Halloween is just around the corner, and there is no such thing as too much inspiration when it comes to planning parties and choosing your costume. Everybody wants a costume that makes the other ghouls and goblins cheer when they enter the room, but nobody wants to spend a fortune to get that recognition. Lucky for you, I’ve dug through the archives of the most creative and low income years of my life and am ready to share 15 creative and cheap Halloween costumes that will help you avoid being a party pooper at your next boo bash. I have to admit, as I was looking through old pictures to prep for this post, I began to wish my college would have offered a minor in theme party attendance/design. At the very least, my participation grade would have had a significant impact on my GPA!
1. Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and the Pink Power Ranger
Okay, technically this makes the list total 16 costumes instead of 15, but I couldn’t resist showing off my first puppy or my legit ninja stance, so both made the cut. I wore these costumes before my age reached the double digits; however I would still wear them today. Both are classic costumes and easy looks to achieve.
What you Need: For Dorothy you need a blue plaid dress, sparkly red shoes, two french braids, and a cute puppy named Toto. For Pink Power Ranger you just need a pink body suit with the power ranger emblem (which you can make with a few items from the craft store) and a white belt (thrift store purchase). For the grown up version, you can find a used motorcycle helmet at a thrift store and spray paint it pink!
Different Takes: You could be any member of the cast from Wizard of Oz or the Power Rangers–good guys and bad guys. Better yet, get a group of friends together and channel the entire cast as a team!
What you Need: An old pair of yoga pants/tights, old zip up hoodie, two birthday party hats, and LOTS of multicolored tissue paper. I made this costume by hot gluing layers of torn tissue paper to my old clothes. It was time-consuming and took a little experimentation to find the best technique, but it was cheap and really fun!
Different Takes: You could partner up with someone if they wanted to be a piece of candy or a person with a blindfold on…Although I highly discourage you from having a bat or stick be part of your costume, especially if you are at a bar. Towards the end of the night I even tried to keep my distance from the pool table!! 😉
What you Need: Wig and fat suit(both were already sitting in a costume bin at my apartment), beard (made using a hot glue gun, doll hair, and a foam visor from Hobby Lobby–way cheaper than buying a beard), extra large shirt and pants (thrift store), work boots (thrift store), vest (glued faux fur and sheepskin to an old vest I hardly wore anyway), and belt (thrift store) with various faux fur and leather pieces I had in my craft supply at home tied to and dangling from it.
Different Takes: Just like the Wizard of Oz, you can pull together a group of friends and dress as multiple characters. I was lucky enough to co-babysit with one of my closest friends who made a really cute Luna Lovegood. Now that I’m looking at these pictures side by side, some bushy eyebrows would really take this look to the next level…hindsight really is 20-20!
4. Cruella De’Vil
What you Need: Black and white spray on hair dye (Walmart or Dollar Store), Red Gloves (thrift store or Halloween store if you strike out), Furry Shawl (we bought cheap soft/fluffy fabric at Hobby Lobby), Slinky black dress (closet or thrift store), bright red lipstick.
Different Takes: Cruella is one bad B. And completely crazy. If you have shorter hair and you can get it to stand up like it does in that scene while Cruella is driving down the mountain, you are taking this costume to a whole other level. You could also add puppies (stuffed or your friends dressed up) or those two goons that worked for Cruella to this costume to include others.
5. Ariel and King Triton
What you Need: For Ariel: Nude body suit (you can skip this if you live somewhere warm or feel good about showing that much skin) – I got mine at American Apparel, Purple material–from old piece of clothing or buy cheap fabric from a store like Hobby Lobby–for your “shells” (can sew or glue onto your body suit), shiny blue material and blue tulle for the fin (Hobby Lobby), and elastic sequin band to hold your fin in place–like a skirt (Hobby Lobby). I wore sparkly make-up and bright red lipstick. Fake eyelashes would be an excellent touch. And if your hair isn’t already red, you will need to buy the spray on kind or a wig from a Halloween store.
