Halloween Costume Tips from a Newbie DIYer

Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love the spooky vibes, reading spooky books and – best of all – figuring out a costume. Growing up, I don’t think I was always as into making my costume as I am now. There were definitely many years of throwing things together and making up a character. In recent years, however, my best friend and I have been trying to up our game and really get into costume making. 

This year has been the hardest because we decided to go all out and try our hand at some DIY building, re-creating looks from the movie Beetlejuice. At the time, months prior to the holiday, we had lots of ideas for a timeline and getting started – but that timeline didn’t really happen. Regardless, we managed to get our looks together just in time for the Pride Halloween Party.

Photo by Rachel Lukas.

As we prepare for next year, here are some reflections and pieces of advice for other newbie costume creators when it comes to getting spooky for the season.

1. Start earlier than you think you need to. Although we had a plan for what we wanted to do by mid-summer, we didn’t start working on the costumes until September. Two months seems like a long time, but distractions come up. You also need to consider what materials you’re using and factor in time to adjust your look, let pieces fully dry or reinforce them. If you’re going to go all out, I recommend starting in the summer.

2. Know your materials. This point goes along with the first. Before you can build anything, you need to know what the best materials are. Take some time to check out cosplayers (costume players) online to see what materials they’re using. Our costumes required us to consider how heavy our finished masks would be, and finding lightweight materials was important. In the end, however, we didn’t really have the time and went with our gut – we were just going to make it work.

3. Go with a buddy costume. For an experienced DIYer, this may not be the most important thing, but it saved us first-timers in the end. Luckily for me, my buddy and I have very different schedules. While I was at work during the day, she was able to make progress on our looks. If this hadn’t been the case, I don’t think we would have finished in time. Understanding how the work will be split with a partner also makes it seem less daunting. Aside from that, it’s just more fun! It creates a time to hang out with your friends or family and get creative.

A look at exactly what went into these monstrously awesome costumes by Grace Johnson and Suzanne Metzel. Video by Suzanne Metzel.

4. Get great reference photos. If you’re re-creating an existing character, really good reference photos go a long way. Although there were screenshots of the Beetlejuice movie online, we found that there was still a lot of detail missing – a lot of unknown angles. So we popped the movie in and paused it to get all the stuff we were missing. Seeing what we were building from lots of angles helped us to figure out what kind of structure we should use to make it closer to the original.

This goes for custom characters as well. If you’re morphing into a pumpkin pirate, for example, look up or take photos of pumpkins. Also find your favorite pirate look, or pieces from a few looks, and pull all of those as references.

5. Combine homemade and store-bought. This is the best way to go, especially if you’re a first-timer, but I would probably continue to combine these even after years of costume making. Our costumes had a very basic clothing look at the bottom, topped with dramatic headpieces. Neither of us sew, and the thought of making a dress on top of a monster mask seemed impossible. And that’s fine. Focus on the most important piece of your costume, and try to make that from scratch. It makes the project more manageable.

In addition, you can also adapt clothes. Going for a rodeo cowboy look? Attach fringe along the side of a pair of jeans, either with glue or a simple stitch if you know how. There are lots of ways to customize things to your needs.

As this spooky season comes to an end, my friend and I are already planning our costumes for next year. We intend to get ahead and learn from our missteps this year. But when all else fails, the best bit of advice is to fake it till you make it. Our looks came together with lots of bumbling steps and just going with it.

Until next year, Happy Halloween!

Using foam clay, we sculpted about 80 teeth to use for both pieces.
The base for Adam Maitland's headpiece
Creating the structure for Barbara's spooky look
The Pulse is a great material to use in costume making
Our costumes in the early building stages
The tongue was sculpted using foam clay.
After some paint it's starting to come together!
Metzel works on painting
Suzie (left) and I with friend Jed Omernik dressed as Igor. Happy Halloween!