My Favorite DIY Halloween Costumes (and Tips for Creating Your Own On a Budget)

October 22, 2018

Maybe it's the aspiring actress in me or maybe it's the child in me, but the fact of the matter is I look forward to Halloween every single year because for one night - okay, or three - I get to play dress up and make believe ... and, to quote mean girls, "no other girls can say anything about it" (just swap "no other girls" for "no one"). 

As a Disney-obsessed kid, I would always set my Halloween costume sights on a Disney princess/heroine (Belle, Mulan and Jesse the Cowgirl are some memorable ones) and my mom would take care of it from there. When I entered the crazy pre-teen and teenage tears, the costumes got sexier and a little darker, without being overly revealing. As soon as college hit, it was all about showing skin via a cliche costume. But over the past few years, I've taken matters into my own hands and have followed a less-is-more approach - and when I say "less," I mean less money spent on a store costume and rather, more time spent creatively piecing one together with items I already own. 

Here's my method in a nutshell: I purchase just a few smaller items from stores (usually craft stores) and mix them with several items I already own. The resulting costumes have become my absolute favorites and the ones I receive the most compliments on.

Here are a few of my favorite past costumes, including notes on how I created them and tips for piecing together your own costume without having to feel financially guilty afterward.

Mary Poppins, Halloween 2017
This Mary Poppins costume - along with the one directly below - is one of my most complimented costumes (which made me feel very proud, considering I pieced it together the morning of Halloween, when I wore it). I promise there's a high chance you have almost everything you need to recreate this already in your closet:

White blouse
Black skirt
Black tights/stockings
Black heels
Large purse (black works well here)
Black umbrella
Reb ribbon, for belt and bow
Black Edwardian-style hat (this you will likely have to purchase. I bought mine at Party City).
Fake red and white flowers (I got mine at Hobby Lobby, but Michael's and JoAnn's should have some, too).
Hot glue gun (to glue the flowers onto the hat)

Done-up, yet simple (avoid any dark eyeshadow or intense eyeliner)
Red lips to bounce off the red bow and belt

Bun or down in waves

Wednesday Addams, Halloween 2015
As I mentioned above, this is another one of my most complimented costumes, and I threw this one together the day before I wore it. The only thing I purchased was the pair of thigh-high stockings.

White button up
Black button up (to be worn above white button up) 
Black heels
Black thigh-high stockings 

Pale foundation/face (you can make your foundation lighter by covering it with some white eyeshadow or a pale setting powder, but I recommend applying a foundation a few shades lighter than your skin tone. Go for an inexpensive drugstore foundation, and set it aside for future Halloween costumes - vampire, Bride of Frankenstein, skull, etc.). 
Gray eyeshadow for shadow-y contouring
Black lipstick

Two braids

Jess and I dressed as Dolls of the Dead, Halloween 2016

These dolls were so much fun to dress up as. Jess and I got really into character, and at one point began skipping around downtown while holding hands and playing audio of children laughing on repeat from our phones. We freaked quite a few people out.  


Floral dress
White knee-high socks
Black heels
Teddy Bear, dabbed it with black eyeshadow and torn up (I felt HORRIBLE doing this, but it really makes the costume creepier. I've kept the teddy bear out of pity). 


Follow the Wednesday Addams/Black Swan idea: pale face, dark lips (I went with a very deep red)
Black/gray eyeshadow for under eye circles and contouring 
Black eyeliner for "patches" and mouth (we drew lines that resemble a puppet mouth)

Pigtails and a bow

Cleopatra, Halloween Weekend 2017

I've always thought of Cleopatra as strong, interesting and beautiful - what's not to love? The girl is timeless. Not everyone can say Elizabeth Taylor played them in a movie. Just sayin'.

White or black dress
Gold heels
Gold jewelry (necklace, bracelets, earrings, rings, etc.)
Gold headpiece

Full face, glowy and bronzed (I added gold eyeshadow to the highlighter cheekbones
Nude lips (I added gold eyeshadow on top)
Blue and gold eyeshadow with black Cleopatra eyeliner 

Straight and braids
Gold string or hair bands (I bought a stretchy string at Michael's and tied them over clear hair ties)

Black Swan, Halloween Weekend 2017

Ah, this one was fun - although I could never play a tormented perfectionist ballerina the way Natalie Portman did. So, you might not have feathers, a tutu or a black crown laying around, but there's a good chance you have the rest of this costume at home, either for your own purposes or from a past Halloween. Accessories can be purchased at any craft store or costume store for next to nothing. 

