I’ve always loved Halloween, from carving pumpkins to trick-or-treating to growing up and being the one to sit on the porch handing out candy to all the ghouls and goblins.
As a kid, I always had the coolest Halloween costumes. My ideas weren’t always the most original – like most little girls I wanted to be a princess, a witch, a dalmation fire dog. OK, maybe most little girls don’t go through the fire dog phase, but you get my drift. My grandmother loved to sew, and whether my idea was unique or pretty par for the course, she always came up with something that made my costume original and brought it life.
Fast forward to my grown-up years. I don’t have kids of my own. I live on an uphill, dead-end street. Although I have plenty of neighbors, the uphill hike just isn’t worth it for local trick-or-treaters when we are surrounded by more heavily populated and flatter areas. So we rarely if ever actually get any ghosts, zombies, action heroes or princesses knocking on our door for goodies.
So for the last many years, my ghoulish fun rolls around when my family’s pub hosts their annual Halloween party. Give grownups the opportunity to dress up in silly costumes just like the kids AND drink beer, and you’ve got a recipe for good times.
Another feature of the last few years of my life has been that extra financial resources are just about as scarce as those trick-or-treaters on my street. I love the excuse to dress up and be scary, silly or even sexy, depending on the mood. But I sure as heck can’t go out and drop big money – or sometimes even chump change – on a costume.
A lot of us are in the same boat in today’s economy. But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that with a bit of imagination and an urge to have some fun, you can do up Halloween right on a shoestring budget, or maybe even no budget at all.
Below are 10 tips for cheap and awesome costumes for grownups who, like me, still want to be Halloweenies. Many of them apply to kid’s costumes too.
1. Before you go out and buy “costume makeup,” play around with what you (or the women in your household) already have in their stash. I’ve made some incredible looking boo-boos, bruises, and eerie-looking ghoul-eyes for both myself and my boyfriend using the same makeup I wear on any other day.
2. Not sure what to be? Or have an idea but need a certain item of clothing? Rummage through the closets, attics or basements of parents, grandparents, quirky friends or even your kids (get everyone’s permission first, of course!). That awful floppy hat your grandfather wore fishing 30 years ago just might spark an entire costume idea for you. Old work uniforms are also great building blocks for costumes.
3. If you can’t find the clothes you’re looking for in your family’s closets, visit your local thrift store. Again, you never know what treasures you’ll uncover – either the perfect piece that your costume is missing or some item that gives you a what-to-be idea if you’re stuck.
4. If you want or need to keep it simple, think about what type of costume your own features lend themselves to. The year I wanted to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, I could have chosen from any number of jerseys in my closet. But thankfully, it would have been a stretch for me to make myself look like Brett Keisel or Ben Roethlisberger.
Troy Polamalu, though …
I already had the hair on my head, I just needed to work it into a bit more of a wavy frizz.
5. Never underestimate how ordinary things you already have around the house can turn a so-so attempt into a killer costume. A bottle of Head and Shoulders did wonders for my Troy costume, since that year was the heydey for his commercials for the shampoo.
The same year, my boyfriend used all the Baltimore Ravens gear he already had, borrowed and fake-blooded my Pittsburgh Steelers Terrible Towel, and made a “murder weapon” he called “The Steeler Peeler” out of cardboard and aluminum foil. We got him a silly mask and wig, and he was transformed into “The Steeler Peeler,” a Raven Maniac who took our team’s rivalry just a bit too seriously.
When you want to get creative without breaking the bank, see what you can do with what you’ve already got in your closets, drawers and cupboards, and who knows, maybe even the kitchen sink.
6. Couple up. Sometimes, “duo” costumes are easier and more fun than going solo. Double trouble doesn’t mean you have to do something all mushy and romantic, unless that’s what you want. If you don’t want to be Romeo and Juliet, do something silly.
Ghost costumes are super-easy. They are also seriously overdone, and likely to get a yawn unless you come up with something really different. But what if your standard sheet-with-eyeholes costume was accompanied by a friend who dressed as a medium and kept conjuring you up? Suddenly this overused Halloween staple is cool again.
My Polamalu was fun to do as a stand-alone, as was Lee’s Steeler Peeler. But put them together, and we had a hit. Especially in Baltimore, where folks loved seeing a pretend Polamalu fleeing from a crazed anti-Steeler serial killer.
7. Ham it up. You can turn even a simple and otherwise boring costume into something fun if you also act the part. Use facial expressions, speech and body language to make your costume stand out. As the Steeler Peeler, Lee remained eerily quiet and just scanned the crowd for the first half hour or so we were in the pub. It made him really seem like a psycho just waiting to strike.
If you’re a princess, act like royalty. A zombie, lumber and stumble around. A few drinks should help with that one. A hooker? I’ll leave that one up to your imagination.
8. Go off the wall. You’d be amazed at what you can turn into a costume. The other night, I was talking with some regulars at the pub about how it would be funny if we all came as our favorite shot for Halloween.
One of our most commonly ordered shots is something called the “bald headed chickenf***er.” Um … yeah, I know. But seriously? Is that not the easiest costume ever? Either be bald already or put on a nylon cap, carry a rubber chicken, and you are an instant Halloween hit and a barrel of laughs at our party.
9. But of course, you gotta consider your audience. That idea works great at our pub, where chickenf***er shots are the drink of choice and everyone would get a laugh out of it. At someplace where they are unheard of, like say a church costume party, I don’t think that one would fly.
10. Make sure to take your comfort into consideration. If you’re going to be in a warm crowded house or pub all night and your costume requires tons of padding, here’s what will happen. You’ll walk in and be a hit, and within an hour or two you’ll have stripped down to your street clothes and just be spending Halloween as you rather than sweat your doo-dads off. Just sayin’.
Whatever you do, have fun. No matter how little time or money you have, with creativity and a sense of humor you can throw together a costume that makes you feel like a kid again.
Trick or Treat!