DIY Halloween Costumes (and Tips for Creating a Last-Minute Costume on a Budget)

October 29, 2019

I've always loved Halloween - the decorations, movies, parties, annual trip to Halloween Horror Nights, and hearing Thriller and Monster Mash a million times -  but over the past four years, I've truly fallen in love with dressing up. Obviously, costumes were always a significant part of the fun - especially when I was a kid living out my dreams of being a princess or warrior (lookin' at you, Mulan). But, when it came to high school and the first few years of college, dressing up became a merry-go-round of sexy cliche characters (hot sailor woman, hot cop, hot ref ... I wore them all.) 

Don't get me wrong - those costumes were fun, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I began to truly relish the process of piecing together my own costumes with creativity, intention and scrappiness. I've brainstormed ways to play around with makeup and accessories, make a costume out of clothes I already own, and even create pieces with my own hands.

Most of you probably spent this past weekend as I did - out with friends and decked out in a costume. But Halloween still awaits! Whether you're passing candy out to your neighborhood kiddos, attending a party, heading out for a night on the town or simply dressing up at your workplace, I've got you covered with several costume ideas you can piece together over the next day or two. Better yet, they won't leave you crying when you check your bank account.  

Here are a few of my favorite costumes (from this weekend and the past few years), including notes on how I created them and tips for piecing together your own on a budget:

My version of Cher, this past weekend
If you have white flared jeans and live anywhere near a Target and Joann's, you can pull this outfit off before Halloween. I felt inspired to emulate Cher's bold and incomparable outfits after Kim Kardashian totally killed the yellow two-piece look last year. I wanted to do something different, though, so I opted for the white two piece above. I bought inexpensive large gold hoop earrings, the iconic long lashes, and glue-on nails (hello, middle school Stephanie) at Target, and made the top with a stretchy white fabric, beads and adhesive stickers from Joann's, where I also found my gold "belt." Add some metallic heels, and you've turned back time. ;)

White flared jeans
White high-quality fabric
Beading and adhesive stickers
Metallic gold or silver heels
Large hoop earrings
White mini pouch purse
Gold belt (or gold lace)

Purple eyeshadow with dramatic false lashes
Pink blush 
Rosy pink-ish lips (lightly glossed)
Long nails with purple polish (I painted over my press-ons)

Straight and down

Medusa, also this past weekend (yes, those are "snake eyes")
If there's ever a right time to dress up as Medusa, it's when snakeskin is in - and right now, it definitely is. Don't have a snakeskin piece yet? I found the dress above at H&M for about $20. Pair it with a snake headpiece (sold on Amazon and at most Halloween stores), and you can turn people to stone. 

Faux snakeskin dress
Strappy heels
Gold snake headband (

Green and yellow eyeshadow, with black lines on top for your "snake eyes"
Green shadow in place of bronzer (for contouring)
Green lipstick (I actually didn't like the color of mine, so I put some Aquaphor on my lips and covered them with glittery green shadow)
Green metallic nails (I used the Medusa shade by KL Polish)

Messy, crazed waves 
(I wet my hair and added got2b glue, flipped my hair and called it a day)

My "Ellie" Elliot + E.T. costume, Halloween 2018
If you have a free evening or morning before Halloween, and consider yourself a patient person, then you can re-create this. Aside from the minimalist outfit, you'll need to make your own bike basket. I purchased this grey basket (and my red hoodie) at Target. To make the handlebars, I painted four paper towel rolls grey, and taped two vertically on each back corner of the basket, then taped the other two horizontally on top of the vertical ones. I printed a high-res picture of E.T. (found off Google) and taped it on top of an old stuffed animal for a 3D effect. Then, I placed a red light on E.T.s last, and wrapped a white pillowcase around him. Tie some rope through the basket holes so you can wear it around your neck. Proceed to Phone Home. 

Red hoodie
White converse or sneakers
Grey basket
Paper towel rolls
Grey paint
Printed picture of E.T.
Stuffed animal
White sheet or pillowcase
Small red light (many flashlights have a red light option)
Rope (try to keep it a neutral color or one that will blend with the outfit) 

You don't need any, but I played up the red in the hoodie with red lips

I left mine down, but a ponytail is fun and outdoors-y

Pretty Woman, Halloween 2018
So, I bought this costume off Etsy; however, you can give it your own twist with a white tank, blue skirt, and some body jewelry (or, if you're really ambitious, watch a DIY video on YouTube. They exist!)   

Pretty Woman costume or white tank, blue skirt and body jewelry 
Red blazer (or hoodie)
Black over-the-knee boots
Long necklace 
Edgy bracelet

Keep it glow and subtly sexy 

Curl or wave it up, Julia Roberts style

Pretending to be Midge Maisel at Disney's Dapper Day, April 2019
My favorite TV comedian, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, inspired my look for this year's Dapper Day at Disney. I bought this dress on Amazon Prime, but if 2-day shipping isn't in your favor, you can pick up a petticoat at a costume store and wear it under a dress you already own (this fifties style was very in earlier this year - hopefully you have something similar!) 

'50s style dress (or a halter-style dress)
White pointed-toe flats or kitten heels
Small box-y handbag
Hair scarf (you can use a regular one, as I did here)
Cat-eye glasses
Pearl jewelry 

Feminine (rosy blush, bold lips, etc.)

Curled, pinned and under a hair scarf

Mary Poppins, Halloween 2017
This Mary Poppins costume made me feel very proud, considering I pieced it together on Halloween morning. 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
Surprisingly enough, this costume - which I threw together the day before wearing - brought in a ton of compliments. 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 

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

With my friend Nicole, Halloween 2018

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, as well as Amazon (2-day prime delivery!) before heading to any retailers.

- Look online for the extra items you need before running to the stores. Compare prices, then 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, JoAnns, Hobby Lobby and Michael'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 free classroom. And I'm assuming most people do this already, but utilize Pinterest for costume ideas and, if you have more time in the future, check Etsy as a last resort for costumes or specific accessories. 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 add a little darkness to your look. It is Halloween, after all. ;)