Making your own Halloween costume (or a costume for someone else) earns an indescribable sense of satisfaction. Especially when October 31 comes around and you see the assorted plebs with store-bought jammies!
The fact is: Halloween is a yearly opportunity for wannabe costume makers to give it a good ‘ol try, and a chance for veteran designers to impress their friends with wonderful creations! This guide offers suggestions for newbies and some pro tips to boot.
So, welcome to the party! Let’s chat about…
How to make your own Halloween costume
Planning the Costume
“A problem well-stated is half-solved” – Charles Kettering.
Figuring out what costume you’d like to make and how to do it is certainly half the battle.
Step 1: what is your costume?
Hopefully, you came to this article with an idea in mind. But if you didn’t…
There are some basic questions everyone should ask themselves: what characters do you like? What clothes/accessories/props do you have around the house? Do any of your friends want to make a group costume? Do you want to try a particular form of costume making? Finally, do you look similar to any of the characters mentioned?
(Looking like a character is NEVER required, but zoiks! If you bear a particularly strong resemblance to Shaggy and like his character, why not?)
Keep a log of character ideas and narrow down the list by asking a few more questions: how long will each costume take? How long do you have? What is your estimate of the cost? Which one excites you the most? Most importantly, which of them allow you to use the restroom easily?
Hopefully, these questions vastly narrow down the playing field so you can choose the perfect costume!
Step 2: How are you going to make it?
There are a couple of common ways we’re going to discuss. However, you should take a good look at your costume now and start deciding: which parts of this outfit would be best attained by…
- Gathering items from your house or friends or family
- Foam work
- Electroluminescent lights
- Crafty business
Sometimes, costumes require many of these skills! Take, for example, a knight. The process may involve wearing your own shoes, buying a prop sword, sewing a tunic, designing fitted foam armor, or crafting a sword with woodworking expertise. Who knows! Because…
When it comes down to it, the process depends on how you want to make this thing and how you want the costume to look. Admittedly, a purchased product will sometimes be faster, cheaper, and better looking! Other times, you can save money and design a fabulous accessory that makes you feel like a costume boss.
Just remember: you don’t have to set your plan in stone yet. You can take each piece as it comes.
Hunting and Gathering
Never be discouraged from using what you already have.
Have an old tuxedo that could work for your cel-shaded Archer cosplay? No problem there! Have the crimson pants, black shoes, and green shirt for a Shaggy cosplay? Done! Do you have a Master Chief helmet lying around? That’s one step you don’t have to worry about!
Of course, if you don’t have the particular clothing item yourself you can always ask friends and family for something to borrow or keep (if you’re cel-shading your Grandpa’s coat, he probably won’t want it back).
NOTE: this step and the next are best for clothing items that were popular during the 20th and 21st century, things that are often still around. If you can’t buy or borrow, you may want to build. BBB!
Okay, we admit this is a stretch, since shopping isn’t exactly “making” your own costume…but hear us out! We give a free pass for you to purchase a costume and call it self-made if your costume requires normal clothing (this pass doesn’t apply if it violates the rules of a costume contest).
Look at Archer, Shaggy, the Addams Family, a mad scientist, a Mafia group, Walter White. All these outfits require components that will likely be easier, cheaper, and less time consuming to purchase. Why reinvent the dress when Goodwill may have something perfect?
Still, if you’re dead-set on learning to tailor your own coat or can’t find what you need…
Some days you just can’t find the perfect Jedi cloak.
When that day comes, or you’ve simply decided to become a creative badass, it’s time to take up the pedal and become a sewing legend.
This requires, first and foremost, access to a working sewing machine. Weird side note: our local library lends them out. Does yours?
Almost every project under the sun goes through these steps: planning, material gathering, pre-prep, and execution. Have a good time with it!
1. Plan how you want to create your article of clothing. For some costumes, this may require looking at your character and doing some mental math. For others, it may require purchasing a clothing pattern, helpful design kits available at any sewing store!
