My History of Ad-Hoc Halloween Costumes


Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year — a sentiment that seems common for millennials. Most of us born in the 80s and afterward still make the annual pilgrimage to the costume pop-up shops and subsequently stay up all night to celebrate the holiday. If this New York Times article is accurate, this kind of child-like behavior is not only good for us — it may actually prolong our lives.

In the interest of extending the lives of my readers, I have included six ideas for easy, ad-hoc costumes below. Most of these costumes have maximum impact with minimal cost. (And all of these costumes have a whiff of individuality — none came pre-assembled and sealed in a plastic bag.)

1. Shop Your Own Closet.

For the first two looks, I leveraged items I already owned, eliminating the chaotic, crowded and over-priced shopping process. (If you’ve popped by a Fright City emporium the day before Halloween, you’ve visited the outer rims of hell.)

Karl Lagerfeld, 2013/
Karl Lagerfeld, 2013

Karl Lagerfeld is an ideal costume for anyone looking for an excuse to wear sunglasses indoors. It’s also ridiculously easy to put together.

The blazer, button-up, gloves and jewelry were already in my closet. The tie is my husband’s. The white hair was created by judiciously streaking my scalp with white cream eye shadow and tousling with baby powder. (Incidentally, this really damaged my hair, and I’m still trying to cover a bald spot.) But at least I saved $30 on a wig.

Lady Gaga, 2009
Lady Gaga, 2009

Another sunglasses indoors costume. And another cobbled together with things I owned prior to the Halloween in question. (The only new purchase was the silver leggings, which were less than $10 from Forever 21.)

The bodysuit came from American Apparel (and was used for my Girl with the Dragon Tattoo costume in 2011). The wig was leftover from previous costumes. (If you ever buy a wig, keep it! Store them in a mesh bag and reuse them.) The belt was H&M. And the shoes are Bebe and were purchased at an office auction in 2007.

2. Only Shop at Thrift Stores.

Your closet can be a great resource for a cheap costume. But if you need to buy something unusual — like a wedding gown — head to the nearest thrift store. It’s less expensive than traditional Halloween stores, and there’s zero chance someone will show up in the same outfit.

Zombie Bride, 2008
Blood-Spattered Bride, 2008

A longtime Kill Bill fan, this seemed like a more unique homage to Uma Thurman’s Bride character than the typical yellow jumpsuit. (Which I’ve also worn — back in 2004.)

This dress was less than $20 from a thrift shop and I splashed Benetint all over my face and dress to replicate blood. I gave it a zombie feel with a couple “wound” temporary tattoos to my hands and neck. The veil was originally part of a dress I wore to my sorority initiation ceremony in 2001. (I dropped out of my sorority after a semester, so this was a fitting ending for the outfit.)

Jesus from The Big Lebowski, 2009
Jesus from The Big Lebowski, 2009

This homage to Jesus from The Big Lebowski was my most popular costume of all time. (If you aren’t familiar with the character, here’s the scene that inspired my costume.)

It was certainly one of the easiest costumes to execute. The facial hair was drawn on with an eyeliner. The blue button-up and matching polyester pants came from Goodwill. The hairnet was purchased at a dollar store. And the iron-on letters spelling “Jesus” were from Michaels, and probably cost $5. (Hopefully, you own an iron.)

3. Rely on Dramatic Make-Up

With a crazy cosmetics job, even a T-shirt and jeans can transform into a costume. (Trust me, this is less expensive than buying a rubber mask — and easier to eat, drink and breathe in, too.)

Día de los Muertos, 2013.
Día de los Muertos, 2012

I used a single drug store make-up palette and some eyeliner to create this look. It took one hour, which includes the time I spent watching ( and re-watching) a YouTube tutorial. If you can apply Chapstick, you can do this — and no one will notice the mistakes.

The rest of the costume came from my everyday clothes: a black shirt, skirt and pair of Frye boots. For accessories, I added a couple rose barrettes from H&M and a “veil” I cut out of an old Forever 21 blouse.

Zombie Amelia Earheart, 2010
Zombie Amelia Earheart, 2010

When I bought a corny “Amelia Earhart” costume kit, I was out of time and feeling desperate right before a costume party. If you’re ever in a last-minute crunch, always choose the zombie route — a simple smear of green and purple make-up can transform your work clothes from Brooks Brothers to “Zombie Attorney” without zero effort.

What are you wearing for Halloween this year? (And can I poach your idea? I still haven’t picked a costume.)

  • Deirdre

    Oh, these are all so awesome and how could I forget Jesus?!

    • Diana @ The Style Pragmatist

      Thank you for the kudos! So glad you remember Jesus! Such a great costume, and I’m kicking myself for not keeping the costume when I moved to NYC.