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The Over-Commiter’s Guide to Nailing Your DIY Halloween Costume

Hi everyone, my name’s Francesca and I have an over-committing-to-Halloween-costumes problem. My resume includes multiple Comic-Cons, a batch of DIY blood that got me a job offer and weeks of my life spent watching and recreating SFX makeup tutorials.  

Yes, that means I usually have 20 different photos of the costume I’m hoping to put together saved in my camera roll by the time the clock strikes midnight on September 30th. But, hey, I do the trial-and-error so you don’t have to. I’m basically your scary godmother, you should be grateful. Actually... if you’re still looking for a costume idea, a scary godmother would be a super cute throwback choice. 

So, from one spooky szn fanatic to another, here are the telltale tips I’ve learned over the past seven years of being... well, a huge nerd: 

Figure Out Your Boo-Budget

Sometimes your heart says Injustice I Harley Quinn, but your work schedule says Suicide Squad Harley Quinn, and there’s no shame in that. If you know you have a lot of shifts or projects coming up, please don’t marry yourself to a really complex costume. Yes, it would look cool if you showed up to your friend’s party in a DIY bloody Daenerys costume. No, it’s not going to look like that because you don’t have the time budget to make it cool. 

Any costume can look sickening if it’s given the right trick-or-treat TLC. So find something that’s first and foremost doable before you start scouring out Goodwill.

Second, your money budget (or mummy budget, ba dum tss). If you have the funds to drop $80 on a wig, I envy and aspire to be you. But if you’re like me, you’re going to be taking some dry shampoo to a Spirit Halloween wig to get rid of the cheap wig shininess and spending money elsewhere. If you’re on a tight budget, figure out which aspects of the costume are less noticeable. Are there any accessories nobody really remembers that you could cut corners on? Maybe your hair is already close enough that you can skip the wig?

There are some parts of a costume that are worth spending more money and time on getting right and others that shouldn't break your bank. Figure out which is which before you go shopping. 

Spooky Suggestion: Spend more money on the pieces you could see yourself actually wearing again. You have no business dropping money on a pair of shoes you're only going to wear once.

The Early Bird Gets The Worm Prosthetic

Yes, it is totally within the spooky realm of possibility that you could get the perfect costume 100% thrifted. No, not if you start the week before Halloween. 

Because thrift shops are continually adding new merchandise, they're a DIY holy grail. Seriously, start checking out your local stops earlier rather than later. I started putting together my last ambitious DIY costume the first week of October and scored really great pieces because I had so many opportunities to find them. Obviously, if your look is more traditionally spooky, you’ll want to start browsing once the stores have put out their Halloween items, but earlier is always better. 

If you’re going for a more complicated costume, your strategy should be to look for items that are close enough that a few alterations will make them identical. You’ll want to find similar fabrics that you can cut to fit the way you want, and if you’re not up against the clock, you’ll have the best chance of coming across your match. Nothing sucks more than having to compromise on a costume you’re really excited for, so plan some deliberate thrift trips throughout the month.

Ghostly Guidance: If you're not sure what piece to start with, you can't go wrong securing the bottoms first—especially if they're pants.

Practice Makes The Party 

Listen, we’ve all overestimated how easy it’ll be to recreate a makeup look. You’ve watched the tutorial a couple of times, or the eyeshadow is super clear in your head and then you’re disappointed on the night you wanted to be devilish. 

I’m not saying you have to put fake blood and fangs on once a week until Halloween (I mean, you do, you vamp queen), just that the 31st shouldn’t be your first time applying liquid latex. If you’re doing SFX for the first time, practice really does make perfect so give yourself enough time to get over that learning curve! Even if you’re doing a simpler look, testing the eyeshadow you bought before taking off on your broomstick will make sure the look is pretty, not pumpkin patch-y. 

The same goes for your costume! Try on your outfit when you’ve got it all put together and make sure it fits right. You want to look chilling, not chilly, so you preferably want to try it on sometime in the evening so you can gauge if you’ll be taking a walk or an Uber. Please don’t be afraid to grab a coat; nobody looks cute when their teeth are chattering. Or, alternatively, dress up as a character suffering from hypothermia and shiver away to flex how dedicated you are.

Haunted Hint: The biggest benefit of putting everything on is that you have time to make adjustments. Need bigger lashes? Some thicker leggings? Leave yourself enough time to make a quick Target run; you'll never regret it.

Whatever you decide to dress up as, please take pics early in the night! There's nothing more depressing than spending weeks on a DIY costume and only having semi-intoxicated selfies to show for it. 

Francesca Ott-McKay is a senior at VCU majoring in Psychology and double-minoring in Religious Studies and English. She hopes to pursue a career in clinical psychology that will allow her to continue her passion for writing YA Fiction.
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