You either love Halloween or you don’t. Some people look forward to concocting elaborate costumes and escaping reality for one night. Others would rather skip the candy than splurge on sequins and face paint.
But even if you’re Halloween’s biggest fan, a costume is arguably one of the dumbest purchases you can make this fall. Costumes are time-sensitive, expensive, and frankly, only good for one use. Since cleverness and humor dominate this holiday ritual, you’re likely to rationalize a splurge that you’ll never use again. (Case in point: a women’s Big Bird costume is selling for $70 online. Funny now? Yes. Clever next year? Not likely.)
Creative types have always found ways to turn word play, historical figures or mundane objects into easy and cheap costumes.
We talked to some of our most clever Washington Post Style staffers about the best cheap Halloween costumes they’ve seen out and about. Trust us, somewhere in this column, you’ll find inspiration to make a costume that’s clever enough for one night.
The Soviet Bloc or Red Square
This one gets a lot of stares on the Metro, and the occasional high-five from a State Department wonk. This Deal Hunter has gone as the Soviet Bloc (or Red Square depending on historical preference) on two Halloweens. All that is needed is: a cardboard box that is large enough to be worn, (petite women note, wearable boxes can be found by your office’s copy machine), red leggings or tights and turtleneck, Furry ushanka hat (sold on eBay for a Buy It Now price of $10) and red wrapping paper ($4, Amazon). Wear the gift-wrapped red box and the hat and the word play comes together.
Cost: $20 maximum
No Child Left Behind
This clever suggestion comes to us from Style staff writer Dan Zak. Dan suggests making a sign that reads “No Child” and attaching it to (you saw this coming) your left buttock. He has seen this clever costume before in town, and while we don’t recommend dressing your child as an education policy, it’s a humorous last-minute costume for you.
Yes, this is one of the oldest last-minute costumes in the book, but if you’re leaving work on Wednesday, Oct.31 and don’t have a costume, look to your office cruise director for those “Hello, My Name Is” labels. Fill them out with different names, stick them on yourself, and voila! You’re on the road to therapy.
Cost: $5 maximum, the cost of Avery Border Name Badge Labels
For this cheap costume, all you’ll need is a pack of purple or green balloons and a lot of time (and air) to blow them up. Wear a solid green or purple outfit and tape the blown up balloons to your body. Add a halo of real or fake leaves on your head. (Also, grapes are a great costume to attach to your dog's sweater.)
Cost: $5 for 15 balloons on Amazon.
Arts reporter Jessica Goldstein suggests revamping everyone’s favorite test of flexibility. She has seen women tie the large game around their bodies like a toga and wear the spinner as a headpiece, but we’d argue it’s a unisex costume.
Cost: $20 maximum; free if you already have the game
This imaginative idea comes from pop music critic Chris Richards. All one needs to become Grandma’s couch are hideous floral print medical scrubs (or an early 1990s Laura Ashley dress), both of which can be found for $10 or less at a thrift store. Wrap yourself in a clear plastic shower curtain ($7) and be the source of confusion at the party.
Cost: $20 maximum
The Toga-wearing victim of history
What do Caesar, Cato, Virgil, Cicero and John Belushi have in common? They all wore togas. Take it from every college student, it’s a cheap and easy costume.
Cost: Free with an old bed sheet, adorn to taste
The Undecided Voter
Have you been saving your direct mail? Marie Elizabeth Oliver, Style web editor, suggests pasting as many Romney/Obama mailers as you can find all over yourself on Halloween and going as one of the few Americans who still call themselves “undecided voters.” No campaign paraphernalia? Head to a local campaign headquarters for signs, brochures and bumper stickers. They’d be more than happy to help you out with this costume.
The Spy or a James Bond Character
Since “Skyfall” is about to come out in theaters and Bond recently celebrated 50 years of cinematic dominance, why not go as your favorite Bond, Bond girl or villain? Any old cocktail gown (even that hilarious one from the ’80s) or snazzy suit will do the trick. For the unidentifiable spy, a trench coat, sunglasses and a mustache drawn with eye-liner will satisfy the minimum requirements for anonymity.
The Devil in a Blue Dress (or Suit)
Cara Kelly, Arts and Style producer, recommends picking up the ubiquitous devil horns and wearing them with a blue dress. But in an election year, the devil in a blue suit might be the best way to provoke politicos at a party.
Cost: $5 Maximum
THE BOTTOM LINE Take it from the journalists: there’s no use wasting money on a one-night wonder. Look around your house and get creative. And of course, feel free to borrow a Style staffer’s cheap idea.