Halloween Haunts: 10 Tips for Creating a Wicked Halloween Costume by Annie Neugebauer
1. Follow your spark.
The best thing about dressing up for Halloween is that you get to be anything. ANYTHING. So, need I remind you to have fun? Don’t let scrounging something together at the last minute be a chore; choose something you love and make creating it ahead of time part of the joy. What adjective do you wish you were? What type of persona is secretly lurking beneath your surface? Find it and fan that flame, because a good costume is all about fulfilling your fun! Whether you long to be terrifying, sexy, funny, handsome, strange, or something else entirely, choose what you actually want – not just what you think you can pull off.
2. Choose something unique.
There will be a lot of Mad Maxes this year, just like there were a lot of Game of Thrones characters last year. It’s inevitable. Now, if you’re just dying to be something from your favorite fandom, go ahead, but do it with the knowledge that your costume will likely be up against several other The Jokers. (So you better make yours the best!)
3. Choose something recognizable.
That said, choose something people will actually recognize. You might live and breathe that cult classic from 1956, but will anyone else know why you’re wearing a rake on your head? No matter how spot-on your rendition is, it does take some of the fun out of your night if no one gets what you were going for. Likewise, if you pick something very general, like “a demon,” or something very vague, like “some kind of water monster,” be prepared to explain your costume to well-meaning party goers.
4. Choose something you can actually look like.
Yeah, maybe “darkness itself” is hella cool, and maybe “a wood pile” is a great inside joke with your crew, but some things are just inherently uncostumeable. If your spark takes you to Inanimate Object Land or Conceptual Brilliance Country, keep brainstorming for a little while and see what else pops up.
5. Match comfort levels to destination.
Halloween is not known for its comfort, but you should still take it into consideration. If you live in the south and your party is outside, long sleeves and multiple layers might not be practical. Will your Viking King costume still look cool if you have to shed everything but your base layer? Likewise, if you’re wearing huge wings at a crowded indoor party, be prepared to end up taking them off or throwing them away if they get damaged in the crush.
6. Make; don’t buy.
I know I’ll catch some flak for this, because not everyone has the time or desire to actually put together their own costume, but I’m a huge proponent of making costumes instead of buying them ready-made. Some store-bought costumes are actually really cool, but how much does it suck if someone shows up in your same outfit? I will say that by “make” I don’t necessarily mean sew or hand-craft; I just mean cobble something together that isn’t sold as one unit.
7. Use as many real pieces as possible.
If you do go the DIY route, I highly recommend using as many “real” pieces as possible for the most sophisticated look. For example, when I was the Dread Pirate Roberts last year I used an actual pair of black boots I already owned instead of the store-bought “pirate boot” covers made of thick felt. And I wore black skinny jeans instead of cheap tights or faux-leather pirate pants. Likewise, I used a real black belt, my actual black gloves, and some nice black scrap fabric for my head-cover. The only fake, “costumeish” pieces I used were my pirate blouse, sword, and mask. I think it leant my getup an air of authenticity that would be missing if I’d bought it all prepackaged from a costume store.
8. Customize for cheap.
The other great thing about making your own costume? If you’re smart about it, you’ll save money. Most pre-packaged costumes cost upwards of $50 now days. But if you go to thrift stores and fabric stores, repurpose what you already own, and buy only the pieces you can’t make or fudge, you can spend way less. For my Dread Pirate Roberts costume I only had to buy three pieces (and two of those I’m reusing for this year’s costume). You can get away with even less than that if you’re really strategic.
9. Do a trial run; take pictures.
There is a risk to making your own costume: sometimes it ends up looking silly. Imagination is great, but not if it tells you that metal salad bowl really does look like a helmet. So a week or two before Halloween, do a trial run that includes makeup, accessories, and all of your pieces. And more importantly, take pictures of yourself once you have it all on. The pictures will give you a better idea of how successful your costume is coming across. This way if something reads wonky you still have time to adjust and make changes before the big night.
10. Stop caring and have fun!
And finally, once you’re there, the most important thing is to stop caring how it turned out and start having fun! If you’re tugging at this seam and that knot all night and worrying about how your fake nose looks, you’ll miss the whole point. This is also a great reason not to use pieces that are too valuable or sentimental to you. Halloween is a night for play, not worry. So no matter how hard you worked on your costume ahead of time, keep it in perspective once you’re there. Take some pictures to document your masterpiece, then let loose. It’s time to booooogie!
What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever come up with? I’d love to hear about it! Feel free to share your own tips and tricks in the comments below.
ANNIE NEUGEBAUER (@AnnieNeugebauer) is a novelist, short story author, and award-winning poet. She has work appearing or forthcoming in over fifty venues, including Black Static, Fireside, DarkFuse, and Buzzy Mag. She’s an active member of the Horror Writers Association, the webmaster for the Poetry Society of Texas, and a columnist for Writer Unboxed. She lives in Texas with her sweet husband and two diabolical cats. You can visit her at www.AnnieNeugebauer.com for blogs, creative works, free organizational tools for writers, and more.
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