Sustainable Last Minute Halloween Costume
Last night, I attended a Halloween party. I had known about it for weeks, but had absolutely no time to come up with a costume until Thursday. I knew I wanted a sustainable Halloween costume: ideally nothing would be store-bought. It’s a wonder things came together.
When it comes to Halloween costumes, I avoid pre-made, cheap polyester costumes at all costs.
Environmental Costs of Polyester Costumes
The first reason for this is that the types of things you can pick up at Spirit Halloween or on Amazon are made with low quality, synthetic fabric that is worse than your typical fast fashion.
It degrades quickly, starting to show wear after one use. Velcro closures pill the fabric, buttons fall off, and you’re left with something that is almost always only suitable for one use.
These costumes come into the thrift shop in high volume after Halloween is over. And only the children’s costumes seem appealing enough to get a second life on the resale market. That means that a majority of these pre-made costumes are being thrown away after one season, only to be sent to landfills where they won’t biodegrade.
In fact, depending on their precise makeup and environmental conditions, polyester garments can take 20-200 years to decompose. In the meantime they will pollute the surrounding environment with plastic microfibers, which are ingested by animals and contaminate drinking water.
Creativity Costs of Pre-Made Costumes
The second reason I avoid pre-made costumes is that they take all the fun and creativity out of Halloween.
Envisioning a costume and then going out and buying it completely removes creative agency from the occasion. And considering that the holiday is intended to be playful, that just doesn’t make sense.
The earliest celebrations associated with the Celtic festival of Samhain would have most certainly included handmade costumes (given that all clothing was handmade in the eighth century!). And even American practices preexisted the consumer holiday we understand it as today.
So it’s really just good practice to avoid pre-made, unless you’re supporting smaller makers.
How to Make a Sustainable Last Minute Halloween Costume
1 | Keep it simple.
If you have a costume in mind already, scavenge your closet for items that match the color scheme, silhouette, or general vibe of your character or creature. It’s easier if your costume doesn’t require multiple, highly specific props to be readable to others.
You can do a web search for “simple halloween costumes” to get ideas.
2 | Avoid big box and Halloween stores at all costs.
Don’t tempt yourself to buy something pre-made. Remove it as an option and you won’t have to consider it at all.
Instead, use your own wardrobe, ask friends for pieces, head to the thrift store, or go to your local “Buy Nothing” facebook group to ask for pieces and props.
3 | Perfection isn’t necessary.
Your costume doesn’t have to look exactly like your intended character/person/thing to be an accurate representation of it. Small changes in color scheme or style of dress are not noticeable to most people.
It’s more about matching the world, vibe, and overall mood.
4 | Makeup goes a long way.
If your costume is simple, use makeup to get into character. Many costume ideas don’t require Halloween or stage makeup. Raid your makeup stash (or your friend or partner’s stash) to see what’s possible.
5 | Make small adjustments to what you have.
You can pin up, layer, wrap, reverse, and drape items you already own to make your costume more accurate to your inspiration. Try not to cut up or destroy textiles that could be used again.
But if you’ve got old textiles laying around that were going to be rags anyway, then you can do quick DIY work on them.
6 | Think outside the box.
Make up your own character, concept, or mash-up a few themes.
Get punny. Be as creative as you want! You don’t have to fit your costume into a tight theme.
For me, it comes down to the question of why. Why do we celebrate Halloween? Why do we feel pressured to engage in the consumer economy to impress others? Why wouldn’t we embrace our creativity?
It’s way more fun (and funny) to cobble things together ourselves.
Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.