Unmask Your Creativity
Make Your Own Halloween Costumes
The spookiest day of the year is looming — ooooooooo. But these days, the scariest thing about Halloween is the amount of money the holiday can soak you, if you let it.
Halloween school parades were once a fanciful display of brainstorming, ingenuity and creativity, the stage for clever costumes derived from someone’s imagination rather than a retail box. Today, a school procession might more resemble a red carpet event with trick-or-treaters modeling the latest, expensive, store-bought costumes like Paris Hilton strutting Versace. It’s enough to give you the heebie-jeebies.
“Last year, my cat costume with black tights, a black shirt, ears and a tail my mom and I made from stuff around the house was the only one of its kind,” says 14-year old Gabriele Rinehart, an eighth-grader at Hart Middle School in Pleasanton. “Mostly everybody wore a costume they bought. Some even wore the same thing. I was original.”
With the economy still in the throes of a recession, now might be the best time to do Halloween old school. Why not bring back a bygone American tradition that once left children’s chests swelling with pride: making your own costumes. You’ll save money, encourage creativity and instill the values of simplicity in your little ones.
Re-programming might be necessary, though. Annually, retail businesses count on Bay Area families’ frivolous spending around Halloween, the second most popular buying holiday behind Christmas. And families rarely fail to deliver.
Like groupies waiting at a rock concert, the line at Dublin’s Party City trails out the door year after year in the weeks before Halloween. Scores of pressured parents with tantruming toddlers and persnickety pre-teens await their turn to pay a pretty penny and purchase popular pre-made costumes based on images displayed on a wall. Eric Valligas, store manager, says Halloween accounts for 20 percent of the store’s yearly sales.
“The recession hasn’t hurt Halloween costume sales here,” Valligas says. “It’s one holiday where people don’t appear to hold back.”
And this should really make your hair stand on end: The National Retail Federation Intentions and Actions Survey predicted Americans would spend $4.75 million on the holiday in 2009. While down a little from the previous year (the final number is not out yet), the NRF still called it “spooktacular.”
So what’s wrong with buying a costume? Nothing — if you can afford it. If you’re short on time and moolah is no issue, then, feel free. Consider, however, there are other benefits to making a costume than just saving some green.
“Children who come in to choose a costume pattern and fabric are always so excited,” says Tuula Sternick, a seven-year employee at Jo-Ann Fabrics in Dublin. “For many, it’s their first sewing project with their mother and they can’t wait to get started. It warms my heart to see some people keeping such a nice tradition.”
Sandie Samuels, a San Leandro mother of four, plus grandkids, also a Jo-Ann employee, encourages the love of sewing for adults and children and is always happy to help with the how-tos. All Bay Area Jo-Ann Fabrics carry a special Halloween costume fabric collection and a grand selection of patterns in the fall. An avid sewer herself, Samuels gets nostalgic around the spooky holiday. Like many Baby Boomers, she and her mother concocted all her costumes, on an old treadle machine no less.
“I continued the tradition with my kids because it was such special time spent together, creating,” Samuels says. “Once, my two girls were cows. They were too cute, proudly swishing their tails from house to house trick or treating that year.”
Truth is, you don’t need to know a stitch about sewing to create a kooky, creepy or cute costume that will turn heads and make memories. What you do need is a great idea, a vision and a little imagination. Then, look around you.
Anything in the house can spawn an idea. Mom’s room can be the perfect birthplace for some of the greatest costumes ever. A humorous harried homemaker can be created with hair wrapped in a towel or rollers, an old housecoat, fuzzy slippers and a baby doll in one hand, a feather duster or toliet brush in the other. Create dark eye circles with a smidgen of smeared mascara.
Old bridesmaid dresses and formals make wonderful princess frocks. Sashes and tiaras can easily be made from cut and stapled cardstock with a pretty jewel embellishment glued to the front.
You can literally say, “I’ve created a monsta,” after raiding dad’s side of the closet. Dad’s clunky shoes, black vest, a preferably purple sweatshirt, black sweatpants and a raggedy dark scarf flung around the neck can be the basic garb for Frankenstein. Green makeup (mom’s green clay mask will do great) and some strategically placed facial scars will lend realism. Just add outstretched arms and grunts and groans.
The back of your kids’ drawers can be virtual prop shops as well. Sweat suits in monochromatic colors are excellent bases for costumes of all kinds, especially animals. Cats, dogs, bunnies, bats, rats, pigs — just add ears, tails, whiskers and pink noses. Knee-high socks on a headband can mimic bunny ears. Ankle socks over hands can become paws. Clip-on ties make great tails.
Never underestimate the power of tin foil. It covers surfaces in a snap and can help create shiny props of all kinds from a cowboy’s dazzling belt buckle to a gleaming sword (both cut from cardboard) to a cosmic astronaut helmet (made from an upside down plastic bucket).
Bath towels can save the day in a pinch. They make excellent super hero capes or hoods when pinned or lightly stitched. A bright red one makes an awesome Little Red Riding Hood. Just add a girlie dress and a basket.
“Raggedy Ann was my favorite costume ever. I was 6,” recalls Francine Mays, a Castro Valley mother of three. “My mom and I rummaged through my closet and found the perfect little white Sunday dress. But the best part was my red ‘doll’ cheeks painted with lipstick. I was so proud to be in the Halloween parade.”
Today, despite the peer pressure to go out and purchase, Mays transforms her own youngsters each year into fantasy figures like ninjas, ballerinas and vampires using everyday household items. Average cost: $0. How’s that for recession proof?
Naturally, there will be no shortage of ninjas this Halloween. But why not transform your little tyke into a new breed of super ninja using a men’s white shirt with rolled up sleeves and fabric strips tied at the waist and around the arms, topped off with a mask cut from felt?
Processions of ballerinas in traditional tutus will sashay from door to door. But your little darling can be walking on air in her one-of-a-kind ingenious tutu made from gathered and stapled 36-inch bubble wrap. Many a villainous vampire will darken your doorstep on that scary evening. But none will rival the creepiness of your young Count Dracula as he swoops to each residence in his macabre cape made from a carefully cut black plastic garbage bag.
You can find a few of these ideas and others in Make Believe – A Book of Costume and Fantasy, a book by Klutz Press (found at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com). It boasts some of the simplest and most creative ideas for doing costumes yourself, from a
magical three-towel genie to a hilarious three-legged dude for next to nothing. Tons more ideas can be found on Internet sites such as 1Halloween.net or FamilyFun.go.com (search: Halloween Costumes).
What if your kids are embarrassed to wear a homemade costume? A reality you may have to face. Just keep it positive and remember this: The idea is for kids to stop worrying about their image so much. Get the kudos not for their ability to pick a great costume (no creativity required), but rather for what they actually created. That’s a value lost and the only way to bring it back is for people to recognize it’s missing. In this economy, now’s a good time.
Whether you pull out the old treadle machine, use a book or your own incredible noggin, feel great about the decision to make it yourself, even if it’s out of necessity. The ideas are endless, the creativity, boundless and the pride the children will feel by doing it themselves, priceless.