While Halloween costumes in retail stores offer dozens of possibilities, the likelihood of looking just like dozens of other trick-or-treaters is far too likely. And far too boring.
Between steep price tags and lack of creativity in store-bought costumes, it's no wonder a fair amount of families still opt for homemade disguises instead of flimsy fabric and plastic masks.
With nighttime Halloween crowds and activities, plan to be safe.
For costumes, opt for flame-resistant materials and avoid any candles. Pumpkins can be lit with special LED light candles, instead of flame. For safety and comfort, costumes should not drag on the ground and shoes should fit well. For costumes in which the face is covered, ensure eyeholes are large enough and there's adequate ventilation. No part of the costume should lessen the child's hearing.
Get creative to ensure at least portions of the costumes are visible to motorists. Add some reflective tape to fairy wings, swords and superhero capes or strap a flashing disco light onto funky hippy belts or candy bags.
Be watchful of the types of candy given at houses and businesses. Pass on homemade treats unless the source is a familiar face (cookie store at the mall, maybe; hot chocolate from a stranger, not advisable!).
Warn kids ahead of time that candy bags must be inspected at the end of the night before eating — so no nibbling! If anything looks awry, toss it! Above all, stay in groups, have fun, and show off those great costumes.
The best costumes always come from a bit of imagination, says Kids Imagination Discovery Space's dress-up guru Jody Hubler. "It's just more fun and they get the satisfaction of a job well done. My daughter really gets into it and .... she gets a greater sense of satisfaction from knowing she came up with the costume on her own."
From pirates to fairies, everyday items can be transformed into Halloween finery when combined with thrift shop goodies and some creativity.
Popular in recent years and easy to make, pirate costumes can be crafted from old clothes. Use a jagged edge to tear slits into pant legs of dark colored sweatpants or slacks. For a cleaner look, oversized pants can be cuffed with tape, then rolled under for a bloused effect. Top the look with an oversized shirt and long flowing scarves for the head and waist (to hold a sword). Cut an easy vest from a dark T-shirt or search thrift store racks. Pick up an inexpensive eye patch and paint a slight mustache with eyebrow or eyeliner makeup for a complete look.
Red Riding Hood
Fun for girls young and old, "Little Red" needs only a favorite dress, a large goody-filled basket and a red cape to make the Halloween visit to gramma's house. Cut a cape from a swatch of red fabric, old red drapes or purchase one inexpensively from a second-hand shop.
What's up Doc?
Be an MD for the night in oversized scrubs, bright white tennis shoes and a borrowed stethoscope. A tied-on, paper head wrap adds a surgical flair or become a doctor of the four-legged variety by stamping animal paw prints randomly on the scrubs and carrying favorite stuffed animals (dogs, cats, you name it!).
A hit with girls of all ages, fairies are easy to create, says Nola Silverman, owner of Ashland's Gypsy Rose. For a woodland fairy, girls can wear tutu-style skirts pinned with an assortment of bright, fun scarves (attached at one corner) around the waistband.
Wings that are far more comfy and realistic than store-bought contraptions can be crafted from a rectangular swatch of fabric "scrunched" at center, attached to the back of a shirt and rubber banded to little wrists. A homemade head garland of leaves and flowers tops the look.
A fun costume for a boy, go Zorro by wearing black pants and a long sleeved shirt with almost knee-high black boots. A long, black scarf with large eyeholes — and a Spanish style hat — adds a final flare.
Easy for girls, gypsies can don long flowing skirts, lots of beads and an oversized head scarf. Add a vest (homemade or thrift shop-found) and a colorful scarf that wraps around the top half of the flowing, layered skirts. Add makeup and glitter where you'd like.
Creatures of the night
For spookier disguises, Tina Reuwsaat of Phoenix's infamous Darkwing Manor, an annual "haunt," suggests bypassing retail store costumes and going with real life.
"We always encourage people to go for realistic and not plastic," she says.
"And it's really more how you do the character. You can start with the costume, but a lot of it is your makeup and your character, which really fills it out. You can have the most beautiful, expensive costume in the world, and if you don't have your character to flesh it out, then it's not going to work well for you," she says.
Reuwsaat suggests looking online for believable monsters and haunted folk, then creating a rendition of your own, using old clothes (tattered at will), and focusing more on makeup and sound effects.
For a classic vampire costume, find an old tuxedo, add vampire teeth (or not) and go for pale makeup.
"Accessories are important with any costume," Reuwsaat says. "Pirates need weapons, creatures need believable capes... if you do the costume homemade, then invest in better weapons or accessories, and work on your character. You'll get a nicer look and have a lot more fun."