4 Ways to Green Your Halloween Costume

Spooky DIY tricks

Half the fun of Halloween used to be raiding the dress-up trunk and scouring the house for cast-off, oversized and eclectic hats, scarves, dresses, jewelry, trench coats and sunglasses. But today’s kid-of-any-age can be any superhero imaginable at the drop of a $20 bill. And anything remotely eco-friendly about costumes went out the window with those dress-up-trunk days.

Typical store-bought costumes are made from all manner of earth-unfriendly materials, staring with man-made, petroleum-based fabrics and chemical dyes. And how many times have you bought a new costume that was worn once and then lost in the attic/basement/closet abyss?

Give new meaning to "green goblin" this Halloween. Just tack three little words onto the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra: create, rent, share.

1. Create a character from almost anything

You’d be surprised how creative you can get with simple stuff you have around the house. And come on — how hard can it be to make your disguise more clever than a graphic of a superhero screen-printed on flimsy fabric? We’re not talking lame white-sheet-over-the-head ghosts here. Get inspired by these ideas:

  • Poke your head in the garage. A simple cardboard box can be transformed into anything from a robot or washing machine to a wrapped present or jack-in-the-box. Just try to use eco-friendly materials when decorating the box (and recycle the box when the costume is spent). Cheyenne, Wyo., retiree and self-described “craft-guru grandma” Linda Larsen once turned cardboard boxes into a pair of dice for her son and daughter. She sheathed the boxes in recyclable white butcher paper and attached black dots to each side. “I put black knitted caps on their heads,” Larsen recalls, “so they were each the ‘one’ die.”
  • Reinvent household items or clothing you already have. Dig deep in your closet, way back in those corners and crannies, and see what jumps out at you — peasant skirts, cowboy boots, Hawaiian shirts, sparkly platform shoes, fluffy boas. Check kitchen cupboards, the junk drawer, the attic, the toolbox and the toy box. Every corner of the house has costume-essential potential.
  • Make costumes that do double duty. Solid-color sweats are a blank canvas for nearly any adult or children’s costume imaginable — frog, ladybug, spider, banana, Q-tip, carrot, giraffe. Make sure accents like ears and tails are easy to remove afterwards, and you’ll get a set of play clothes in the bargain. Working mother of three Kelly Kuczka in Longmont, Colo., came up with a clever trick when she made a Dalmatian costume for her son: “I sewed black spots on a white sweatshirt with just a stitch or two per spot,” she says. “When I took off the spots, the sweats were as good as new.” Start with clothes made from planet-conscious fabrics like organic cotton and hemp; they’re becoming more widely available. The Organic Consumers Association and Co-Op America's Green Pages can help you find kids’ eco-apparel sellers.
  • Get crafty with eco-friendly fabrics like organic cotton, hemp, wool and silk. Major fabric store chains are getting with the green program, carrying more earth-conscious fabrics in their stores and online. Hancock Fabrics offers organic cotton and fabric made from bamboo; Jo-Ann carries organic cotton yarn and batting, and some stores stock organic cotton. Online specialty stores like NearSea Naturals offer these basics plus organic and natural ribbon and lace, and even buttons made of recycled and natural materials like coconut shells and bamboo.

2. Share, trade, hand down and bequeath

Schedule a “trading party” and invite friends and neighbors to bring last year’s costumes to exchange, plus bridesmaid’s and prom dresses that are gathering dust. And check local consignment stores, thrift shops and garage sales for costumes and accessories to repurpose.

Hand down or trade in costumes that your kids have outgrown. Second-hand clothing chain Once Upon a Child has more than 200 locations nationwide and keeps costumes on display year round, “because kids love to play dress-up,” says Longmont, Colo., store owner Lea Woelfle. “We’ll buy just about any children’s costume,” Woelfle says, “as long as it’s in good condition, with no rips or stains.” Stores like Once Upon a Child also pay cash for costumes, and sometimes offer incentives if you apply your payout to a purchase.

You can also donate costumes to a charity — especially one that resells clothing, such as the Salvation Army or Goodwill.

3. Rent a costume or buy local

Find a store in your area that rents or sells costumes for special events. The go-to boutique for costume-partygoers in Boulder, Colo., is The Ritz — a treasure trove of role-playing garb. Store manager Marilyn Vranka says her store rents (and sells) hard-to-find and vintage costumes for any occasion. “Just come in with an idea, and we can help,” Vranka says. “We’ve never been stumped.”

Whether you’re renting or buying an entire costume or just part of a costume, check labels and try to avoid synthetic and petroleum-based materials like polyester, nylon and PVC. Don’t be shy: Tell staffers you’re looking for something made with natural or eco-friendlier materials, and ask what they suggest.

4. Dust off the dress-up trunk

Children never get bored with playing dress-up, so keep those costumes handy all year long. “I have a big tub where we store everything,” Kuczka says. “I can’t tell you how many ‘shows’ we’ve watched with our kids and their friends in those costumes.”

Grown-ups can dress up year-round, too. Vranka says The Ritz is packed at New Year’s, Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo and Fourth of July. Use your imagination, and your Halloween costume might be more than a one-hit wonder.

Need more inspiration? We found some on Facebook!

We asked our Facebook fans, "How will you make your costume (or your child's costume) eco-friendly?" Here are some of their spooky suggestions: 

"Use items I already have (ie: clothes, Minnie Mouse ears, cat ears, etc.) & find a 'costume' that way versus going out & buying things." — Brittany P.

"We save our costumes and mix and match and go to Salvation Army." — Jeannie P.

"My daughter has grown so little that she's used the same costume the past three years. And my son is now wearing her old costume!" — Michelle L.

"Buy 'ingredients' of the costume from thrift stores, recycling things already out there."
— Shala B.


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Kelly Jose
Kelly Jose's picture
User offline. Last seen 6 years 8 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 05/24/2010

It was a really very informative article on the Halloween costumes. That's a great idea. A little inspiration when it comes to thinking about friendly environmental costume ideas. It's really nice to make people feel and save the nature by making them understand its value.

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