Store-Bought Halloween Costumes—How to Customize Cheap!

No, it’s really not too early to think about Halloween costumes. You have a long hot summer ahead of you to prepare. I see a lot of people buying store-bought costumes and I’m totally cool with that. But, why not tell a story with the costume that goes beyond just being a pirate or a barmaid?

For instance, this year I hope to have a Halloween party with a “Dancing in the Graveyard” theme (and hopefully hubby’s band playing). I’m a ghost hunter and folks who want to attend would like to learn more about what I do, so I figured I’d wear the gear and let them play with it. It seems like an easy costume; some cargo shorts, a tank top, some boots, and my equipment belt. It's not telling a story, though. So, how do I take it up a notch? I’m using a Tomb Raider/Resident Evil feel to it. Some leather wrist straps with small flashlights attached, leather garters with more equipment in the holsters, and boom—you have a sort of sexed up hardcore version of a ghost hunter.

Here’s three very easy and extremely affordable ways to take an old costume and make it something more than just the typical. This works with every costume, so choose the one that sounds good and go with it:

VAMPIRE BITES: One simple way to take any costume to a new level is a vampire bite.
My costume (above) is a French Maid. Easy to buy and women like to look nice for parties (the hope) or just be annoyed by men all evening (the reality). My twist? I put a realistic vampire bite on my neck and made my face more pale than usual.(In looking back, I should have probably played up the vampire maid thing a bit more with whiter face makeup and blue lips). How to: A little bit of fake flesh can be bought online at places like I formed the flesh into two lumps and placed them on my neck, spreading the edges out to blend in with my skin. I took a pencil and stuck it into the lumps to make bite marks. Inside the bite marks I used some liquid black eyeliner to make it dark (you could also dab it with a tiny paint brush and some craft store acrylic paint that’s usually 89-99 cents a bottle). To apply some bruising around it, I used eyeshadow powder. The outer area outside of the mounds I dabbed with purple eyeshadow using my finger and along the edges of the dabbed some yellow. Atop of the mounds, I dabbed some green eyeshadow. A few drips of fake blood oozing out of the holes, and you’re set! This is an ideal costume for females who want to go sexy to a party, but also want to be a bit scary without being ugly.

ZOMBIE: Any costume can be turned into a zombie. Remember “Night of the Living Dead?” Folks of all professions became zombies. It turns something that’s cute and benign like say a shepherdess or doctor in scrubs and makes them something sinister. You have to be willing to ruin the costume a bit by cutting the edges of the fabric, pulling on it and tattering it. Try rubbing some dirt on it too so you get a “out of the grave” look. Mess your hair up and spray it in place to remain crazy looking all evening. The makeup is key to this. If you’re lucky enough to have a high-maintenance girl nearby, she can bring her makeup to the table to really get you going. If not, stores like do have the makeup you’ll need. Whites and blues will be the main ingredients for the zombie face. Mostly white, a bit of blue worked in under the eyes and on the lips. I’d go a bit further myself and use the fake flesh on your skin of your cheek. Spread it on and make it a bit thick. Now, you can carve a long jagged cut into the flesh’s surface or peel it back. Either way, you get a creepy flesh look. Dab the makeup on top of it. Seal it all with face powder. You can add blood dripping from your mouth or your wound. Making this a zombie will depend on your ability to act a bit spineless, walk a bit awkward and stiff, and a bit of stumbling. If you want to freak out the folks a bit more when you’re doing your imitation of Dudley Moore in “Arthur,” you can follow them around and tilt your head and study them silently. Now and then emit a wounded growl. This one is a great choice for men who usually don’t mind so much looking a little sloppy.

PRISONER: Lastly, if you’re going with someone else to a party and your costumes don’t seem to go, such as he’s a knight and you’re a dark angel, why not have him clamp a fancy decorated leash on you and guide you around the party all evening? The story behind it would be interesting. How did this knight gather up this dark angel and what does he use her for?

There is no reason not to take a costume and bring a story to it. It’s even more fun in numbers. I always thought that a shipload of folks going dressed as ghostly pirates would be really eerie, with pale faces and blue lips, wandering the party as a wild pack of undead merrymakers.

Let your imagination soar. You have a good five months to sit on it and stew. Look through your old costumes. You just might be able to come up with something new and intriguing.


  1. It's always fun to try and be creative for Halloween. I was a tube of toothpaste one year and made the costume myself. A long time ago we hosted a Halloween party at our house and had a blast decorating. Almost all the decorations were made by us. Our friends that worked at the nuclear plant, came as radioactive waste....pretty clever. My daughter and a friend went as dead cheerleaders one year to a party. They made the costumes themselves and they turned out so good. I haven't been to a party on Halloween for some time now, just sit home and watch Ghost Hunters Live and hand out candy.

  2. I love Halloween, however, I haven't dressed up for the past six holidays. The reason? In this tiny town adults who dress up at Halloween without small kids in tow are regarded with suspicion, sometimes to the point of harassment. (But then this is also a town where if Halloween falls on a Sunday they cancel the holiday.) The first October I lived here I dressed up as a ladybug, stocked my bowls with treats, put o' lanterns in the window, and waited for the kids to come. I got two: one six year old girl who was swaddled in an overcoat that covered her fairy costume, and a severely overweight 14-year-old boy who came by twice. Man.

    I hope I will find some Halloween parties in Laramie to attend! I have six years of ideas to try out. I LOVE your Resident Evil/Tomb Raider idea. I've wanted to go as Lara for quite some time, only wearing something other than butt-high hotpants. I liked Alice's outfit in the second RE movie. ...Maybe I could be Jill Valentine and scary it up by being part zombie? Unsettling the fanboys would be fun.

  3. I love to hear people's costume ideas! I know a lot of folks who have no creative juices when it comes to costume time. I just adore it! I love the idea of becoming someone else for an evening. I have a short story I started writing about a woman who moves to a mountaintop lake area. During the off season the visitors leave and the townies have a Halloween party on this sacred ground. When they put on their costumes, they act out their parts which makes for horror and eroticism in a crazy fashion. I think it's fun. My hubby's band does heavy metal from the big 80s and sometimes they dress in the big hair and outfits and it's really sexy! People are just different when they're in character. You know that Resident Evil--the third one? That outfit she wears with the very short shorts and trench coat. I sat and stopped the movie and sketched it out. I adored that costume! I thought I'd incorporate some of the elements into mine. I think I'd die if I lived in a place where folks don't like to dress up. I say, go into the big city, and have a great night--Halloween lands on a Saturday this year. That's why I'm doing a party, I can have it on Friday and then still enjoy Halloween on Saturday. I'm sure come October every post will be about Halloween, but I've had to start carving the numerous headstones for the yard to get it done ahead of time before I get busy in the fall with ghost hunting activities and commitments. No doubt, I'll post the picture of me in the costume too--if I don't look ridiculous. hee hee

  4. I'm always on the look out for Halloween costumes which I can use. Whenever I pass a Halloween costume store, I check it out with the hopes of finding the right one. But if all else fails, I resort to purchasing from an online store.


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