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How to Find a Halloween Costume in Another Bizarre Year

masks are commonplace on Halloween, but usually they're depicting creepy, bloody, or otherwise bone-chilling characters. Last year, those were swapped for another mask: the ones fighting to protect trick-or-treaters from Covid-19

With vaccinations rates climbing, it feels safer this year to go out and celebrate. Whether you're having a party, taking a child trick-or-treating, or handing out candy, dressing up is vital—Halloween has no age limit! We’ve rounded up the best costume-buying advice, including options for those who use wheelchairs or who want to make a costume themselves.

Not sure what to be? Perhaps you want to go as someone from the 1920s teetering on the edge of financial depression. (Too close to home?) Just please avoid (and I mean seriously, don’t do it) offensive stereotypes. Races and cultures are not costumes.

Updated October 2021: Need a last-second costume? We've updated our advice and links throughout. 

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Table of Contents

Where to Find Simple All-In-One Costumes

Sometimes you just want to buy a costume in a bag with accessories included. There's not much involved, which makes it easy if you aren't the biggest fan of Halloween or waited until the last second.

You can find costume retailers like Party City and Spirit across the country, and they have pretty good online selections. Here you'll find the pop culture characters your kids probably want to be, as well as the classic costumes from movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas or The Wizard of Oz. There are a bunch of whole-family costumes, too, if that's your thing.

These types of costumes tend to be pricey, but they're easy. If your kid doesn't want to be a specific character, Party City has a selection of $10 kids costumes. Super cheap fast-fashion sites like Shein, though rightfully criticized, have a bunch of adult options at a price they're actually worth given the quality.

Consider checking TJ Maxx for cheaper options, too. Target and Walmart have a small Halloween section to choose from, as does Amazon. If you just want A Costume, you can find one almost anywhere in October.

Where to Find Accessible Costumes

There are many kids who use wheelchairs or walkers, and have varying sensory or medical needs. None of them should feel left out on Halloween. Thankfully, a few stores, including Target and Walmart, now offer adaptive costumes for all ages. (I maintain that you are never too old to dress up.)

Wheelchairs become part of the costume with kits like this Incredibles car, Cinderella's coach, or the Mandalorian's Razor Crest ship. Amazon also has wheelchair covers, and thankfully many are better and less expensive than we saw last year.

Adaptive costumes are designed to be easy to get in and out of and comfortable for the wearer. The Disney Store has a Cinderella dress and Incredibles outfit to complete wheelchair sets, plus others like a Buzz Lightyear costume. All of them have discrete front openings for medical access, too. There's no reason anyone should have to suffer on such a fun holiday.

You Can Also Do It Yourself

As easy as it is to buy a costume that comes with all the accessories, my favorite Halloween costumes are the ones I've made myself. There have been years I went too hard and spent way more money this way, but you can do it cheaply.

Homemade costumes don't need to be cosplay-level perfection. Throw on that flannel and long coat you already own for Bender from The Breakfast Club. Or get a pink jumpsuit and paint a face mask for a Squid Game guard—or a green jumpsuit for an unfortunate participant.

I'm particularly proud of my light-up soda-bottle jet pack for my Space Cadet costume; I sewed space patches onto a military-style blazer I already owned but no longer wore, and then bought a cheap silver outfit. That costume cost me between $30 and $40, and I wore it two years in a row. This year, I'm going as a version of Marie Antoinette, pieced together with cheap corsets and hoop skirts, plus a piece of cake hair decoration I made from styrofoam. This is the time to get creative!

If you're going to make something yourself but you're not sure where to start, Google and Pinterest are your friends. If you're thinking about it, there is probably already a blog with a how-to.

When scouring Goodwill or local thrift stores, the key is to keep an eye out for unusual things that can work—I turned a faux fur collar into a Where the Wild Things Are monster tail, which was cheaper than buying fur from a craft store. I'm not a professional sewer either; I just use a needle and thread. If I can do it, so can you.

TJ Maxx, the Dollar Store, and Five Below are good for inexpensive bits and pieces. Amazon wigs tend to be better than Party City's plasticky ones. You can also find help from Etsy, like with this DIY fox mask.

There are plenty of homemade possibilities for wheelchair costumes, too, like these incredible renditions of Beetlejuice and Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Halloween is my favorite holiday, but it's a wasteful one. Costumes are typically made to be worn once and discarded. But with fashion being an environmental nightmare as it is, try to reuse anything you can for a one-night-a-year event.

If you have more than one child, switch costumes between them. They can pick new accessories to put their own spin on it. The same goes for yourself; reimagine old costumes or ask friends and relatives if you can switch with them.

Goodwill and Salvation Army typically have Halloween sections, too, and you can shop Goodwill online. It and other thrift stores can be goldmines for decades-old clothes. You can always re-donate after the holiday if you've bought something you don't think you'll use again. Facebook's Marketplace could be helpful depending on your area.

Hygiene is a concern when it comes to secondhand clothing, especially now. Washing clothing at a hot temperature should alleviate any concerns. As WIRED writer Gregory Barber says in his article on Covid-19 and surfaces, "'Enveloped' viruses like SARS-CoV-2 do not fare well on porous surfaces like skin and clothing." You should be OK.

Should Your Mask Match Your Costume?

Even though some of us started to go without our masks this summer, the Delta variant of Covid-19 quickly got us to put them all back on. Kids under 12 years old can't be vaccinated yet, so if you're handing out treats to little ones, you should probably wear a mask. At the very least, have one on hand if you run into more people than you were expecting.

You probably own a few masks by now anyway, so don't worry about buying yet another one for one night. But if you do want it to all go together, look for masks that match whatever you're wearing in color or pattern instead of trying to find costumes that need a mask. For example, get a black mask to match a black witch dress. If you're going as a Disney character, you might find a matching character mask. Etsy has a ton of these too, like princesses or skeletons.

Nearly every other holiday looked drastically different last year, but—for little kids, at least—you can spend Halloween mostly outside. So have fun, and maybe get a little scared in the process, just not by a lack of options or by Covid-19.

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