DIY Halloween costume ideas

It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means: COSTUMES!

If I had my way, every party would be a dress up party. Because when I was a little kid, every birthday party WAS a dress up party, with a theme, and with costumes. Occasionally I have continued this tradition, as I did this year with a reprisal of my Alice in Wonderland themed birthday party:

2nd grade Alice

2nd grade Alice

21st grade Alice

21st grade Alice

Now that it’s October and more people are looking at my Halloween costume post from last year, I figured it was time for another round of crafty costume ideas. Lucky for you, I’ve done my fair share of costuming in the last year! This time I’ve organized them into individual and group costume categories for you. But I realized they could just as easily be categorized as “weird takes on famous individuals” and “characters from well known novels.” Enjoy!

(edit: There’s now a 2014 DIY Halloween costumes post as well!)

INDIVIDUAL COSTUMES

Historical Women With a Twist: Radioactive Marie Curie and Ballerina Annie Oakley

So I’m a fan of DIY historical costumes, especially for women. Whether it’s one of these bizarre vintage costumes from days of yore, or one of these awesome new interpretations from Take Back Halloween, I’m all for it. The latter website makes a great point that the vast majority of store bought women’s Halloween costumes fall into the “Sexy ______” category, limiting your options. But if you make a costume yourself, it can be whatever you want it to be.

And for me, that means adding a twist to famous historical figures. Like being a glow-in-the dark version of physicist Marie Curie for Halloween last year.

Marie Curie

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Marie Curie was a Nobel Prize winning scientist who did groundbreaking research on radioactivity at the turn of the century. Her papers are still radioactive and she literally described seeing the tubes of radioactive material glow in the dark. Which meant I got to get all kinds of creative with my costume. First, I found this awesome black dress at a thrift store. I have no idea what it was in its past life, but the poofy sleeves and the full skirt were perfect for the time period. Next, I bought an attachable white lace collar on ebay and sewed it to the neckline of the dress. The clothing part was complete.

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I actually wore this costume on two separate nights, and I did the make up and accessories a little different for each. The key was to make as much of me glow in the dark as possible. First, I needed my own test tube—I picked one up from a campus resale store, used glow-in-the-dark paint on the inside of it, and labeled it “radium.” For the rest of me, I used glow stick necklaces, glow in the dark face paint and green glow-in-the-dark nail polish. My recommendation is to get the nail polish at the drugstore if possible and the makeup from a Halloween store—the Halloween store version of the nail polish that came with the makeup in a kit was so clumpy it was unusable.

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Seen here with Melisandre from Game of Thrones (see below for more of those costumes!), you can see that I had a thick line of makeup near my forehead. The make up has to be thick to show up, so I ended up just outlining the circle of my face instead of pasting it all over. I also recommend you have someone help you if you want a design on your body using the paint.

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My dress had a dramatic open back so I had friends do designs there. The first night I went for a skeleton-like rib design and the second night I had the brilliant idea of using the radioactive symbol! It’s quite tricky to photograph these things, but we tried:

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IMG_1870I had so much fun in this costume, especially when I found a blacklight!

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Annie Oakley

Making the Marie Curie costume for Halloween inspired me the next time I was invited to a costumed dance party several months later. I had far less time to make this one happen, but I wanted to keep with my theme. I l also needed something I could dance in this time. So I came up with Ballerina Annie Oakley.

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Annie Oakley was a famous sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in the late nineteenth century. But I wasn’t about to bring a real firearm to a party. So I did the next best thing: I found me some gun tights.

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You can get these on ebay for about $5. They totally made the outfit. And since they were tights, I figured, why not wear a tutu? So I borrowed this black leotard and tutu combo from a friend, who found it at a clothing swap. I already had the cowboy boots and the bandana, so all that remained to get was a hat and a western shirt.

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Both the hat and the shirt came from the thrift store, but believe it or not the shirt required a fair amount of alteration. It was the best one they had (it even had snaps instead of buttons!) but it was a size or two bigger than me. So I took it in on the sides and a little in the seams and then tied it above the tutu to get the fit I wanted. It was worth it! And surprisingly I still wear the shirt quite a bit. Perhaps I’m a cowgirl at heart after all.

Lady David Bowie

Sometimes, the clothes simply make the costume. Other times, it’s all about the makeup. Especially when you are invited to a David Bowie themed birthday party. I present to you two female David Bowies.

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This is David Bowie circa 1973, where we recreated the lightning bolt makeup from the Aladdin Sane album cover. You can buy Halloween makeup, but I used bright pink lipstick, dark teal eyeshadow, and black eyeliner. It stayed put really well, but be forewarned that your face may have some residual pink the next day! Not included but recommended: leather jacket and a bad ass expression.

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This is David Bowie circa 1972 as Ziggy Stardust. The key to this look was a really good cream eyeshadow in gold, which I used for the circle as well as my lips. For my eyes I used the reddest blush I could find and some black eyeliner. There was no way I was going to be able to recreate any of Bowie’s amazing clothing from this era, but I did find a gold leggings/shrug set at a thrift store and a gold sparkly top that matched it.