Black leotard/bodysuit
Tiny black shorts (to wear under tutu)
Black tutu
Black see through tights
Black ballet-style flats
Black feathers
Glue gun or pins (to stick feathers onto leotard)
Black crown

Pale face (see Wednesday Addams makeup above)
Black eyeshadow for contouring (See Wednesday Addams makeup above)
Deep red/wine lips 
Black and silver eyeliners for wings

Bun (topped with crown)

Cruella de Vil, Halloween Weekend 2015
This costume is easy to create, recognizable and fun for both adults and kids. Got a black dress, or black top + black skirt? Of course you do. Now, all you need are accessories.

Black dress or black top + black skirt
Black tights (optional)
Black heels
"Dalmatian" stole
Red gloves (easy to find at a costume store, or at stores like Target and Walmart during the holidays)
1920's style cigarette holder


Glam (she was a designer, after all) - and red lips to bounce off those gloves

Okay, so, I made the mistake of using white hair spray paint on half of my head. It didn't go well. I looked old and my hair started to look an awkward light purple as the night went on. Get an inexpensive wig. 
Trust me.

My DIY mermaid costume (missing the starfish), a few years after being worn
My sister, looking like a gorgeous mermaid at her sorority's bid day last year (it was ocean themed)
Nude bra or bralet (a halter might work as well)
Rope (I like gold, but nude or white will work, too)
Blue skirt or craft store fabrics (I wore an opaque blue fabric under a mesh blue fabric with scale/bubble-like details).
Starfish (you can purchase a bag of them at craft stores) 
Nude summer-y wedges

Dewy natural-looking base makeup - but be generous with bronzer and highlighter
Blue or green eyeshadow and "scales"(place a fishnet stocking on one of your cheeks and along your collarbone, then run blue/green/gold eyeshadow over the stockings to create the look of scales on your skin). 
Nude (or purple!) lips - have fun, but stick to a cool color palette (green, blue, purple)

Messy, beachy waves or a messy thick braid

Little Red Riding Hood (after a run-in with the wolf), Halloween Weekend 2016
One of my tips for having a little more fun with your costume is adding a twist to a classic. I dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, but after a bloody fight with the wolf. 

Black dress or black top + black skirt
Black thigh-high boots or black heels
Black tights (optional)
White glove (one looks even better) ripped and painted with "blood" (fake blood)
Red hood

Red lips
Red "slice" on cheek (use fake blood)
Smokey eye

Waves or low pigtails 

Desperate and broke? Here are two classic costumes that couldn't be easier to piece together:

Witch, Halloween Weekend 2016
All black
Witch hat
Black boots/heels/pointy flats
Optional: choker or moody necklace for a little attitude

To keep it classic, stick to green, black or deep red eyeshadows and lipsticks
Optional: black or green nails (extra points if they're pointy)

Keep it down - wavy, curly or straight work just fine

My sister as a modern day, Vampire Diaries-inspired vampire, Halloween 2015
Dark moody dress, all black, or a simple top + shorts with a black biker jacket (keep it cool)
Black boots or heels

Either your usual full base makeup or pale + dark eyeshadow for contouring 
(I've found that either one works)
Smokey eyes
Black and gray eyeliner and/or eyeshadow for "veins"
Deep purple or red lipstick 
Fake blood for underneath lips 

Same idea as the witch: keep it down - wavy or straight work just fine



- Write down a list of everything you need to piece together your costume, then go digging through your closet, friends' closets and family members' closets (with permission, of course!).

- For actual clothing that you need but don't have, check Goodwill and other thrift stores before heading to the mall.

- Look online for the extra items you need before running to the stores. Compare prices, then go get what you need. I stop at Halloween stores once in a blue moon for certain items, but I tend to find what I need at Target, Hobby Lobby, Michael's and Joann's. Craft stores are your friend!

- The internet is a gift when it comes to Halloween. Amazon often sells items for less than what you'll find at stores. As far as makeup and hair go, YouTube is your friend. And I'm assuming most people do this already, but utilize Pinterest for costume ideas, and check Etsy as a last resort for any necessary costumes or items! They might be a little pricier, but if you aren't having luck, it could be your saving grace.

Remember to have fun and get creative! Be as original as you can and give your costumes a fun twist. Play with themes, decades, etc., or follow what I did with my Little Red Riding Hood and doll costumes and add a little darkness. It is Halloween, after all. ;)

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