For King Triton: For his trident we bought a cheap plastic devil’s spear in the Halloween section and spray-painted it gold with some spray paint we had laying around the house. We had a wizard wig from a previous costume and bought the beard, made the fin the same way we made Ariel’s, and made his crown by cutting a zigzag pattern into a sparkly foam visor to make it into a crown shape and wore it the way all the cool guys did in the early 2000s….upside down. Haha–yikes, right?!?
Different Takes: King Triton is pretty one dimensional, but you can do Ariel many ways. Use a rope to tie a sheet around yourself like a toga for the fresh out of the ocean look.If you are really dedicated and positive you aren’t going to fall on your head, you could stick a fork in your hair. She also has a pretty great wedding gown, and a lot of awesome characters around her (Prince Eric, Ursala, Sebastian, and Scully).
6. Penny Lane
What you Need: Long brown suede Jacket with fur lining (I found mine on ebay for $10.00!), blue-tinted glasses (dollar store or Halloween store), jeans, cream-colored crop top, and wavy hair.
Different Takes: This was my favorite Penny Lane look and the most well-known; however she wore several cool outfits throughout the movie, and you could use Almost Famous to inspire a period piece costume that didn’t exactly emulate one of the characters and still have a really cool look for the night.
7. Amelia Earhart
What you Need: Bomber Jacket (thrift store), scarf, boots, cargo pants (all three may already be owned/if not, can be found at a thrift store), pilot cap and goggles (Halloween store).
Different Takes: Obviously there is only one Amelia Earhart, but you can reuse several pieces of this costume, so don’t throw out any of your purchases–add them to your costume bin!
What you Need: Black base (I wore a tight long sleeved black shirt I already owned and cut some baggy, silky pants I found at the thrift store off above the knee); pink sash was found in the shawl/scarf section at a thrift store and I tied it around my waist; fishnet tights, gloves, and shirt were purchased in sale section of cheap mall chain store; bandanna, bangles, and beads can all be found around the house, in a costume bin, or purchased for cheap at a thrift store; I got the eye patch at Walgreens, and was also wearing some pretty awesome swashbuckling boots that didn’t make the photo (thrift store for less than $10).
Different Takes: Being a pirate is a classic costume that can be done many different ways. I think the key is to make sure you look like a rough, dirty version of yourself…which makes the pirate a highly individualized and fun costume if you put some thought into it.
What you need: If you are going to do an original version, you will need a headband, gloves, pearls, dropwaist dress (with fringe for more fun), and fishnet tights.
Different Takes: You can create a very cool and glam flapper costume if you build it yourself, and can find a lot of inspiration by looking at old pictures. You can also have different takes on the accessories you buy to complete your looks as well. When I buy items specifically for costumes—feather boa, fake pearls, hats, eccentric coats/shoes, faux fur, glasses, fat suit, wigs—I put them in a “costume bin” that sits in my closet. There is no reason to retire a costume-intended purchase after one night. Use and Use and Use again!!
10. Native American
What you Need: Suede/Leather dress (my mom snagged this from a friend who was going to throw it out) with bead embellishments and fringe at the bottom that you unfortunately can’t see in the picture, Headband (I used a belt I already had and tied it around my head and stuck a feather in the back), Face paint (no joke–I used red lipstick and outlined it with black eyeliner, instead of buying face paint for this little area), moccasins (also not pictured but can be found at thrift store or slipper section of big stores).
Different Takes: You could go big with a headdress, bring a tomahawk, have more intense face paint, or channel a particular famous Native American. Natural materials are key for the materials and bright colors or jewelry will add a nice pop and livelihood to your costume.
11. Marathon Runners
What you Need: Workout clothes (you’ve already got them), digital watch (have it, or thrift an old/broken one), race number (easy to DIY), medal (if you’ve never won a medal, someone else probably did…and then donated it to a thrift store).
Different Takes: If you want to be a serious runner, you should probably get a fanny pack or “hydration belt”. You can also wear headphones, sunglasses, or sweatbands. If you are a male, don’t forget about the glorious era of short-shorts in sports…this is a golden opportunity to show some leg (and scrunchy socks).