2. Gather the materials. You’ll require at least two things: the fabric itself and the thread, which should usually match the fabric color. If your sewing machine needs new needles or bobbins, those can be helpful as well. We recommend trying Joann, but there are plenty of other sellers!
While you’re at the store, find fabric that matches the color and material you’re looking for. Take comfort into consideration! If the material will be close-fitted, wearing coarse fabric may be itchy. If it’s warm outside, using faux leather can be incredibly hot. Think ahead!
If you’re new to this process, please note: you purchase fabric by taking the full wrap to your store’s cutting counter (usually in the middle) and request a certain number of yards (fractions are acceptable). After your fabric is cut, you’ll take your snip to the front and purchase it afterward.
Also: we recommend buying a little more than you think you’ll need to save an unwanted trip back to the store.
3. Pre-prep. First things first, learn how to sew by hand and/or operate your sewing machine (yeah, that’s a whole different lesson). You should know how to prepare your thread and bobbin, then sew fabric on the platform.
Remember, it’s a journey! We dealt with terrible thread issues until reading our manual and discovering that a SINGLE KNOB controlled how tight the thread is pulled, which was leading to thread snafus. That simple detail changed everything, and got us back on track. Stay wary!
4. Cut your fabric. If you’re using a pattern, go by the design. If you’re playing it by ear by holding your clothes to the fabric or laying down on it or placing your hand over the glove material…best of luck. Just make sure to leave extra space! You can always sew the fabric so it’s tighter. Loosening up areas requires a large amount of painful de-threading.
5. Sewing! You have the pieces of clothing, you know how to sew, you’re ready to go!
Just remember: as you’re completing the pieces, make sure to try them on everyone once in a while to make sure everything’s coming together. When it’s all attached, you may want to fit it better in certain places.
Tip: if you fold the edge and sew it, your costume will look crisper and be far more durable. If you fold it twice, the unraveling edge is safely tucked inside the fold, never to be a problem again! Mwahaha!
Honestly, foam armor is still a dream of ours. A “someday” kinda deal.
In the meantime, if you’re making a costume that requires some foam work, there are some other great tutorials online! We watch this video occasionally and dream about the creations that could be…
Strings of neon are a great way to make any costume pop out on a dark Halloween night, and they’re even better when they actually make sense for your costume! But hey, why can’t Little Red Riding Hood look like she’s going to a rave?
Fortunately, we already made a nifty guide for these lights:
When all’s said and done, there are a ton of different ways to make any costume, accessory, and prop. Armor alone could be made from foam, hot gluing popsicle sticks together, or blacksmithing a legit metal cuirass. For a costume sword, make a wood replica or borrow from THAT friend!
You know which of your friends has the sword.
The point is, when you’ve finished finding, buying, borrowing, sewing, and lighting your costume, there are almost bound to be things that are difficult to find or create through these means. Perhaps it’s a Caesar‘s crown of olives, Palutena‘s staff, or Loki‘s helmet.
When these type of things pop up, get crafty: snap a branch off and call yourself Ceaser. Use hair gel and a mop to form Palutena’s staff (no idea if that’d actually work, but that’s the point). Paper mache yourself into the persona of Marvel’s best on-again, off-again antagonist!
You can do it.
Final Step: Rock It
Some people put on a costume, others WEAR a costume.
If you go as Jake, from State Farm, you’d better be ready to confusedly say: “Ahhh…khakis?” If you’re a Borderlands psycho, you should be ready to maniacally scream, “I’m already dead tomorrow!” And finally, if you’re Fat Amy from Pitch Perfect, you’d better gosh darn be ready to say, “I’ve wrestled crocodiles and dingos simultaneously”!
Among any other catchhprases of your character.
The point is, the single most important part of costume is your personality and what you bring to the table. If you want to truly “make” your character for Halloween, have yourself a grand old time playing the part.
We hope you have a happy Halloween!