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Halloween Costumes that will please your kids and the planet

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

It’s that time again! I love Halloween. It’s so much fun to watch children transform into the stuff of fairy tales, myths, and yes, even Disney movies and video games. For that one night they get to be whoever they want and, hidden behind masks, traipse from house to house in their neighborhood knocking on doors. Fun stuff!

But store-bought Halloween costumes are truly the worst of the worst waste-wise – basically a cheaply made suit worn once (or a few more times, if you’re lucky) and then trashed because it got wrecked, doesn’t fit anymore, or the kids have moved on. So, how can we green Halloween costumes?

Here are a few options. I have listed them from easiest to hardest. You can decide what works best for you based on your child, your time, and your skill set.

IDEA ONE: Put out all the dress-up clothes you can find in your house (including your own random hats, jewelry, etc and anything you have stored away in the “too big bins”) and let your kids make costumes from that. You can always embellish these with a handmade mask or borrow an extra whatever form grandparents or friends. This is how Halloween costumes used to be created (see: ghost costume made from a pillowcase).

IDEA TWO: Do that same thing, but with neighbors or family involved. This will give you a bigger selection and increase the cool factor because your kids can choose from other people’s clothing and costumes, which is always fun. Make it a (socially distanced) party and include some cupcakes to up the ante.

IDEA THREE: Put out an ISO message on Facebook or Craigslist and see what people in your area have. You never know who will have the size four Cinderella costume of your child’s dreams. (Please use the normal precautions when making these kinds of transactions).

IDEA FOUR: Buy a used Halloween costume at Goodwill. We have had really good luck at Goodwill over the years, often finding the exact costume our kids want because, let’s be real, kids aren’t always particularly creative and, when my daughter wanted to be Cinderella last year (see above), we found three different size four Cinderella costumes at the local Goodwill.

IDEA FIVE: Buy a used Halloween costume online. There are lots of places selling used Halloween costumes these days. Just Google “used size 4 Cinderella costume” or whatever. But do it quickly because used things do not ship as quickly as Amazon.

IDEA SIX: Sew or create your own Halloween costumes from clothes you already own or clothes from Goodwill. I have to admit that, even though this is the hardest way to get a zero-waste costume, this is almost always how we do it. Why? Because I actually do enjoy the process of coming up with and making costumes, but I don’t like to buy new fabric or materials. Here’s how we do it:

The kids tell me what they want to be (I try to steer them toward something like “Astrophysicist” over “Ninjago”, but in the end, it’s their costume).

  1. I ask them to draw me a detailed illustration of their dream costume.

  2. We search their closets and the dress up bin for anything that will work. For example, my son will be a Gryphon this year, so we looked for brown clothes in everyone’s closets. My older daughter will be a pegasus, so she looked for anything white.

  3. We make a list of anything we still need and visit Goodwill. Goodwill has literally never let us down. Going toward the beginning of October is best if you want a specific costume, but if you’re just looking for brown pants, anytime is fine. I try to think of the clothes we find there as “fabric”, so an adult large dress shirt is perfect to make a girl’s dress, etc.

  4. With the kids’ help, I create the costumes. Usually this has involved changing the size of a few pieces of clothing and adding elements like ears, tails, or, in the case of the Ninjago costume, drawing a whole bunch of weapons onto a gray sweatshirt.

  5. Usually the kids do a few bits and pieces, but I do the trickier elements because they are still young. Older kids could do this process entirely by themselves, which would be a lot of fun and give them a sense of ownership over their costumes.

I hope you and your children have a wonderful Halloween this year. Post pictures of your found or created costumes to inspire others and let me know if you have other ways of greening Halloween.

– Hannah

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