12. The Themed Race Runner
What you Need: The themed runner is really just taking your marathon runner costume to a new level. There are so many kinds of races today, so adding one tiny aspects transforms your “marathon” costume into a completely different costume. What you need is everything a marathon costume-wearer would need plus one or more of the following: Mud, color, tutus, and maybe some serious-looking fake injuries.
13. Venus and Serena Williams
What you Need: You will need to find a uniform (your own closet, an athletic friend–our roommates’ sister was on the tennis team, thrift store), rackets (our garage), Sweatbands (Walmart), wigs (Halloween store)–we bought the beads separately and put them in ourselves, hoop earrings (already had them).
Different Takes: We dressed as very specific athletes, but you can utilize these strategies to dress as any professional athlete. Some potential ideas include basketball players, Nascar drivers, cheerleaders, soccer players, boxers, football players, equestrian, professional wrestlers, gymnasts, etc.
14. Reality TV’s Finest
What you Need: This is a broad category, but here are two examples of how my friend Sarah exploited reality TV’s finest while we were in college. On the left she was dressed as a contestant from the TV show Dance your Ass Off. The sparkly dress was leftover from a Mardi Gras party outfit, and the fat suit came from my “costume bin”. It is actually the same one I wore as Hagrid. In the picture on the right, she was dressed as the ever classy Becky “Buckwild” from “Flavor of Love” one of VH1’s first and finest dating competition programs…Flaaaavor Flaaaaaaaave!!!!! If you are in your mid-to-late twenties, you know you know what I’m talking about. Yeah boiiiii! This was an easy costume to create that was a big hit at that time period. She wore baggy black pants and a wife beater (closet or thrift store), a trucker hat (costume bin or thrift store), and a clock necklace–which was made by blinging out an old clock with some glitter and Mardi Gras beads.
Different Takes: I realize that neither of these reality TV shows are on air today, but these costumes are great examples of how a little creativity goes a long way. Many reality TV stars have some obnoxious or outrageous trademark(s) they are known for, so pick the one you love the most–or love to hate the most–and exploit it to create a reality character-themed costume that is relevant to pop culture today!
15. Be Something Spooky
Okay, okay, I understand that this is not a human in a costume, but my mom’s dog is so cute, and Halloween is the perfect time for her to flaunt her under-bite, I just couldn’t resist including her bat costume. Whether you are a dog or human–wearing a spooky, scary, or disgusting costume is always going to be a hit on Halloween, and there are SO MANY WAYS you can do spooky.
Different Takes: Bats, vampires, ghosts, zombies (you can be a zombie anything by the way…zombie-cheerleader, zombie-teacher, zombie-baby..), witches, mummies…the list is very, very long and extremely diverse. You can’t go wrong if you go scary, and you can harness your own creativity to make your costume whatever you want!!
Here are a few more pointers on finding/creating creative and cheap Halloween costume year after year:
Use what you already have: Several of these costumes were built with the help of items that were already owned by me. Clothes (frequently worn and that you are thinking of throwing out), costume jewelry, make up, sporting gear, and many other items are probably sitting in your dresser, storage closet, or garage. Take inventory on what you already have before you buy items you don’t need.
Be a thrift store VIP costumer (Pun intended): Most clothing items and shoes at thrift stores cost less than $3, and many components of a great costume aren’t going to be found in a “Halloween” section of a store anyway. If you need unique shirts, hats, glasses, shoes, bags, materials, stuffed animals, etc., a thrift store is a great place to start your hunt.
Reuse: If you do decide to go the lazy route and buy a costume that is already put together (no shame, we’ve all been there), don’t be ashamed to wear it more than once. I wore this flapper costume at least twice, and I have lent it out to a few of my friends. And the friends that I lent it to are willing to let me borrow their stuff too, so now everyone is saving money
I need to throw a shout out of thanks to my friend Sarah, for letting me showcase her creativity and many personas throughout this post!
What are some of your favorite go-to Halloween costumes?