GROUP COSTUMES 

Game of Thrones

If you have a group of people who all want to do the same theme for Halloween, there are tons of great things you can DIY. Earlier this year, my friends and I did a team bike event that required having a group theme and costumes to go with it. We decided to be Team of Thrones.

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From left to right: A wilding woman, Tyrion Lannister, Asha (Yara) Greyjoy, a Stark bannerman (with banner), Arya Stark, Khal Drogo, Danerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Viserys Targaryen, Ygritte, and the Three Eyed Crow.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock/north of the wall this year, you’ve probably heard of the HBO show Game of Thrones, a TV show based on the epic fantasy novels of the Song of Ice and Fire series  by George R. R. Martin. The best part about this show is that there are so many characters that you can get as obscure and outlandish as you want with your character and costume.

We obviously made some adaptations to be able to ride bikes on a rather hot spring day, but I think there were some rather creative costume elements here. To name just a few examples: the crow has little messages tied to her legs, Tyrion has little half shoes strapped to his knees, and Viserys covered her bike helmet with that giant golden crown.

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I went as Asha Greyjoy (Yara in the TV series), Theon’s sister. I already had the black top, shorts and boots, all from thrift stores. I also happened to own a studded belt, sailing ship earrings and an octopus necklace…don’t ask me why on the last one but it worked beautifully. The little dirk knife and shield came from the dollar store, and I taped the Greyjoy sigil and motto, “We Do Not Sow” to the front of the shield. Also recommended: putting on the hardened face of a ironborn sea captain. (Showing off the forearm scar you got as a child helps too.)

Gatsby Girls

Not up for fantasy novels? How about celebrating the Jazz Age novel The Great Gatsby with some roaring 20s costumes?

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There’s plenty of inspiration in the new movie adaptation, but there’s actually quite a range of outfits that work for this era. All of the above dresses came from thrift stores, from the light pink drop waist dress with lace (it originally had long sleeves that she removed with a seam ripper) to the bright pink sequin flapper dress.

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Accessories really help make these costumes work: among these four costumes we’ve got gloves, long beaded necklaces, hats, sequined headbands, feathers, flowers and even a cigarette holder (oh and the gun tights yet again!). Equally important is hair! You can’t really see it here but we’ve used two hair tutorials to get the styles of the 1920s, one that shows you how to fake a bob hairstyle if you have long hair and one that shows you how to create finger waves, which is a bit more challenging and works best with hair that already has a curl to it:

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I tried to do the finger waves on myself, and I didn’t quite achieve the full look. I would really recommend that you have a friend who is good with hair do this on you. The nice thing is that both hair styles don’t require much in the way of equipment—for the fake bob you need a clip, a pony tail holder and some bobby pins. For the finger waves, you need gel, a comb, and bobby pins. That’s it! Combine with 1920s style make up, especially the “cupid’s bow” lips, for the full look.

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Alice in Wonderland

Last but not least, we have the Mad Hatters Tea Party!

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Let’s start with Alice. I made this a low key costume since I knew I’d want to be comfortable all night. I used this strapless blue and white dress because it was a hot June evening, and paired it with these thigh high stockings that had card suits on them I got from a former roommate. The black Mary Jane shoes, red rose ring, and bow hair clip are things I’ve had forever, but they added a nice touch. I wanted to make a black bow out of ribbon, but I ran out of time.

I did, however, make the apron. To be honest, I didn’t use a pattern—I just tried on the dress, measured where I wanted the apron to come to, and used those measurements. The most similar free tutorial I’ve seen for how to make one like it is here. I used plain white muslin and a wide white ribbon instead of fabric to save time. I decided it should have rounded edges to match the top of my dress, and I think the effect worked nicely.

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If you’re willing to take it a step further with face paint and/or prosthetics, you can go this route. The Dormouse combined mouse ears and a tail with Halloween makeup crayons to recreate the mouse face. The Cheshire Cat sewed his ears onto a hat, and used pink and purple face face paint for the stripes, but also attached some pretty awesome prosthetics.

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Seen here with the Queen of Hearts, you can tell that this is a much more advanced costume project. But doable if you are adventurous! There’s actually two prosthetics, a cat nose and a grin, that he attached. He used spirit gum to attach the latex prosthetic to his face and liquid latex to blend the seam—you can get an idea for how to actually do this from this prosthetic nose tutorial. The effect, as you can see, is pretty remarkable.

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And that’s all my costumes from the last year! I hope these can inspire you to come up with your own clever ideas—if they do, I’d love to see the results!

creative destruction: re-inventing t-shirts with scissors, paint, and thread

This summer, I took four old t-shirts and transformed them with stencils, cut outs, or both. I even altered the basic structure of two of them to get the fit I wanted. And thanks to my lovely friend, I now have pictures of myself wearing them. So if you want a DIY run down of how to cut, slash, and paint your way to a unique T, read on. (Bonus: Battlestar Galactica references ahead!)

