Homemade Halloween costumes were all I knew as a kid growing up in Dublin. The week before Halloween we scrambled through the hot press, wardrobes and cupboards to find easy-to-use items for homemade costumes.
Sheets, sacks, old mops, brooms, socks, wellington boots and trusty black plastic bags were transformed into witchy and ghostly attire.
These were the tools of our Halloween costume trade in 1970’s Ireland.
We planned ghastly, ghoulish and scary rigouts with our friends, bartering for items that could be swapped to enhance our easily assembled spooky looks.
The Rules Of 1970’s Irish Halloween Costumes:
My mother had three rules for Halloween costumes. They just had to be:
- Free to make.
In other words, not a single penny was spent on decking us out for October 31st.
Use your imagination was the command from my frugal mother. And we were not alone. No child in our neck of the Dublin woods bought a costume way back then. I don’t know if the stores or shops in Dublin even stocked Halloween costumes in the 1970’s, since at that time very few people had any excess cash.
Every witch, every ghost and every scary monster costume was a homemade ensemble when I was a young girl. Whether you donned a funny fiasco or some splendid style didn’t matter a button. It was all part of our Irish Halloween craic.
In America Movie Featuring Homemade Halloween Costumes:
When the Irish movie and immigrant tale, ‘In America’, was released back in 2002, I was living in Dallas, Texas.
This movie tells the story of an immigrant family from Ireland, struggling to find their way in New York City. The simple cultural differences between Ireland and America are portrayed through the eyes of the eldest daughter.
One scene really made me emotional. The children went to school one day, dressed up for Halloween, only to find they were the only kids wearing homemade costumes – black plastic bag couture at its finest.
They felt different, and shamed initially, until the teacher solved the problem by awarding them a best homemade costume prize.
I was the only one crying in the cinema in Dallas back in 2002, overwhelmed by the children’s emotion of feeling different, and touched by the kindness of the American teacher. That love and understanding is at the core of who we truly are as Americans. We must never forget it.
Anyway, enough of my crazy nostalgia. Let’s get back to homemade Halloween costumes.
Tips For Making Homemade Costumes:
There are many ways to get a costume for Halloween, but often the fastest and easiest way is to go out and buy one. To make it easier and a lot cheaper, a good idea is to make the costume from items already in the house.
With the slow economy these days, it may be too much to splurge on a Halloween costume. It might be time to go retro, and bring back some homemade Halloween style.
With some good tips, a costume can be easily made with minimal cost, and here’s the advice of an Irish American Mom who grew up throwing costumes together from anything and everything found around the house.
Old clothes, torn tablecloths, beat-up socks, everyone has at least some of these laying around or stuffed away in a closet. If most items of the costume can be found at home, then, at most, a little jar of inexpensive make-up or some glitter may be all that is needed to complete the look.
The following are ideas for some great Halloween costumes that will be fun to put together and won’t cost much at all.
Fun Pirate Costume:
This Halloween costume can be almost entirely constructed of old clothing items. Use an old pair of pants; they can either be cut off below the knee or tapered and tied with an elastic at the calf or knee.
Next, use any regular button-down white shirt leaving the top buttons open. Then, if a vest or waistcoat as we say in Ireland, is not available, make one by cutting an old dark t-shirt down the middle and taking off the sleeves.
Use a thick belt with a big buckle, or even a couple of thinner ones used together. A sash can then be wrapped around the belt on the waist, or even by itself if a belt is not available.
A piece of the old tablecloth can be cut to make a sash, or any kind of scarf will work as well.
Use a large bandana to wrap around the head and make an eye patch out of an old sock. Simply cut out an oblong piece of the sock and put a small hole at each end, then tie two pieces of thick string or yarn into the holes and secure around the head.
For the shoes, any long boots will work, if available. Black wellington boots were our go-to pirate boots back in the day. Or if we had grown out of our black wellies, we used black plastic bags to tie around our shoes and lower legs. That might be a bit rough and ready for kids these days, but not a problem back in our day. We never felt we were being judged for our costume choices.
Instead of the plastic bag idea, you can cut the sleeves off an old, long-sleeve, dark shirt and slide on top of a pair of dark shoes. Secure the tops of the ‘boots’ with two elastics.
Cool Edward from Twilight Costume:
All that is needed for this costume is a button-down long-sleeve shirt, some dark jeans, and any style of regular dark shoes. Then, put on a short pea coat, if available, or a dark jeans jacket should work as well too. And if you don’t have a button down shirt, a plain black long sleeved shirt will work just fine.
Next, a messy hairdo is needed to get the ultimate Edward look. Use some mousse to tousle up the hair and, for darker haired people, golden hairspray can optionally be used to lighten the hue up a bit.
An important step for Edward’s costume is to make a face look very white. To do this, some make-up will be needed, but a cheap drug store brand should work fine. Get the lightest shade available and apply abundantly on the entire face and neck. Some make-up can be applied to the back of the hands for an optimal effect.
An optional step is to use some eye mascara to fill in the eyebrows and make them look very thick and dark. A small amount of mascara can also be applied under the eyes to get the dark circle vampire look. Some lip balm may also be used on the lips to bring out the ‘paleness’ of the face.
Golden contacts are an option, if available, and a pair of wayfarer style sunglasses will finish up the look.
Harry Potter’s Hermione Costume:
To look like Hermione, the best bet is to make a Hogwarts uniform. This can be achieved by wearing a regular black skirt, black tights, dark shoes, and a white shirt. These items should be easy to find at home or to borrow from a friend. Next, a dark gray sweater or cardigan is needed to wear over the white shirt.
To complete the Hogwarts uniform, however, a minimum purchase of a Gryffindor gold and burgundy striped scarf may be a good idea, unless one is available. These can be found at costume stores everywhere or online at fairly low prices; Amazon usually has a good selection.
A robe is optional and can be made by someone who is crafty out of some black material, or a black graduation gown can also work. Robes can be purchased at many costume stores as well, or online if the extra cost is feasible; they are not highly expensive, though.
For the hair, simply messing it up and spraying it with strong-hold hair spray should give the signature Hermione thick hair look. Lastly, a wand is a great accessory; it can be purchased or even made from a simple stick cut into shape.
A Greencard Costume:
Many moons ago, when I was new to life in New York City, my Irish friend and I got invited to a Halloween party. We had no costumes and very little raw material for costumes in our closets. We had recently arrived from Ireland with nothing but two suitcases of clothes.
We put our thinking caps on. We got large sheets of green card paper. We cutout head shots of very stylish models as id pictures for our green cards. We then wrote funny names like, Annette Curtin, or Anita Bath on our green cards, names that Bart Simpson would be proud of. With alien numbers recorded we donned our green cards by stapling them to our t-shirts.
Big mistake – going to the toilet proved quite a problem with our green cards stapled to our shirts. We had to venture to the loo in unison, to remove our costumes in the stall. We’d hand it out to each other before using the facilities, then don it again to return to the party.
If I ever made a green card costume again, I’d definitely go with a sandwich board model.
Happy Halloween Costume Creation:
These are just a few ideas for costumes to make at home.
Imagination is key, and these tips can be applied to other costumes. They also work well for kids and teenagers.
Perhaps as you piece together a creative costume design from bits and bobs around the house, you too will take a nostalgic trip down memory lane and think of Halloween’s past.
Do you have fond memories of making homemade Halloween gear? If so, I’d love to reminisce with you in the comments section below.
Happy Halloween to all!
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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