In Praise of the Cheap Halloween Costume

So far, I have made most of my daughter Hannah’s Halloween costumes. I’m fairly crafty and I like to sew, so with the exception of the year when I had a two-month-old at Halloween, I was the one who created the costume. I’m building on a family tradition, as my own mother was fairly adept at concocting homemade Halloween costumes for my sister and me. She didn’t sew as much as I sew, but as a matter of principle our costumes never came from a package at the store.

Last year, for my son Jacob’s first Halloween I continued the trend, sewing him a scarecrow costume to match Hannah’s Dorothy. At the risk of bragging, I was quite proud of the results.

Scarecrow and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in parenting, it’s that you should never say never. Because you, my friend, will find yourself bribing your toddler with candy or pushing your three-year-old in a stroller. I recently had my principles tested yet again and found that I was just not that committed to them after all. I had grand plans once again to sew Halloween costumes for my children. Hannah was going to be Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Jacob was going to be a firefighter. It was going to be great.

When I found myself in Fred Meyer buying groceries for our weekend in the US, I wasn’t looking to buy any Halloween costumes. After all, I had a plan. I love plans, and I avoid deviating from them. But then, a cowboy hat caught my eye. It wasn’t just any cowboy hat, either, it was a cowboy hat very much in the style of Woody from Toy Story. While Jon ran off to find a mat for Jacob to sleep on and the kids waved their hands in front of the spooky decor, I decided to take a look at the cowboy hat. Lo and behold, it was Woody, and right beside it was none other than Buzz Lightyear.

Jacob loves Buzz Lightyear. He had asked to be Buzz Lightyear. I nixed it, because I had no idea how to make a Buzz Lightyear costume. But now here was a costume right in front of me, for the low, low price of $19.99. It was cheaply made, but roomy enough that I could easily layer warm clothing underneath for trick-or-treating. And then Jacob caught wind of what I was doing, and I had no other choice. Even though I didn’t play to buy a costume, even though it will probably fall apart before Halloween gets here, and even though it was undoubtedly made in a sweatshop where workers are subjected to deplorable conditions, I knew I had to shell out.

By the time we left the grocery store we had one sleeping mat, one box of gluten-free cereal, lots of organic fruits and veggies, our fair share of snack food, and one Buzz Lightyear costume that cost us $19.99. It was money well-spent.

Jacob loves his new Buzz Lightyear costume

I believe in buying second hand whenever possible. I believe in taking the time to make things by hand, and I believe that childhood shouldn’t be commercialized. I have serious qualms about buying cheap synthetic clothing made under questionable conditions overseas. But I also believe that sometimes, the pure and unadulterated joy of your three-year-old outweighs all of your crunchy granola principles, and that’s a good thing.

What are your kids dressing as this Halloween? And are you a costume crafter, thrifter or buyer? Tell me all about it!

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  1. …and that’s why I love your perspective Amber! Balanced! We also try to do whatever we can to avoid licensed characters, eat organic local fair trade etc etc. BUT…. I bought two Costco Halloween costumes this year. Pirate (Megan) and ladybug (Emily). I always thought that since I’d never gotten a store bought costume as a kid, my kids would also get the homemade, creative get-ups (old man, witch, ghost etc). Then I saw these great mass produced-in-China costumes for $14 and just couldn’t resist their ease, the fact that we wouldn’t have to explain what the kids were dressed up as or anything, and just went for it. Synthetic? Yes! Cheap? Yes! Worth it? I pretty sure…. yes!
    eva’s last post … August 25, 2011. Eleven Months. Bittersweet.My Profile

  2. Oh Amber, how I envy your craftiness and sewing talents! I remember those costumes from last year–so adorable! Maybe I could make elaborate costumes for my kids if I just put my mind to it. On the other hand, sometimes my good crafty intentions turn out to be a little less than stellar when it comes to the final product. 🙂

    I’ve often resorted to just buying a cheaply made costume on Halloween. (Sometimes my sister and I will also “recycle” costumes between our five kids.) And you’re right–the joy that these costumes can SOMETIMES brings seems to justify (at least in my mind) any compromised principles we might have when it comes to buying them. And as my son’s oft-worn Darth Vader mask can attest to, that joy can last well beyond Halloween.
    Kristen’s last post … Bound by these PagesMy Profile

  3. I love this line: “But I also believe that sometimes, the pure and unadulterated joy of your three-year-old outweighs all of your crunchy granola principles, and that’s a good thing.” Well said!