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Stencils

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Let’s start with the least destructive activity—paint. If you read my post on nerdy crafts, you’ll notice I’m not new to stenciling. On that post I linked to the tutorial on stencilry that I use, but I’ll give you the short version here.

One of the easiest ways to make a clean stencil is to use the freezer paper method. First, pick a stencil image—in this case “So Say We All,” the “amen” of the Battlestar Galactica universe, in an appropriate font. Be sure to read the tutorial section on islands and bridges to make sure your image will work as a stencil—as you can see above, I had to add back in the “islands” in the middle of the “O” and “A” to keep the letters looking correct. Buy freezer paper, cut it to the size of paper your printer will accept, and print your stencil onto the non glossy side (some wrangling with the printer may be required). Cut out the stencil with an X-acto knife, and then with a dry iron, iron it directly onto the shirt.

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For the painting part, mix your preferred color of acrylic paint with fabric medium according to the directions on the bottle, then paint onto the stencil with a sponge or a brush. Make sure to put something between the layers of the shirt so the paint doesn’t soak through (and not cardboard, because I’ve notice the paint will stick to it—I used my X-Acto knife cutting pad). Let dry completely before removing the stencil, then follow the fabric medium directions for heat setting and washing the shirt so that the stencil will be permanent and clean.

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The process is somewhat similar if you have a permanent stencil, like this plastic alphabet one I used to make the phrase “Nothing But the Rain”—yet another BSG reference (its the phrase said by Starbuck to Captain Adama). The only difference here is being careful about getting paint everywhere when you move the stencil—I decided I didn’t care about the mess because I liked the splattered look, but you can decide for yourself.

The last option is to just trace simple shapes directly onto the stencil paper and then cut those out—that’s the easiest option, and it’s what I did on my pink shirt when I wanted to use up the last of the paint I mixed. I did a pattern of triangles to match the cut outs on the back of the shirt.

Cut Outs

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I had a strong urge to do something “destructive” to a few of the shirts I had. This pink shirt, for example, which my friend promptly dubbed the pink triangle (i thought she was referencing the Weezer song but she was not!). This shirt had been abandoned in my laundry room lost and found box for months, so it became the first guinea pig for my cut out and stenciling experiments.

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I don’t have any in-progress shots for the cut outs, but here’s what I did. First I looked at some photos and tutorials online for some inspiration—this listicle of cut outs has some great images, and photos # 5, 21 and 22 intrigued me.  I decided to do a simplified version of the triangle cut outs from photo # 22. That one unfortunately had no tutorial, so I decided to make a triangle template, trace it onto the shirt with chalk, and then cut it out with scissors. I did the stencils later with the same template.

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This mostly worked, but it was tricky to get the triangles all the same size and shape with scissors. So when I tried it on another t-shirt, I used my X-Acto knife to cut them out. Much easier! I think it works especially well for straight lines.

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I love the way that you can play with the placement of cut outs—for example, you can place them to reveal another shirt underneath and play with the contrast of colors and patterns. I think someday I’d like to attempt one of these two designs, especially the tree one.

Fit Alterations

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One of the most basic DIY t-shirt projects is also the one that requires the most patience and skill (and a sewing machine)—changing the fit and cut of a shirt. The above tank top used to be a men’s size medium crew neck tee that I found in a free pile.  The green shirt below that I stenciled on was a boy’s size large crew neck t-shirt, also from a free pile. There are many tutorials out there for doing this, but I am going to show you the easier way I know.

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First, you need to start with a  clean t-shirt that is larger than you want it to be ( in this case, green shirt).  Your’e also going to need a smaller t-shirt that fits you well that will act as a template (here it’s the blue shirt).  Both need to be true t-shirts—those made from the kind of material that doesn’t unravel if you leave raw cut edges, and that’s important. It’s also a good idea that they have about the same amount of elasticity—if one is super stretchy and the other has no stretch, the end result may be a poor fit.

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Iron out any wrinkles and lay the larger shirt on a flat surface, then place the template shirt on top of it (remove cat if necessary). Line up the top seams and trace the outline of the template shirt on top.

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Pin the fabric together at the chalk edges and sew along that line using a matching color thread. After sewing, try it on once to be sure it’s not too tight, then trim the excess fabric off, and shorten the sleeves if necessary.

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If the front and back necks are different, you now need to cut out the neck. You can either eyeball it or place the template shirt inside the other shirt and use pins to trace it by feel.

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Cut out the neckline with some good sharp scissors.

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…and try on the finished product!

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Making the tank top was even easier—the front and the back of the shirt had identical necklines, and I cut out the sleeves entirely. I first used this technique years ago making my very first re-fit, cut up, stenciled tank top, which you can see below. The stencil was an homage to my very first pair of lefty scissors, which I’ve had since I was a kid and still own. That’s right—I’ve been cutting it up Lefty style since first grade.

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Let me know if you use any of these techniques to (de)construct your own t-shirts! I’d love to see the results.