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It's easy enough to come up with a cheap Halloween costume. Pour some ketchup down your shirt front and voilà , you're a stabbing victim! Too bad you're also a complete lame-o. Or throw a sheet on and tell people you're a ghost. Hey, check out Mr. Original. Where? Over there, under the sheet.

All you're saying with the old ghost get up is that you have the brain power and imagination - but none of the delicious flavour - of a Tootsie Roll. Worst of all, it sends the message that you just don't care, and the last person anyone wants to talk to at a Halloween party is someone broadcasting to the world that they have a chewy mind and a complete disregard for the whole spirit of the occasion.

Of course, you also don't want to be the guy who drops $1,300 on a movie-quality Star Wars Storm Trooper get up. That guy, while certain to grab attention, is way too interested in the occasion (read: overcompensating weirdo).

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But I've always thought it's a cop out to spend tonnes of money on a great costume. Doing this doesn't mean you're interesting, just that your wallet is.

People who don't want to spend any money on a costume this year should dig around their closets, says Jason Walsh, retail department manager at Malabar, a costume store in Toronto.

"Some people have old suits, some people have clothes that they've retained from the eighties. We have costumes that are for the eighties or for the seventies and there are people that actually have that clothing," he says. "It can be done. It is possible. You just have to be creative." Find a shirt with a butterfly collar and go as a lounge lizard, or dig out a Hawaiian shirt and go as Magnum P.I.

Of course, most people drop some cash on Halloween costumes. People usually spend about $75 on average at her store, says Margot Loveseth, owner of the Costume Shoppe in Calgary. The price range goes from $20 to $1,300 (for, yes, the Storm Trooper outfit)

For $20 you can get a fairly wide range of adult costumes, from a Pope outfit to a cop number to a French maid ensemble. But costumes that cost that little are often made of cheap material that's likely to rip before the end of the evening and end up in the garbage long before next year, says Ms. Loveseth. Most, if not all, of the cheap costumes you can buy are also boringly generic. And on the one night of the year when you can be anyone or anything, is it really your dream come true to be … a doctor in scrubs? A nun? A slutty anything? Way to let that shining, inventive, playful, cheeky, intelligent personality of yours shine through.

For the truly cheap, there are plenty of items at costume stores that can be bought for less than $20 - the only catch is that ingenuity is not included. Malabar, for instance, sells a monocle for $4.50. But then, what, you're going to be Guy with a Monocle? I suppose you could tell people you're Mr. Peanut in his street clothes, or that you're the Monopoly guy fallen on hard times.

The trick to pulling off a great costume when you're cash poor is making sure it's concept rich. I was once at a Halloween party where a guy had cut out pictures of models from fashion magazines lying around the apartments of girl friends and taped them all over his clothes. Whenever someone approached him to ask what he was - and plenty did - he explained, "I'm a babe magnet."

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"For the creative person, it's quite easy," says Ms. Loveseth. "What really makes a costume good is the story behind it."

A few years ago, for instance, Ms. Loveseth's son, who was 13 at the time, went trick-or-treating with an empty glass in his hand. "When they asked him what he was he said he was thirsty. Again, it's the story."

Need inspiration? Turn to the news. A few years ago, when it looked like anthrax was being sent to prominent U.S. figures through the mail, a girl I know wrapped herself in brown paper, wrote an address on it, and carried around a bottle of baby powder. Whenever she was asked what she was, she sprayed a puff of the baby powder at the person and said, "I'm a suspicious package."

It's not the costume, see - it's the idea behind it.

Compare the babe magnet to the person who pours ketchup on himself. Both didn't have to spend a penny on their costumes. But one of them managed to create a costume that drew intrigued revellers to him in droves and won the admiration of them all. The other is just some shmo covered in a condiment. Who do you want to be this Halloween?

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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