Every Halloween, many of us wrestle with costume ideas for our kids. Some of us are talented at sewing and whipping up costumes, and also organized enough to be among those thumbing through Halloween pattern books in August (as my own mom was.) Some of us guiltily feel that we should be making our kids’ Halloween costumes, but start a little late, or are short on time or skills. Others of us would prefer not to buy a complete off-the-shelf costume, even as some of our children say they prefer these, for a variety of reasons. They can be expensive and end up little-used; their themes are often unappealing (overly commercial or overly sexual) and limited; buying one close to Halloween lands us in a loud, frenzied store.
For all but those who are in the first camp, I have a solution. It’s one I employed almost every year at Halloween: Combine the store-bought with the homemade by buying a base costume and embellishing it. The costume above is a dalmation, made from spotted children’s pajamas that we found. I added the rickrack trim to the neck. The ears are made from two triangles each of dalmation-print fabric and pink flannel, cut slightly larger than the desired finished size. Sew a triangle of each fabric together, right sides together, to form the ear shape. Turn each sewn pair right side out and run a pipe cleaner up its middle. Sew a few stiches around the bottom of each ear to close, and attach the ear with more thread to a child’s plastic headband and bend the pipe cleaner to shape the ear. This is an easy way to create ears or antennae for a variety of costumes. The face makeup completed the dalmation look. This was so simple, but a little bit of embellishment allowed us to be creative and have Anna have the costume she wanted, without taking a lot of time in the creation.
I’ve found that one myth of Slow Parenting is that crafts, foods and other items have to be made from scratch to be somehow “worthy”. I advocate that the most important thing for parents and families is to spend their time the way they choose. For some people, and in some years, that might mean creating a costume from scratch. But it shouldn’t feel mandatory. If something feels like a chore, despite our best intentions, I advocate switching models. Many of us admire crafters (and cooks and home decorators) like Martha Stewart, whose creations appear perfect and effortless, but public style icons can also have a way of making many people feel that they, too, need to perform similarly. In our frenzied world, most of us don’t have precious time to spend doing things that don’t bring us joy. In our family, that meant relying on a combination of store-bought and homemade ingredients to come up with Halloween costumes that were creative, easy, memorable and fun.
When Anna was one year old, I made a pea-pod costume, based on a pair of green footed dinosaur pajamas. Wonderfully, they had a contrasting bib of lighter green color in the front. Over that, I sewed five large green pom poms to form peas. I also made two tubes of felt and stuffed each and sewed them around the “peas”. I cut the dinosaur tail off the back of the costume. To the top of the green hat that came with the costume, I attached a “string” of curly green pipe cleaner. Another string was attached below the peas.
Here she is, almost one and on the move.
After two years of the beloved dalmation costume, when Anna was four, I made a sequined-line cape that turned a black leotard and tights into a bat costume. To make a scalloped-shaped cape, I folded a length of satin accordion style into eight parts. With the parts atop one another, I cut a semi-circle out of each end, and that gave it its shape. I glued a line of sequins along the scallops, and followed the directions below to complete the cape.
Another year, I made a simple 3-part western vest, with fringe sewn on (I used upholstery fringe) that went over a vintage 50s dress, so Anna could dress up as Patsy Cline. We pretty much continued the tradition of combining the store-bought, the homemade and the embellished throughout Anna’s school years.
Here are a couple of other quick costume ideas, for Halloween or any dress-up time. These are adapted from my book, Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World.
Tunic: Cut a hole for a head in a one-yard piece of fabric.
Cape: Fold over an inch of a piece of fabric at least 24” long. Sew a seam, leaving a casing to string elastic or a tie through.
Tutu: Cut strips of tulle approx. 4″ wide and 20″ long from a roll or a 4-yard piece. Loop each strip around a waist-sized piece of elastic or a headband. Thread ends of tulle through the loop and pull to tighten.
Crown: Wrap a strip or sheet of paper around a child’s head and tape the ends to attach. Cut a zig-zag shape around the top and decorate the outside.
Another idea, from Anna: If making or embellishing costumes is not for you, you can support artisans by buying homemade costumes on Etsy and elsewhere.
Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman