Cool Costume Survival Guide
For those of us inclined to live our Halloween Dreams to their max, choosing the right costume can be a daunting process. If you are struggling for inspiration, worried about missing out, or trying to avoid spending a whole lot of money, following these simple do’s and don’ts guidelines can help. Everything below applies to both kids and adults, so try and get your little nerdling involved in the costume process early and skip out on the last-minute drama of having only two princess gowns and a ninja outfit left at ‘Spirit’.
Do – Look at Pop Culture for Inspiration
There is a reason that some costumes burst onto the center stage one year and disappear the next. People are inspired and enthused by what they see around them. While some costumes do stand the test of time, more often than not they tend to change with the seasons.
Given the recent hits in the box offices and long-standing trends, we can reasonably expect quite a few Creepy Clowns (Joker/IT), Stranger Things, Aladdin costumes, and Spiderman. I also would not be surprised to see a fair few ‘Sabrina’s’ and more than our share of 90’s references. Whether you take this list as inspiration or signs of a saturated market is up to you.
Example: Creepy Clown costumes are easy to put together last minute. A gaudy suit (or just the suit jacket) from the second-hand store and some intentionally roughly applied face make up – done. The best part of this is that it is all in the presentation. How you carry yourself is what takes it from ‘outfit’ to ‘costume’. Bonus points if it’s your little gremlin that takes on the role of miniature ‘Joker’. They’ll get the Batman reference, everyone else will get the creep factor.
Do – Take the Climate into Consideration
If you live in South Florida, cross ‘Hockey Player’ off your list. If you live in Maine, ‘Belly Dancer’ is probably a recipe for frostbite. Be sensible about your choices. Dressing up at any time of the year is supposed to be FUN. If you are sweating to death or freezing within 30 minutes, fun is going to go out the window real quick.
In SoFlo, despite the refreshing breeze that usually settles in around early October, Halloween is ALWAYS a sweaty affair (the exception being a single rare occurrence 2005, immediately after Hurricane Wilma). There is also a significant risk for rain, so makeup reliant costumes, while incredible, can be problematic if the weather turns for the worse or the heat gets too intense. That cuts down the options, but also helps with the decision making process.
Examples: Costumes that work well in my climate are ‘assembled outfits’. This does really well for ‘Sabrina’, ‘Stranger Things’, ’90’s’ and even some ‘Super Hero’ choices like Wolverine or Captain Marvel. For the Littles, Ryder from Paw Patrol, Phineas and Ferb, or Lilo all make great options, especially if you happen to have a ‘Stitch’ or ‘Perry’ stuffed animal lying around. Little to no makeup, maybe a wig, but then it’s just about a themed T-shirt or matching look.
Do – Choose a Character You Connect With
So Far we’ve been talking about big names. Joker, Spiderman, Stranger Things, even Captain Marvel. But what do you do when the big names aren’t the ones that speak to you? The Obscure characters, they make the BEST costumes. Even if 9 out of 10 people at the party don’t recognize it. That tenth person? They’re gonna be your BEST friend.
Examples: Moss from ‘The IT Crowd’. The Girls from ‘Glow’. The Fern from ‘Between Two Ferns’. Michael Whitehall anyone? Kids might like ‘Annedroids’, Ash from Pokemon, or their favorite book characters.
Do – Prioritize Comfort
I know covered this a little when considering the climate, but even if your costume is weather appropriate, it can still be uncomfortable. Things that poke, slip out of place, itch, or are just generally otherwise uncomfortable. Intricate costumes, things that require many pieces or a great deal of makeup, can be cumbersome to put on and, more importantly, require a lot of effort to keep looking good. If you start disassembling your costume a half hour, you are going to be in for a long night.
Take the initiative at the beginning, not the end, and choose something that will be comfortable and effortless even six hours in. This is especially true with the little, as they will NOT tolerate anything itchy for more than a grand total of five seconds.
Examples: This is where TV characters and ‘outfit’ costumes are your best friend. If you choose a character from ‘The Walking Dead’ or ‘Stranger Things’ you are still essentially wearing everyday clothes, just maybe customized with the addition of strategic rips or a little ‘dirt’.
Do – Bend A Character to Personalize It
Don’t ever feel like you can’t be whatever character resonates with you because you are the wrong gender, age, size, race, or anything else. If the world of CosPlay has taught us anything, it’s that the essence of a character can translate across any boundary. Or did the female hijab wearing Captain America not make that clear? If your a girl who likes Spiderman but doesn’t really resonate with Gwen Stacy, then Be Peter Parker.
African American Sherlock Holmes. Hispanic ‘Okoye’ (Black Panther). Female James Bond. Male Mary Berry. Asian Iron Man.
*Note of Caution – if you are doing a ‘bent’ costume, do not use makeup to adjust your skin tone. The point is to bring the character to you, not the other way around. As a general rule of thumb, unless you are going with a monster color (green, purple, etc), skin changing make up is just generally not recommended.
Do – Have Fun With It
Halloween, at it’s roots, celebrates the boundaries between death, and LIFE. This is a celebration, whether you follow the old traditions or the new. Go for the Group Costume, make the Lame Joke, do the Cutesy Couple thing.
Find the thing that sings to you, and belt out the harmony at the top of your lungs. Especially if it involves skeletons.
So, we’ve sun some praises and given plenty of ideas, but now I feel it is time to inject a few notes of caution.
Don’t – Buy a One Time Costume
Especially when it comes to the kiddos, costumes can be prohibitively expensive. But they don’t HAVE to be. The best costumes, the most impressive, the ones that people remember, are more often than not the ones that didn’t cost all that much.
The ones pieced together or made from scratch. But even if you’re not the crafty time, costumes still don’t have to be all that expensive if you follow a few basic principles; buy quality, buy reusable, buy second hand.
Going as a witch? Get a Cinnamon broom from the grocery store and slip on your little black dress. If you really want to go for it, invest in a corset (they can be used in a lot of different costumes). Going as Jim Hopper from Stranger Things? Guess what – a tan button-up outdoors work shirt is a lot cheaper than the actual costume, and can actually be used again. If your kid going as Jimmy Neutron or Nancy Drew? Both characters involve regular outfits and a serious commitment to the hair.
Don’t – Go Gory/Sexy if it’s not Appropriate
There is a time and place for the dangling bloody eyeball or the sexy kitten. The PTA or Office parties are definitely not in that category. Your neighborhood block party, if there are going to be very young kids in attendance, is also not on that list.
Know your audience. Use a little common sense when you decide what to wear. If it’s an adult’s night out, go for it. But be mindful that not everyone is going to be up for the extremes. Halloween is about having fun. Making toddlers cry, or parents uncomfortable – Not Fun.
Don’t – Choose from an Unfamiliar Fandom
Often times people will choose a character because they have been told they already look like that character. While this does make the whole ‘costume’ process easier, it’s not necessarily the best idea. Up above we discussed how a character can be bent to represent both the costume and the wearer. Taking the easy way out and wearing a character you know nothing about fails to represent either one of those and you become just another face. The double disappointment comes from when people who really love that character come up to you, only to find out you have absolutely nothing in common. It’s an awkward experience all around.
That does not mean you need to know Batman’s entire anthology to be Batman, and no one should ever be shamed away from reaching for new interests (which happens a lot, especially to women in the nerd world). But you should probably know Batman’s real name is Bruce Wayne if you are going to invest in a costume.
Don’t – Go as a ‘People’
It gets old, real quick. Having to explain to that one colleague or relative who is vaguely inappropriate at the best of times, that ‘Sexy Indian’ is not an appropriate costume to wear to the mixer. It’s even worse with little kids, who don’t yet understand the toxic nature of stereotypes.
So what if you, or your kid, is actually interested in a costume like that? Believe it or not, those big old groups you want to dress up as, they are made up of PEOPLE. If you or your kid want to be an ‘Ancient Samurai’ or some other potentially problematic generalization, find a person who is representative of the period your looking at. For Example, ‘Oda Nobunaga’ was a warrior and strategist in 16th century Japan credited with reunifying the country after the ‘warring states’ period and is remembered as the Greatest Warrior of the Three Unifiers. Pretty cool, huh? And also a heck of a lot more interesting than ‘uh… a Samurai’ when asked at a party.
Don’t – Pick Anything you won’t want to wear for more than an hour
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Why? Because it bears repeating. And because some of you are going to make this mistake anyways.
If your costume is FIVE STARS but you can’t wear it for more than an hour without risking heatstroke, or can’t sit down comfortably, or can’t eat/ drink more than a few bites because it’s too restricting, or even if it’s just plain itchy… if you are miserable or uncomfortable you won’t be able to enjoy the oo’s and aww’s over your costume. And if you take it off after an hour, most people won’t even see it. So just, think ahead, and make yourself comfortable.
Don’t – Get Political
Really, the fact that I even have to say it is alarming enough. Halloween is supposed to be FUN. Don’t do it. No one wants to get dragged into a conversation like that while Trick-or-Treating or at a party. Even if you think all of your friends are of the same mindset, just don’t do it. No political figures or ‘The Wall’. No prisoner or stereotypes or the dirty cop. Don’t dress up as a ‘liberal’ or a ‘boomer’ or ‘MAGA’ supporter.
Just don’t do it, especially don’t involve the kids in it. There are conversations to be had. But on Halloween, those conversations should be centered around The Great Candy Corn Debate, okay?
So start thinking now. And don’t be afraid to try your hand at DIY-ing your costume this year. The best costumes are fun, cheap, and have a personal flair. That holds true for both kids and adults. Just make sure it’s something comfortable and remember to post your pics to The Nerdy Nanny Facebook Page for a chance to win special prizes!
You can also check out Eve Daniels, author of The Nerdy Nanny books, on YouTube where she gives writing and academic advice as well as updating you on all of her latest and upcoming projects.