Oct 26, 2012

Costumes On A Budget: A How-To Guide

It's Halloween! Time for costumes!

I do costuming a lot, not just on Halloween. But for a lot of people, Halloween is the only time of year they dress up in a costume, and often the biggest challenge is how to put together a costume without spending scads of money. 

A costume does not have to be elaborate; just look at the woman on the left. This is a simple costume that works: an empty picture frame, elegant dress and empty wine glass. Presto! A living painting!

I went to a Dragoncon panel this year called Costuming On A Budget and picked up some great tips for gathering materials for costumes without spending tons of money.

So here, for the low, low price of FREE, are ideas for costuming on a budget.

The first step is to either decide what costume you want to create, or find inspiration by looking at other costumes, or through the effort of gathering materials. 

For example, one costume I might put together at some point is a used car salesman.

I'll go to Goodwill, or the Salvation Army thrift stores and find the most god-awful, hideous looking suit I can find, an equally ugly tie and tacky shoes. A cheap cigar would be a nice touch as well.

Presto! I'm a sleazy, fast-talking used car salesman! This costume may cost me twenty or thirty bucks, tops, maybe even less.

"What's it gonna take to put you in this baby today?  I'm talking about a last-chance deal, and I'll hafta check with my manager on this y'understand, but if you're ready to drive her home today,  I'll throw in white wall tires,  AM radio,    windshield wipers and brand new hubcaps. So whaddya say?"

Even if you're not sure if you can use what you find but like it anyway, snag it. Organize your costume raw materials in bins, drawers or shelves, so that you have a good supply of raw materials. You never know when you can use something. 

Always be on the lookout for nifty looking objects that can be re-purposed.

For example, the accessories for my Half Life 2 Civil Protection costume included the spools from my weed whacker. The spools had an interesting pattern, so I save them when they run dry.

I go to Army/Navy stores and thrift stores a lot as well, which are also good sources of materials.

Then when I get back home, I modify, sew, paint, adjust and re-fit what I've found.

Costuming is an art; it requires imagination and creativity. Embrace yours!

So, without further ado, here are some great suggestions for costuming on a budget!

  • Make friends with local business to get reduced pricing on cast-off or surplus materials. Introduce yourself and ask if they ever throw away excess raw materials. Machine shops, plumbing supply wholesalers, tool and die companies are all good places to obtain cast off materials you can use to make costume components
  • Ask the people of Goodwill what they have that hasn't been put out on the shelves yet. Sometimes the good stuff gets snatched up as soon as it's brought out, so grab it before that happens
  • The battery panels/compartments from kids' toys make great looking components for robotic or steampunk costumes
  • Let people know you'll take their cast off appliances, clothing, toys and other unwanted items they have
  • Look for purses at thrift stores (men, I'm talking to you now). Purses have interesting buckles, fasteners and other decorative pieces that would make good costume elements
  • Used kids clothing often has interesting patterns and textures, so go through the racks at thrift stores. You can cut up the clothes to re-purpose them
  • Dumpsters can be a great place to find some interesting items for costuming, if you're willing. In fact there's a whole sub-culture of people who save scads of money by dumpster diving, so much so that they have secret places they go to. If you dumpster dive,   be safe and do the following: wear thick gloves and boots so you don't get cut, and sterilize everything you bring home immediately. There's an interesting article about dumpster diving HERE.
  • Fabric from furniture can be a fantastic source of material for costumes. If you see a couch or chair left by the curb intended to be thrown away, and you like the fabric, cut away the fabric and take it home. Make sure the fabric is not too heavily stained or soiled of course; you want to be choosy. But sometimes couches are upholstered in nicely worn leather, suede, velour and other sturdy materials. You might want to be quick about it; some people might not understand.
  • Freecycle websites are good places for costume hunting
  • Post-Halloween sales are golden opportunities to pick up costuming pieces on the cheap. The temporary stores that pop up every year to sell costumes need to get rid of all their unsold merchandise, so go and stock up
  • Barter with people to obtain materials. If you have a skill or service you can offer, see if you can trade it for something in return
  • Curb alerts through the local paper or Craigs List are good places to obtain good stuff
  • Luggage abandoned by passengers at airports can be good places to find all sorts of things. Periodically airports will auction or sell off their inventory of lost luggage. Find out when they do
  • Pawn shops are good places to obtain tools and props on the cheap. Why buy new tools when you can buy good used ones?
  • Don't scrimp on tools, however. Buy good, name brand ones. You'll be using your tools a lot, and they need to hold up. If you buy cheap tools and they either don't work, or wear out, you're not saving yourself any money. Go for the Dremels, the Craftsman and Stanley tools
  • Old clocks are great sources of metal springs and gears for steampunk costumes. More modern clocks have all plastic works, so look for older ones at thrift stores. Take them apart and salvage their inner workings
  • Old printers have interesting components that can be used for costuming, such as gears, printer heads and circuit boards
  • 2 liter soda bottles can make excellent space suit oxygen tanks. Simply spray paint them yellow, or silver, or orange, and detail with other components and presto! Air tanks!

So...what are you waiting for...?? Go out and put together a cool costume!!

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