Halloween brings out the best in people trying to look as if they're scary, fantastic or even dying. They will flock to costume shops and craft stores a month in advance with intricate plans to create an ensemble good enough to draw howls at the Halloween party.
You don't have to be one of those people. Even the biggest costume procrastinator can turn a pumpkin of a Halloween plan into gold by what’s in her closet or dresser drawers. All it takes is some creativity and the ability to see wardrobe pieces with a fresh eye.
I find that you should start with a piece and work your outfit around that special piece… and then decide how you want to look.
Viki Stevenson, manager of the Buffalo Exchange store in Manhattan’s Chelsea area..
Open those closet doors and take a good, hard look at what you have, especially those pieces that haven't seen the light of day in a while. These would be the items that spend most of the year smashed between hanging dress bags or tossed in a pile in the corner of your walk-in.
Viki Stevenson, manager of the Buffalo Exchange store in Manhattan’s Chelsea area, says one of those pieces combined with the wings or a mask of an old costume, can inspire a brand new Halloween ensemble.
“I find that you should start with a piece and work your outfit around that special piece… and then decide how you want to look,” she said. “Do you want to wear a short skirt? Show a little cleavage? Bust out a pair of heels that you love but haven’t worn in a while?”
If you don’t want to commit to an entire costume and have a couple of hours until the soiree, hit a vintage or resale shop for a single neat item that can serve as the cornerstone for your look.
“I’ve gotten a ‘40s corset, a glittery top hat, a whip, eyelashes, wigs, wings, boas and the list goes on," Stevenson said. "Usually, my costume is partially stuff from my closet, mixed in with stuff I buy.”
A quick run to the corner store can provide any accessory or prop that will take your costume to the next level.
“The best costumes are always something someone created and then went to the drug store to get odds and ends to finish off their look,” Stevenson said.
Pulling a Halloween outfit together on the fly also requires you to look at your existing wardrobe in a creative light. That basic black dress or vampy red sheath can be the start of something sexy. A crisp white blouse may be the core of a sophisticated or casual costume, and a collection of costume jewelry and scarves are versatile enough to work with any of these clothes.
A pirate, for example, is an easy costume to put together and pull off, said Alison Levine, L.A.-based freelance stylist, movie designer and costumer. All it takes is the white shirt, a pair of jeans and a vest, and a bandana. Levine said a crossed bones design sketched on the vest and an eye patch can finish the look.
“Every woman has this costume in her closet, whether she is aware of it or not,” Levine said.
If you’ve got a cropped suit jacket, slim skirt, blouse and large spectacles, “I would say you probably have Sarah Palin in your closet,” Levine said.
Makeup and Hair Extensions
Your regular makeup case has enough material to give your look an extra Halloween oomph. Levine said a pale foundation with gray eyeliner and pinkish-red eye shadow will make most women look scary.
"If you want to add more sass, go with bright lip gloss, bright eye shadows, fake lashes and a great blush… you will enhance that look of yours in no time,” Levine said.
What’s on your face and head can sell the costume better than what’s on your body. Don’t underestimate the scary power of a healthy smear of red lipstick and some well-drawn liquid eyeliner.
“I remember a few years ago, there were many people dressed like Amy Winehouse and all they needed was a beehive wig and to do cat-eye style eyeliner,” Stevenson said. “If you want to really look like Snooki or a Kardashian, it’s all about the hair, the make-up and the right attitude.”
Ideas for Inspiration
If the look you’re going for is celebrity-inspired, make the process as easy as possible. For example, if you and your friends want to go as the cast of "Jersey Shore," Stevenson said you just need to fake an Abercrombie shirt. Just take a marking pen to an old T-shirt and design your own Abercrombie.
"In fact, it would probably be funnier that way,” Stevenson said.
Lady Gaga, who treats most appearances as though she's dressing for Halloween, is a favorite costume muse for Stevenson and Levine. A basic Lady Gaga can be pulled together with items found in just about every wardrobe: A miniskirt, big sunglasses, ripped denim pants, a funky patterned top, a short leather jacket and a stacked heel or platform shoe get the job done.
“Even better, if you own a leotard from an old dance class or bodysuit, you are really Gaga ready," Levine said.
Sometimes mixing and matching items can create an all-new look. For example, Levine said wearing fitted leggings with a bright colored top, some big feather earrings and lots of necklaces will create an ‘80’s appearance. A cute dress over a button-down shirt and an apron could create a trendy prairie kitchen look.
You may have another option if your closet still holds trends from the past. Mix those with trends from the present for an outfit that screams fun fashion mess.
Household Prop Solutions
Just rummaging through your house can yield some last-minute solutions. Last year, Alison Levine’s significant other decided at the last minute he wanted to be Slimer from "Ghostbusters." She used old pillowcases, packing fillers, green paint and an old pair of green dance leggings to whip up a Slimer. Levine is an L.A.-based freelance stylist, movie designer and costumer.
“Anything you might not be using could be used to turn into something else,” she said. “Every Halloween costume screams Halloween if you had to be creative and put things together at home.”
If you’re just looking for some quick ways to finish off a party look, Viki Stevenson, manager of the Buffalo Exchange store in Manhattan’s Chelsea area, suggested these tricks:
If you want to tease your hair into a beehive, use an empty toilet paper roll and pin your hair around it.
Use medical gauze for any last-second mummy wrapping.
Use dark red lipstick for blood instead of that gooey corn syrup stuff. The lipstick will look just fine and won't require any extra cleanup.
Bedroom sheets and pillowcases can be manipulated into pretty much anything.
Glitter is not a common household item, but if you have some sitting around, use it. Stevenson said glitter is always a hit, no matter what character you're going for.
Georgann Yara has been writing professionally since 1995. She has been published in the "Arizona Republic," "Arizona Business Gazette," "Phoenix Magazine," "Latino Perspectives Magazine," "Spokesman-Review," "West Valley View" and "Ahwatukee Foothills News." Yara holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Eastern Washington University.