of Hope Elmekies’ most popular cosplay characters is Morticia Addams.
Courtesy of Fungirlwithcamera Photography

With all of her costumes, Murphy has let her red hair and the height difference between her and her fiancé (she is 5ft tall he is 6ft 2) guide her choices. She thinks back to significant pop culture or historical moments that fall into these categories. For example, Murphy flagged Queen’s Gambit as a potential ensemble, due to its buzzworthiness and the fact that the protagonist had red hair. “I take this formulaic approach to Halloween if they’re unusually short or redheaded,” she says, “that fits with my formula of a potential Halloween contestant.”

For group or family costumes, it can be helpful to focus on a common interest, accessory, or hobby. If you’ve all met in an adult dodgeball league, you might want to dress up as a dodgeball player. Maybe your group consists of three couples and you want to do one Fat-inspired collaboration.

Then figure out what effect you want your costume to have. Is your goal to make everyone laugh? be the sexy one Do you go into the smallest details? Bring in some friends for a group costume? This can help you focus on an idea.

The location of your Halloween party can help narrow your options further, says costume designer Correen Borst-Straub of Correen’s Creative Designs. Think about where you’re wearing the getup to determine what’s appropriate. If you’re going to a party in a small apartment, you probably don’t want to wear a giant Marie Antoinette dress, or you might want to think twice about wearing vampire fangs to a costumed sit-down dinner fundraiser.

Buck convention, respectfully

Using popular culture for inspiration can generate some potential ideas, but if you really want a memorable appearance, approach these concepts in an unconventional way. Many people tend to dress up as the main characters of popular shows (how many Chefs and Targaryens will we see this year?), but supporting roles or genre tropes can also be a crowd pleaser. Dani Cabot, manager of New York vintage boutique Screaming Mimis, dressed up as a virgin victim for her all-time favorite Halloween costume. “I was given sheets and a classic kitschy ’70s Roman goddess dress and I was given a huge wig and then a choker that made it look like my throat had been cut,” she says.

Even if you don’t share all physical traits with a character, use your differences to your advantage. Murphy and her fiancé have often dressed up as characters historically portrayed as the opposite of the couple’s own gender representation. “Gender is always very subjective,” says Philadelphia-based drag queen VinChelle. “Anyone can express themselves however they want.” VinChelle often appears in Beyoncé-inspired looks, using the star’s photo shoots as a reference. She then searches fabric stores in Philadelphia or New York City for the garment and works closely with seamstresses to put the outfit together. “Beyoncé is a glorified drag queen,” she says.

To put it bluntly: it is Not an excuse to assimilate other cultures, use makeup to darken your skin, or wear racist costumes. If you’re unsure whether a costume is appropriate, run your idea with a few friends first, says Kate Farrier, the wardrobe manager for RWS Entertainment Group, an entertainment and events production company that produces haunted shows for the likes of Six Flags Great has America, Sea World and Legoland.

Reference your personal style

Think about how you can infuse your personality into popular ideas. Suppose you want to be a witch or a vampire. What can you do to make the costume feel like you? If your only wardrobe is a leather jacket, have your witch personality wear a leather jacket. “If you’re always on the phone, maybe you’re a celebrity vampire, a social media vampire,” says Farrier. “Try to make it something you’ll always have by bringing in your personal items because that will make it special to you.”

One year, a shopper at Screaming Mimis jazzed up his vampire attire by adding ’70s disco accessories. “They did this insane Studio 54 disco vampire look,” says Cabot. You can also take a character who isn’t particularly known for his fashion, like Pacman, and craft an interesting piece of clothing inspired by his aesthetic.

Another way to differentiate is to make subtle changes to well-established representations. Borst-Straub has a 25 percent rule, where she pours her creativity into popular designs so the resulting look is 75 percent pop culture and 25 percent her own.

Elmekies gets inspiration by browsing her costume idea plus “Cosplay” on Pinterest to see how others have approached the concept. Don’t worry that you’re such a niche that everyone has to ask you what you are, says Elmekies. “So what are you?” is a great icebreaker. “Sometimes I go out as Belle Beauty and the Beastpeople don’t necessarily know who I am because it’s not Disney-like, it’s more built to be worn every day,” says Elmekies.

Use what you have (or buy second hand)

Halloween outfits shouldn’t cost a lot of money. Think of the colors, shapes, and silhouettes needed for a costume so you can identify the building blocks of the look. For a gargoyle look, for example, you need a lot of gray clothes and makeup. “Think of the shapes of things rather than the actual objects,” says Ryan Walton, producer of Halloween Experiences for RWS Entertainment Group. “[Say] I need a round hoop like thing. What can I make that’s round and hoop-like that doesn’t cost me a lot of money, and then I can rebuild it?”

Search your (or your friends’) closet for items you need. If you’re disguising yourself as a flapper, bring out a slip if you have one. Then let your accessories and props do the talking. “Things like jewelry, gloves, stockings, hats, and masks can really transform a basic into something excellent,” says Cabot.

For any pieces you don’t already own, visit a local vintage or thrift store, indie costume store, or dollar store for materials. Staff at these stores can offer expert costume advice, and by shopping in person, you can be sure you’re getting exactly what you want — no surprises with online orders, says Cabot. Second-hand shopping is also far more sustainable than buying a polyester outfit from a big store. Chances are, you can even incorporate aspects of your ensemble into your regular wardrobe.

Rock your costume

Ultimately, you will have your best time in an outfit that you feel comfortable and confident in. Think about how the fabrics and props feel; it’s not worth being constrained by shoes you can’t walk in. “You’ll shine the most when you’re wearing something you love,” says VinChelle. “When I wear my favorite costume, I’m a completely different person.”

Even if you feel like you don’t have the “right” body type for a specific shape or look, “you can check it out because this is my shape and my shape is just curvy,” says Elmekies. “Realize that your character is incredible.”

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