Spooky Season is here, and that means costumes! Whether you are looking to dress up in the scariest thing you can think of, cosplay your favorite character or pair off in half of a couple’s coordinating costume; chances are, you are hoping to do so without spending an entire paycheck on your outfit.

Sure, you can run down to that pop-up costume shop and grab a cheap, mass-produced Halloween costume, but you run the risk of being just another one at that party. Quality is also an issue — how will it survive the night, let alone being packed away for a year?

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No, what you need is a custom costume. Not only that, but you deserve something you can wear for multiple years if you choose. Or, forget Halloween altogether! Who needs a reason to dress up, anyway?

Maybe you want something you can throw together in a pinch for a cosplay day? To help you get that costume perfect, here are five big tips. Many thanks to Taffeta Darling from The Fangirls of Dallas for lending a hand with her experience in closet-cosplay.

Taffeta Darling wearing her Crysta Halloween costume

Pictured: Taffeta Darling wearing her Crysta costume from FernGully

Alter the Character

First thing’s first, come to terms with the fact that the character you want to portray might not be perfect. That’s not a bad thing! Think about how you can intentionally change up the character: Do you want to gender-bend? Do you want to provide a variant, a la Loki?

Do you want to become a humanoid version of a non-human thing? Or do you want an “inspired by” costume? This is where creativity really pays off — you don’t necessarily have to be creative to pull this off; you have to focus and plan.

Keep in mind there’s no such thing as “too extreme” when closet costuming. The saying “go big or go home” might come to mind here. Don’t be afraid to go completely all out, and don’t be too worried if you keep things subtle. In the end, it’s your attitude and how you wear the costume that will make the most impact. 

Scour the Closet

There are two ways to go about your costume: start with a character in mind or let the character come to you as you gather supplies. No matter which route you take, the first place you should look is your closet (or your friends’ closets, if they’re nice) for inspiration pieces.

This is where you will save the most money. Is there something you already own that can be useful? Expand your search beyond the clothes closet, too! The linen closet or storage closet may yield surprising results. Taffeta’s advice: “Anything can be repurposed. I’ve used sheets, comforters, upholstery and other random items for shirts, dresses, patches—whatever I needed.”

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Hit Up Thrift Shops

Thrift shops are second-hand resale stores that either take donations or buy used goods at dirt-cheap prices. As a result, their shelves are typically full of an eclectic collection of clothes and household items that range from gently-used to may need repair at a low, out-of-pocket cost to you. You never know if you’ll find designer brands or a homemade gown, but everything you do find could be part of your character.

Taffeta loves thrifting to hunt for costume pieces. According to her, some costumes come easier that way, especially when she knows she can find something easily reconstructed. It is the ready-made or easy-conversion pieces that make her consider thrifting “working smarter.” Once again, the idea of repurposing stuff makes for great unique cosplay. Taffeta’s word of wisdom here is you can’t go wrong with a thrift store find!

Watch for Deals

After-holiday sales sometimes hit before the holiday; stores need to move merch and space for the next big event. This is the time to stock up on all those things you can use for next year’s costume (and potentially this year’s). Watch for staple costume items, like hats or masks or cheap wigs. Steer clear of anything that has an expiration date unless you’re buying it for this year. Taffeta’s advice? Don’t forget the décor!

Décor? Yes! In addition to decorating your living space, spooky objects could double as character props. Or, if you are hosting a Halloween party, why not set up a Selfie Station? If you are crafty, consider the endless possibilities for the multitude of seasonal objects on sale.

Taffeta Darling wearing a Lock costume near her Halloween tree

Pictured: Taffeta Darling wearing her Lock costume from The Nightmare Before Christmas near her Halloween tree

Body Paint!

One of the oft-overlooked cosplay ingredients seems to be a costume essential this time of year. Halloween sections in stores all over the country usually include a basic palette of grease colors on their shelves. These are mass-produced and super cheap, but are they really the best on your skin?

True body paint will be your better option, but it can get expensive. While nothing is inherently wrong with going for real body paint, why not consider saving a few dollars and using what you already have: your makeup. It might be all that you need. Don’t normally wear makeup or don’t have a huge selection? Talk with a friend and try to borrow some or hit up the pharmacy for something cheap.

Why makeup? A reputable makeup brand will have better ingredients than seasonal cheap body paint options on the market. Also, if you wear makeup regularly, you already know how your skin will react to that brand or product. There are tutorials and hacks to use eyeshadows as a tint for lips or create brushable liquid from powders. If all you are doing is painting your face or adding a small accent here or there, you won’t even use all that much. 

Have Fun

No matter how you choose to celebrate Halloween or what character you choose to dress as, have fun with it. The idea behind budget costuming is not to stress or spend hours creating something you hate. Remember, if you are comfortable and confident, your character will shine. Taffeta agrees: “Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to get it perfect. That takes all the joy and craft out of it.”

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About Taffeta Darling

Taffeta Darling has spent years turning herself into other people and characters. Before she stocked up on wigs, she spent time changing her hair for more authentic looks in her cosplay. Admittedly “not the best seamstress,” she uses her weakness to her advantage by looking for easy conversion pieces or commissioning costumes.

She practices both target shopping for specific looks and inspirational shopping, grabbing things because they might work. In her closet is a whole box of “just in case” items. Her parting advice: “Don’t be afraid to ask your community for help, don’t sweat the small details if it’s a closet cosplay; it’s literally just having fun and making something neat and new with what you already have.”

From her Fangirls of Dallas bio:
Taffeta Darling has been a pop culture herald in the geek community for over a decade. She’s a published model and cosplayer, blogger, live-streamer and lends her Fangirl energy to various pop culture events across the country as a moderator and panelist. By day she’s a comic art researcher and cataloger and by night reviews all things geeky and hosts artists and celebrity interviews via The Fangirls of Dallas channel. 

She enjoys indie console and RPG gaming, loves Batman, J.R.R. Tolkien, and her favorite movie is Big Trouble in Little China- and she even was written into an issue of the “Big Trouble in Little China” comic. Most of her free time is spent on her newest venture of making and selling homemade soap or lounging around with her 100-pound dog, Thor.

Feature image courtesy of Gratisography

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Talyna
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