Halloween Magic on a Dime: DIY Costume Ideas Using Cheap Basics

Oh, Halloween. The pumpkins, the universally beloved and hated bowls of candy corn, and the endless parades of costume parties and opportunities to dress up and have a good time. For many people, the countdown to Halloween starts in August with weeks of anticipation and endless hours of costume planning. While costumes are a fun and cherished part of Halloween, it can get pricey going to the store and buying things off-the-rack. For those of us who want to celebrate Halloween on a budget, there are fun, easy, and creative ways to nail your costume with cheap and simple basics that you already have lying around.

From t-shirts to socks and bandanas, here are our five favorite ways to make costume magic using basic clothing items:

  1. Black leggings can do anything. From superheroes and sports players to anime characters and cartoon icons, there are few things that a pair of black leggings or tighter black pants can’t do. For costumes that involve splashes of color, you can use duct tape, nail polish, or fabric paint to colorize your leggings, giving you a great costume base using a wardrobe staple that you or your loved ones likely have lying around the house. As an added bonus, you can cut and repurpose spandex items into capes, eye masks, arm bands, and other accessories to accentuate the look that you’re going for.
  1. T-Shirts can always save the day. T-shirts are a great way to create the costume of your dreams in mere minutes. Do you Want to join the Grease or West Side Story generation? Grab a white t-shirt, roll the sleeves, add some dirt, and poof! You’re in a 1950s high school dream. Thinking more along the Jack-o-Lantern lines? Take that same white t-shirt and use a fabric pen, permanent marker, or fabric paint to pumpkinize your outfit. T-shirts are a great costume base since they are extremely easy to customize, dye, cut, and change to fit your idea and concept. The other benefit is that using washable paints and markers means you can still use that shirt long after October 31st.
  1. Scarves are for a lot more than warmth. They are versatile accessories, convenient for adding that extra flair to Halloween costumes or fueling your creative endeavors. A scarf can effortlessly double as a splendid cape or an intriguing eye mask if you aim to become a superhero. For those leaning toward the image of a stealthy ninja or a martial arts expert, you can fashion that scarf into a black belt or serve as the perfect accessory for a disguise. And if your style is more Audrey Hepburn than ninja or bank robber, don’t fret—simply utilize the scarf to fashion a classic 60s headband or an elegant headscarf to complete your iconic look.

    You can also cut and repurpose scarves to create accessories like 80s leg warmers and wristbands, 70s flower power headbands, and a whole range of other accessories that will give your costume dimension and bring it to life.
  1. Use sports jerseys and other uniforms for more than work and practice. If you, your kids, or your friends play sports or work in a field that requires a uniform, Halloween is a great time to use it to enhance your Halloween look. For example, if you play lacrosse, go as a “lacrosse zombie,” using the uniform as your base, face paint, and makeup to make things look spooky and Halloween-ready. Flight attendant or police officer? The same concept applies — use some face paint to make things more scary and spooky.

    You can also use elements of the uniform to create other looks. If you have a collared white shirt from your work uniform, turn it into a prep-school outfit and go as one of the characters of Gossip Girl. Work, school, and sports uniforms can be a great base, and Halloween is a fun excuse to breathe new life into even the most stale outfit.
  1. Socks are for more than feet. Like the scarf, socks are a great and versatile Halloween costume staple. You can use socks to help complete a sport or school boy/girl look or cut them up to achieve an 80s rockstar vibe. You can also turn socks into a ’70s heartthrob headband or make them into leg warmers, cuffs, etc. Socks are also helpful for making parts of your costume fit the way they should.

    If you need shoes to complete your look but they’re running too big, stuff some socks in the heel or use multiple pairs of thick socks to make everything work. The possibilities are endless. Socks are multi-purpose, cheap, and something that almost everyone has lying around.

Whatever basics you choose for your Halloween costume, make sure you have fun channeling your creative side and making the look your own. The best Halloween costumes are the ones that reflect who we are and what we like, and using clothing and items that you already have lying around is a great and cost-effective way to achieve a fun and successful Halloween outfit.

Using basics to create your costume is also a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, as discarded costumes and other Halloween accessories fill landfills and are hard to dispose of in a green way. Cost-effective and carbon footprint-friendly, there aren’t many downsides to this costume creation tactic.

Halloween only occurs once a year, so have fun and happy haunting!


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