D.C.-based costume designer Liz Gossens is a whiz at dressing actors on a shoestring budget. She recently put together outfits for “Lizzie,” a bodice-busting Victorian rock opera, in just two weeks using thrift store finds and punk-inspired creativity. So she’s just the person to ask about making your own DIY Halloween costume.

Skip the costumes from Halloween stores. “Don’t spent a lot of money on a few pieces of flimsy fabric in a bag,” she says. “They are never worth it.”

Go thrifting. “I never expect to find the exact thing I want. I’m looking for garments that I can turn into what I want,” she says. “And I also look for things that are a little large, because it’s easier to go down in size than to go up.”

Cover your finds. If you find an article of clothing you like but it’s in the wrong color, you can cover it with a fabric you like. “You can sew it on or even use a glue gun,” Gossens says. This works better with simple shapes like skirts and vests. “I wouldn’t recommend trying to cover pants,” she says.

Add trim. “There’s a lot you can do with ribbon, and you can even use wrapping paper ribbon from CVS,” Gossens says.

Look online for accessories. “Amazon is your friend,” she says, for things like hats, wigs, gloves and fascinators. For flashy corsets on the cheap, check out one of Gossens’ favorite sites, corset-story.com.

Avoid big cardboard costumes. “They look cute at first, but then you’re just stuck in a box all night,” Gossens warns.

Do a dry run first. “You don’t want to find yourself at 10 p.m. on Halloween heading to a party and you don’t have a layer you need,” she says.

Case Study: How to turn a men’s suit jacket into a circus ringleader tailcoat

What you need: Suit jacket, scissors, sewing machine or a needle and thread, a bow; optional: top hat, corset.

  1. Cut a rounded corner off the lower right part of the jacket front. Avoid cutting the pocket flap, and don’t get close to the button.
  2. Use the fabric you cut to trace the exact pattern on the lower left part of the jacket front in chalk, so both sides match. 
  3. To sew up the seams, you’ll want to flip the jacket inside out so the seams don’t show. Cut a 4-inch slit in the lining near one of the pockets and pull that side’s cut edge through the slit, then sew up the seam. Push it back out through the slit when you’re done. Repeat on the other side, starting with a new slit.
  4. Add a bow to the back for a finishing touch. You can sew it on or use a safety pin. Iron the jacket, add a top hat and layer it over a brightly colored corset.

More Halloween intel