When I was little, my mom was the queen of Halloween. She used her giant imagination— along with her DIY and sewing skills — to transform my siblings and me into gypsies, clowns, witches, Peter Pan, and vampires. When her grandkids were born she sewed them Red Riding Hood capes, Bo Peep dresses, and even turned my 7-month-old son into the cutest pirate you've ever seen. She taught me that you can use just about anything you already own to make easy Halloween costumes for kids.
As my kids got a little older, they naturally wanted to be whatever the "it" thing was that year , and they wanted the exact costume they saw at the store. This began my love-hate relationship with store-bought costumes. Even though they were easy, as a bargain-hunting mama, it pained me to shell out upwards of $50 or more for a one-time use costume that every third kid on the block would also be wearing.
Thankfully, there came a time when my kids started asking to be lesser known characters or wanted to put their own twist on something popular. By then, my mom's arthritis made sewing and cutting fabric difficult, so I decided to take the reins and began DIYing my kids' costumes. Not only did I save a ton of money, they got a ton of compliments for being so original.
Here are some easy homemade costumes that you and your kids can work on together this Halloween season.
(Note: I've linked some items to help you shop, but I always recommend shopping your closet and visiting your local thrift and craft stores first.)
1. La Caravela Catrina
My kids and I loved the movie The Book of Life. We were so moved by the story that we decided to adopt a Mexican tradition and create a "Dia de los Muertos" altar to honor our departed loved ones. The following year, my daughter's school had a "Dia de los Muertos" celebration and she came as La Caravela Catrina, who, according to SF Gate, symbolizes the joy of life in the face of its inevitable end.
For this costume, your little one can wear an embroidered an embroidered dress, a floral scarf, sugar skull socks, black boots, white and black face paint, and plenty of bracelets and necklaces. For the headpiece I went to the craft store and bought some artificial flowers and hot glued them onto one of my daughter's plastic headbands.
The hardest part of this costume is the face paint, but with a little trial and error, I was able to make it look pretty good. Check out YouTube for more ideas.
2. Marty McFly
We are huge Back to the Future fans, so it didn't take a lot of convincing to get my son to transform into Marty McFly for a school event.
The key to a perfect Marty McFly is layers. Marty wears a puffer vest over a denim jacket, over a button-down shirt, over a red T-shirt and jeans. We picked up the vest, denim jacket and button-down shirt at a thrift store for about $15 total, and my son wore his own jeans, red tee shirt and sneakers.
After watching Despicable Me, my kids walked around the house for weeks yelling "Bee-doh! Bee-doh! Bee-doh!" Those little yellow guys were the stars of the movie. It's no surprise that my daughter wanted to be a Minion for Halloween, and we came up with an easy DIY.
We found some cute denim overalls at a local consignment shop and switched out the existing buttons with big yellow ones. We already owned a plain yellow T-shirt, black gloves, yellow tube socks, round glasses and black sneakers. Throw in a yellow beanie cap and you're all set.
What do you do when your son decides on the morning of, that he actually does want to dress up for Halloween after all? You scramble through his closet and your craft drawers to see what you can throw together. I found some craft fur and a plaid shirt and came up with this quick and easy DIY werewolf costume.
For the rest of the werewolf costume, you will need a T-shirt pair of jeans, and some boots or sneakers. I used two different shades of brown eyeliner pencils to draw fur, bushy eyebrows, and a wolf nose on his face, and spiked up his hair with gel. I cut two pieces of craft fur and pinned them to the cuffs of his shirt sleeves and that was it. Easy peasy.
My daughter was obsessed with Batman last year, so she and her friend decided to go as Batman and Robin – with a twist. We lucked out and found a really cool Batman mask in the Halloween section of our local big box store. The easy part about homemade superhero costumes is that you can find licensed merchandise at almost any store. We picked up a Batman T-shirt and socks and paired them with a tulle skirt and some black sneakers for this adorable and easy look.
6. Carl Fredricksen
I have twin nephews, and a couple of years ago, their dad left me in charge of coming up with a Halloween costume for them. Since babies dressed as old people are adorable, I went with Carl, the grumpy old man from the movie Up.
You can recreate the look by using some items you can find around the house or at your local thrift store: a dress shirt and bow tie, suspenders, dress pants, sneakers and glasses. (As a tip, we always punch out the 3D lenses from the glasses we get at the theater to use for dress-up.)
Last, but not least, grab some helium balloons in primary colors from your local grocery store. I attached them to their pants so that they could trick-or-treat without worrying about having balloons attached to their wrists.
7. The 10th Doctor
One day I noticed that Doctor Who had been streaming on my Netflix account. I started to worry that someone had stolen my password, but lo and behold, it was my son who had discovered the wonder that is The Doctor.
For Halloween, we ordered a Sonic Screwdriver, and found a shirt, suit, and tie for less than $15 at our local thrift store. (Side note: this suit was almost brand new. If he hadn't outgrown it in like a day, he could have worn it again to a formal occasion. Never underestimate the awesomeness of the Goodwill.) He already owned the sneakers.
Not pictured, and totally optional, is a trench coat. I did find him a sweet trench coat at the thrift store, but it was just too darn hot for him to wear it. Maybe you northerners out there with actual seasons can pull that off, but it was 88 degrees on this particular Florida Halloween.
8. The Mad Hatter
When Alice in Wonderland came out, most of the other little girls in my daughter's class wanted to be Alice or the Queen of Hearts for Halloween. Not my kid. She wanted to be the Mad Hatter.
We only had to buy the little clip-on hat and the tights The rest of this costume was a mix of crafting and closet-hunting. To recreate this steampunk-inspired Mad Hatter costume you'll need a bright tie, a T-shirt, a vest, some cool tights, a tulle skirt or you can make your own, a top hat, some fingerless gloves or you can cut the fingers off of inexpensive winter gloves, and some black boots.
9. Clark Kent
When your kids are in their 'tween and early teen years, they will often toggle back and forth between wanting to get dressed up for Halloween, and feeling like they're too old. They will finally decide that they do, in fact, want to wear a costume on October 31 at 7 a.m. (if you're lucky.)
The last time that this happened, I was able to come up with a super quick, and super easy, super costume.
10. Sweet Witch
I have always loved how easy it is to design a witch's costume. All you really need is a hat and broomstick, the rest is up to you.
To recreate this sweet witch's costume, pair a bright orange or yellow tutu with a white T-shirt, some striped tights and a pair of booties. You can accessorize it with a traditional witch's hat or a cute witch hat headband. Most importantly, don't forget your little witch's broomstick.
We don't really do scary costumes in our home. Since we always trick-or-treat with younger cousins, we keep it little-kid friendly. One year, my son wanted to be a classic horror character without the gore, so we came up with a DIY mummy costume.
Underneath, he wore white sweat pants, a white tee and sneakers. Then I painted his face with white and black face paint. Finally, and this was the tricky part, I wrapped him in "bandages" made from long strips of old white sheets (but you can probably use toilet paper if you buy the thick multi-ply kind.)
12. Mickey Mouse
Another classic and easy Halloween costume is Mickey Mouse. All you need is a pair of mouse ears, some red sweatpants or shorts, a black T-shirt and some black eyeliner or face paint to draw on a nose and whiskers.
I gave my nephew's costume a special touch by adding two big white buttons to the front of his sweatpants.
13. Count Dracula
One of the easiest things to find at any big box or drugstore during the Halloween season is a cape, and most kids have come home from trick or treating with a set of plastic vampire teeth. These are the two basic pieces needed for a quick and easy Count Dracula costume.