DIY Halloween costumes to be proud of

Admittedly uncrafty, single working mother Carmen Spagnola reclaims Halloween for her kids...

Credit: Flickr / Sometoast

Admittedly uncrafty, single working mother (and guest blogger) Carmen Spagnola reclaims Halloween for her kids… Check out her ideas for DIY costumes


My mom was the least crafty of all the moms I knew growing up. She was also often the only single working mother in my class, so I don’t remember her ever attending a Sports Day. There were no homemade desserts sent for the Last Day of School Potluck. And I’m sure the thought of Halloween sent chills up her spine as she tried to imagine how to muddle through another year of my fanciful ideas for a unique, original, intricately designed and hand-crafted costume.  


The Halloween guilt-trip

Flash forward through two more waves of feminism and here I am. I, too, am a totally uncrafty single working mother but a new and improved version: now with more guilt! Eco-guilt! Sweatshop guilt! Celebrity-worship, plastic, sugar and over-packaging guilt, too! Halloween makes me cringe on so many levels that it makes Christmas look downright wholesome. At least then you can focus on the spirit of giving, charity and family time.  

halloween guilt


Like many kids, Halloween was my favourite holiday growing up. And it wasn’t just about the candy. A big part of the reason was because my mom was so hapless I got to make my costumes mostly all by myself. 

I do remember her sewing the red yarn onto my Strawberry Shortcake hat-wig one year. And she also made a brave attempt at tie-dying a t-shirt when I went as a Woodstock hippie. But concept, design and a large part of execution were my departments. I would be up until the wee hours the night before so it would be ready for the big reveal at school on Halloween Day. 


Some ideas were more obscure than others (people had to do a lot of guessing before they arrived at “Zombie Dorothy with Taxidermied Toto from the Wizard of Oz”). But answering the question, “And what are you supposed to be, sweetheart?” was always so satisfying. 


Take back Halloween

I know I’m not alone with this feeling that we need to take back Halloween. To move away from flimsy store-bought costumes and dismantle the armies of synthetic-clad Spidermen and Princess Jasmines that clog the street on Halloween only to litter the Goodwill donation bins on November 1. 


But I am sympathetic to the feeling of overwhelm that most parents experience. I know my daughter usually sticks to one idea for most of September and October—“I want to be a goldfish!”—and then changes her mind on October 30—“no, I want to be a ghost mermaid!” Once again, history repeats itself and there we are together until midnight the night before. Me trying to encourage her to choose the “no sew” route, she impatiently instructing me on artistic direction. Did I mention she’s five? 


So, here are my tips for beginning the Halloween Reclamation…


ghost costume


Halloween Reclamation tips:


First: Make your own Halloween costume

Obviously, you could get around this one and still appeal to your eco-sensitive side by purchasing a used costume from a thrift store and then re-donating it when you are finished with it. 


But I would strongly urge you to consider the classics. 


The ghost costume

A ghost costume made from a white sheet with some eye holes cut out and shredded fringe at the bottom was my daughter’s favourite costume ever, and her teachers raved about how cute she was (it was the only homemade costume in the entire class). My daughter loved the attention and felt proud to have been a part of it. 


A tip for would-be ghosts: put two holes just above your ears and use a hair-band through them to keep your sheet secure and prevent your eye holes from slipping out of alignment. 


Where the Wild Things Are costume


Where the Wild Things Are costume

For something more modern that will certainly be a chance for moms who actually can sew to really shine this year, check out these patterns for Max’s wolf costume from the book (and highly anticipated film) Where the Wild Things Are. Warning: these women are total show offs. 




Sew a Where the Wild Things Are – Hat + Pattern!


Where the Wild Things Are – Wild Thing Headpiece

How to Make a Tutu:

Where the Wild Things Are – Max Costume



Second: Just say no to Disney

Try to steer your child away from the character worship that pervades the holiday these days. Batman? Really? You can be Batman all year round. You can dress as Batman on a Tuesday morning at the bank if you want to, no one cares these days. But how often do you see ‘1960’s Robot,’ ‘Running Refrigerator’ or ‘Water Cooler’? Each of which can be constructed from a trusty cardboard box and some tape. 


Brainstorming ideas for Halloween costumes

Admittedly, it can be challenging to come up with great ideas. Thank goodness for the Internet and Flickr


Here are some original and mostly easy-to-make costumes that are real head-turners: 


Fiona from Shrek costume

Fiona from Shrek costume is a little more original than Ariel from The Little Mermaid and easier to make too:

All you need is some green face paint for exposed skin, a red wig, some ogre horns maybe and you’re set!

A Transformers costume can be a great cardboard box costume you can make yourself and customize.

Materials needed: Boxes of varying sizes for body, arms, legs and feet; water-based, kid-safe paint; glue, staples or hemp cord and needle; box cutters; and imagination.


Caged Safari Boy and Caged Zookeeper costumes

These are two of my all-time favourites—partly because of the creative re-purposing of materials: (click on the image to get instructions for making your own)  


Caged Safari Boy

Caged Zookeeper

Alien Abduction costume

The Alien Abduction costume would work for either boys or girls and is a fairly easy “illusion” costume to pull off.


non-candy healthy halloween treats

Instead of offering overpackaged mini-

chocolate bars, why not opt for a healthier

alternative? (Photo by Flickr /



Third: High-fructose corn syrup

Think about trying to offer something other than those tiny over-packaged chocolate bars and junk food.  


Trick ’em into broccoli

We had a funny neighbour that every year would dress up as Frankenstein but with a twist. 


When kids rang the doorbell, he would open the door with a loud growl and with a dramatic flourish he would present elaborately arranged platters of vegetables for the kids to pick from. 


The kids would scream as he presented a tray of broccoli, then—no takers—disappear and return with a platter of carrot sticks, then try again with a tower of cauliflower. 


Somehow it was hilarious and eventually the kids would choose something and munch happily on their way to the next house. 


It didn’t change Halloween but it definitely endeared him to the parents and said a lot about having fun while still living your values. 


If you don’t want to be too much of a Halloween Grinch, do consider buying a bulk bag of cookies and just using tongs to drop them into the goody bags. They will be eaten before the end of the night and there is no need for excessive packaging. And the kids will certainly not suffer for lack of one more miniature chocolate bar. 


A new kind of holiday

This Halloween, try to be re-inspired by your own childhood experiences and start a new tradition of doing things “the old fashioned way.” Your kids may resist at first, but involve them in the creation process and let them experience the pride of craftsmanship. They will not only enjoy the extra attention they get by standing out from the crowd, but will also think back on it fondly one day. 



Carmen Spagnola

Carmen Spagnola is a junior associate with Element and Associates, where she assists in project finance involving renewables and clean-tech. She is also the marketing and resource development manager for the Jade’s KIDS Foundation, an anti-drug organization. In her former role of entrepreneur in the sustainable home decor sector, Carmen became a sought-after speaker in the emerging fields of “green” retail trends and social venture business models.