How to Find the Perfect Costume

I spend the whole year thinking about costume ideas but usually find THE ONE at the end of September/beginning of October. Most of my time spent thinking and browsing pictures online has to do with the following criteria:

  • Fascinating to me
  • Requires some effort
  • Gives me confidence
  • Made from parts, rather than a whole

In short, I learn something from each of my costumes, and when I choose a persona to borrow, it’s for good reason. This year, I had to forgo a few ideas that were so simple they were made of my regular clothes, so they would not look all that different from my regular style. The last criteria is important, because it allows you to assemble the costume. Even if you start by looking at a picture of a bagged costume, the hunt is part of the fun. If you keep in mind to go for suggestion rather than replication, your creativity can help you win contests.

If you’re doing cosplay, sure, you need exact replicas of earrings, but this is Halloween. Look through pictures of your idea and pick out what they all have in common–the signature. That’s all that matters. Once you’ve chosen the fairly inflexible signature piece (a wig, a color, a type of skirt), let all the other pieces be flexible. Now, it’s time to go shopping:

Consignment Stores

This is kind of a duh, but it’s not for the faint of heart. The pieces searched for here need to be adaptable from something you find. For example, this year I needed a flannel shirt, preferably red. I found a range of potential shirts and was able to whittle down to the cheapest one (which happened to be red). I need to tatter it, and I feel less bad about tattering something I spent $5 to buy. Last year, I needed a lime green sleeveless crop top hoodie, which had way too many modifications for me to find in a consignment store. It was for this look:

Dance Stores

Discount Dance saved my look last year. They had a lime green crop top hoodie (I kept the sleeves on for warmth) and purple leggings for $30 total. I will keep them in mind any time I need solid color athletic pieces. For my Buffy look, I added a cross necklace, because it was so prominent in the show. It was my way of owning the character, and it further emphasized that I wasn’t copying the poster.


Since it doesn’t set you apart from your daily life, using your own wardrobe should be done with caution, but borrowing from friends is a great idea. Have a friend with great rock and roll style? Borrow from her! One year, I completed a Joan Jett look this way only buying a $4 wig. Swaps with friends are especially helpful for shoes and jackets, pieces that are an expensive investment. This year, I’ll be borrowing some makeup and makeup expertise.

Fabric Stores

I can’t sew, but this year for the homecoming parade my department dressed up as people from Little House on the Prairie. I bought a cheap yard of fabric to be my long, sensible skirt and paired it with a shawl. If the material is essential (fur, silk, etc.), this is a good place to get it for cheap. You may even be able to swap a friend who can sew for one of your skills. This is also a great place to get a cape.

Discount Department Stores

If you need a sure thing and it’s something that people often wear, try some place like K-Mart or Target. My husband once made a Quail Man costume from a forest green sweatshirt (he cut off the sleeves), some red felt, and some tighty whities. He owned everything else.

Party City USA

I haven’t used it yet, but I recently went there for the first time, and they have a year-round section of color-coded accessories. Need a purple feather boa? Done! What about a blue pair of sunglasses? Done! It’s great for basics to complete your look.

In the end, when putting together your costume, remember to select something achievable. This year, my costume is extremely easy to achieve. The shirt was all I had to buy. The effort will be in the make-up. By not choosing a look that requires high effort in both, I’m setting myself up for an enjoyable, stress-free Halloween. Don’t worry, I’ll share pictures when it’s complete:)

What other sources do you use to put together your costumes?

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