    I wish I could make my daughters’ costumes, but my mother-in-law picks them up at mom-to-mom sales and each year we have at least three to choose from for the big night. Funny enough, my older daughter picked the exact same costume each year, despite all the choices.

    I’ve come to accept the store bought ones, because most of the ones we’ve been given are fairly well made and have been used over and over again as we play. But I love the ones you made in the photos above – maybe someday I’ll have a chance to make some too!
    Tamara’s last post … Renaming My ChildrenMy Profile

  4. I am not crafty. I bought an onsale costume for the boy a Costco. Good enough I say.
    Capital Mom’s last post … Monday Moments: SingingMy Profile

  5. Have faith, Amber, this costume may survive longer than you think. My cousin, K, had a similar “must buy but have qualms abou it” moment with a Buzz Lightyear costume about 8 years ago. Both of her boys wore that costume until they’d outgrown it and then passed it on to my son at about age 2. We’ve now had it for 3 years and he still wears it with great glee (perhaps even more so now that we don’t have to pause to roll up the sleeves). 3 boys, hundreds (literarlly!) hours of fun over 8 years and we’ll be able to hand it down again. That was $19.99 well spent. May Jacob’s costume live a similar legacy.
    Angela Crocker’s last post … Facebook Changes from f8: Timeline, Ticker, AppsMy Profile

  6. One year my mom crocheted a long black tail…the kid wore all black, we pinned on a fuzzy white “tummy” oval and she wore a cat mask. Another year we bought a cheap witch costume from Target.

    But we mostly just pilfer clothing from the dress up bin. I’m surprised more people don’t do that! It’s easy enough to take a fancy dress out of there, add a tiara or wings, and you’ve got an instant princess or fairy costume. My six-year old hasn’t yet latched on to the idea that a Halloween costume should be some special, new thing that you’ve never worn before. And I’m not looking forward to the day when she latches onto that consumer culture idea.

  7. By the first time Angus went out for Halloween he was already deep into the superhero crazy and we had both homemade (by my mother – when I try to sew, bad things happen) and storebought costumes that gave my son uncountable hours of pleasure, so we just used those. We also had several of my brother-in-law’s old figure skating costumes, so we plundered those as well. But after that? I buy them – and hand them on or sell them to the consignment store so someone else can use them. And have I told you lately that I love you? Because I love you.
    allison’s last post … Letter to my OptometristMy Profile

  8. Yes, I find myself making such purchases too on occasion and I have to admit that sometimes it feels good to give my children what they want. My daughter’s best friend has that costume. I believe it was purchased as a dress-up toy rather than for Halloween, and with the amount of use it’s seen I’m sure they’ve gotten their money’s worth. He LOVES it. It does have a big run down the front, but it’s still holding together quite well. If you want to make him something to go with it, it’s pretty simple to craft a pair of cardboard wings which can be held on with a little backpack. (That’s what they did.)
    Jenny’s last post … Need a good reason to buy a serger?My Profile

  9. Thank you for being a normal down to earth realistic mom. Meaning, we can’t always be 100% on every single thing ie. the Halloween costume. I do have friends that make amazing costumes each year for their children. Like impressive and outstanding. I do not have the time, skill or patience to sew together a costume for my boy. He picked his own out this year…the hamburger from Old Navy. For $19 and a good laugh I couldn’t go wrong.
    Mama in the City’s last post … I’m Not Going To Lie To YouMy Profile

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  1. […] But what really makes Jacob’s heart sing are more traditionally masculine characters like Buzz Lightyear and Thomas the Tank Engine. Just like the princesses, Thomas and Buzz are everywhere, but my […]

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