Sunday, October 1, 2023

How do you come up with a simple, unique and inexpensive Halloween costume?

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Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

With a birthday on October 30, it’s only natural that Kimberly Murphy takes Halloween extremely seriously. Murphy, a natural redhead, has dressed up as iconic crimson characters like the Wendy’s mascot and Chuckie from backgrats, but when she started dating her now-fiance Brian nearly a decade ago, Murphy’s suits went up. A Selection Of Murphy And Brian’s Biggest Halloween Hits: Dexter And Dee Dee Out Dexter’s lab, Ms. Frizzle and the eponymous bus from The magical school busJack and Sally from The nightmare Before Christmas, Tormund and Brienne van Tarth from Game of Thronesand Shaun White and a snowboard.

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

In October, the couple, both in their early 30s, will be getting married and will portray Chucky and Bride of Chucky for Halloween. (You can guess who will wear the white dress.)

In childhood, Halloween is one of the few days of the year when you can wear your most imaginative clothes to school and to strangers’ doors. As you get older, that sense of youthful creativity can diminish, and figuring out what to wear to a costume party becomes another little riddle. Whether you’re into dressing up or a fan of cosplay, coming up with creative, yet approachable Halloween attire doesn’t have to be a mind-boggling or expensive experience. Costume experts offer their advice on how to devise and execute your best disguise so you can take home top honors in this year’s costume contest.

Limit your focus

When every character, celebrity, historical figure, animal, pun and meme is potential costume fodder, it can be overwhelming to get into one idea. Constraints and parameters are your best friend. Use your own looks – is there a person or fictional character with a similar style to you? Vaguely similar characteristics? – and the media that interested you this year as starting points. Everything from YA novels and 90s nostalgic TV shows to extremely local jokes and jokes (public transport, sports mascots) to niche memes (hello, Chris Pine astral projection) are the main sources of inspiration.

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

A woman in 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’ favorite cosplay characters is Morticia Addams.
Thanks to Fungirlwithacamera Photography

For all of her costumes, Murphy let her red hair and the height difference between her and her fiancé (she’s six feet, he’s six feet) guide her choices. She thinks back to important pop culture or historical moments that fall under these categories. For example, Murphy marked The Queen’s Gambit as a potential ensemble, due to its buzzworthiness and the fact that the main character had red hair. “I take this formulaic approach to Halloween, where if it’s unusually small or redheaded,” she says, “that fits my formula of a potential Halloween candidate.”

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

Then figure out what effect you want your costume to have. Is your goal to make everyone laugh? Being the sexy? Do you go all in on small details? Bringing some friends for a group costume? This can help you get an idea.

The location of your Halloween bash can help you narrow down your options further, says custom costume maker Correen Borst-Straub of Correen’s creative designs. Think about where you will wear the dress to determine what is appropriate. If you’re going to a party in a small apartment, you probably don’t want to wear a huge Marie Antoinette dress or you might want to think twice about wearing vampire fangs to a costumed fundraiser that includes a sit-down dinner.

Buck convention, with respect

Using popular culture as inspiration can provide some potential ideas, but if you really want a memorable guise, approach these concepts in an unconventional way. Many people tend to dress up as the main characters of popular shows (how many? cooks and Targaryens are we going to see this year?) but supporting roles or genre styles can also be crowd-pleasing attire. For her all-time favorite Halloween costume, Dani Cabot, the manager of the New York City vintage boutique Screaming Mimisdressed as a virgin. “I got sheets and a classic cheap Roman goddess dress from the 1970s and I got a huge wig, and then a choker that made it look like my throat had been slit,” she says.

Even if you don’t share every physical trait with a character, use your differences to your advantage. Murphy and her fiancé have often dressed up as characters that have historically been portrayed as opposed to the couple’s own gender presentation. “Gender is always very subjective,” says the Philadelphia-based drag queen VinChelle. “Everyone can express themselves however they want.” VinChelle often performs in appearance inspired by Beyoncé and uses the star’s photo shoots as a reference. She then scours fabric stores in Philadelphia or New York City for the garment and works closely with seamstresses to create the outfit. “Beyoncé is a glorified drag queen,” she says.

To be clear: this is not an excuse to appropriate other cultures, use makeup to darken your skin, or wear racist costumes. If you’re not sure if a suit is appropriate, have a few friends discuss your idea first, says Kate Farrier, the wardrobe manager at RWS Entertainment Groupan entertainment and event production company that has produced haunted experiences for the likes of Six Flags Great America, Sea World and Legoland.

Refer to your personal style

Think about ways you can pour your personality into popular ideas. Suppose you want to be a witch or a vampire. What can you do to make the costume look like you? If your only item of clothing is a leather jacket, have your witch character wear a leather jacket. “If you’re always on your phone, you might be a celebrity vampire, a social media vampire,” Farrier says. “Try to make it about something you always have by putting your personal items in it because that makes it special for you.”

For a year, a shopper at Screaming Mimis embellished their vampire clothes by adding 1970s disco accessories. “They did this crazy disco Studio 54 vampire look,” Cabot says. You can also take a character that isn’t exactly known for their fashion, like Pacmanand create an interesting piece of clothing inspired by their aesthetic.

Another way to differentiate is to make subtle changes to proven images. Borst-Straub has a 25 percent rule where she pours her creativity into well-known designs so that the resulting look is 75 percent true to pop culture and 25 percent her own.

Elmekies gets inspired by searching her costume idea plus ‘cosplay’ on Pinterest to see how others have approached the concept. Don’t worry about being so niche that everyone has to ask you what you are, says Elmekies. “So, what are you?” is a great icebreaker. “Sometimes when I go out like Belle van Beauty and the Beastpeople don’t know who I am because it’s not a Disney knock-off, it’s more built that you can wear every day,” says Elmekies.

Use what you have (or buy second hand)

Halloween outfits shouldn’t cost a lot of money. Think about the colors, shapes and silhouettes needed for a costume to help you identify the building blocks of the look. For example, for a gargoyle look you need a lot of gray clothes and makeup. “Think about the shapes of things rather than the actual items,” said Ryan Walton, the Halloween experience producer for RWS Entertainment Group. “[Say] I need a round ring-shaped thing. What can I do that’s round and hoop-like that won’t cost me a lot of money and then I can make it again?”

Search your closet (or your friends’ closets) for pieces you need. If you’re dressing up as a flapper, pick out a slip dress if you have one. Then let your accessories and props do the talking. “So things like jewelry, gloves, stockings, headgear, masks can really turn a foundation into something that’s excellent,” Cabot says.

For any pieces you don’t already have, go to a local vintage or thrift store, indie costume store, or dollar store to get materials. Employees at these stores can provide expert costume advice, and shopping in person ensures you’re getting exactly what you want — no surprises when ordering online, Cabot says. Second-hand shopping is also much more sustainable than buying a polyester outfit at a big-box store. Chances are, you can even incorporate aspects of your ensemble into your regular wardrobe.

Rock your costume

In the end, you will have the best time in an outfit that makes you feel comfortable and confident. Think about how the fabrics and props feel; it’s not worth being constricted by shoes you can’t possibly walk in. “You’ll light up the most if you’re wearing something you love,” VinChelle says. “When I’m in my favorite costume, I’m a completely different person.”

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

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