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Last-minute Halloween costumes…from the closet

I had my first live TV appearance this week: I was a guest on our local morning show and my job was to show off last-minute Halloween costume ideas. Folks: it was nothing if not authentic. I had been traveling the week before so the costumes I demonstrated were literally pulled from our closets and dress-up collection the night before the show.

Live TV is such fun (who knew?). Not only was it an energizing hit for this extrovert writer, I got to meet an up-and-coming Oregon pop band comprised of four charming young men, one of whom is just old enough to vote.

To the point of the show: I’ve always loved Halloween because it’s the perfect holiday for the non-crafty procrastinators among us. The photo spread perfection some aspire to (or feel tortured by) around Thanksgiving and Christmas? Not even on the radar during Halloween (at least not on my radar). Fun, kids, candy. That’s it.

Here are the costumes I demonstrated on the show. As you can see, they’re barely costumes. But with a little imagination and gussy-ing up, they’re good enough to send your kid trick-or-treating with the best of ‘em:

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  • Before: a T-shirt 1 of 9
    Before: a T-shirt
    My neighbor Elias demonstrates the raw material that goes into a ninja mask.
  • After: Ninja! 2 of 9
    After: Ninja!
    Presto! Slide the neck opening over your eyes, tie the arms behind your head, and NINJA!
  • (Ninja in action) 3 of 9
    (Ninja in action)
    Elias learned how to make the ninja mask from a summer camp at Trackers NW here in Portland.
  • Headband + foil = kitty ears 4 of 9
    Headband + foil = kitty ears
    OK, so my creation looks pretty sketchy, but with a little more time and attention, you can see where one can go with this.
  • PJs + robe + Teddy = little kid 5 of 9
    PJs + robe + Teddy = little kid
    This was a popular costume when I was in high school. Draw some freckles on your face to up the cute factor.
  • Sports uniforms! 6 of 9
    Sports uniforms!
    Younger sibs are dying to wear "real" sports uniforms.
  • A black suit jacket 7 of 9
    A black suit jacket
    Any all-black outfit can be the basis of a good costume. Men In Black (add sunglasses), Dilbert, aforementioned kitties and ninjas...
  • Chef 8 of 9
    Chef
    A kitchen apron, a chef hat made out of notebook paper (just loop it around your forehead and tape), and a few props are all you need.
  • Random Sparkly Fairy or Superhero 9 of 9
    Random Sparkly Fairy or Superhero
    Remix your dress-up box. Put on anything that sparkles. You'll look great (especially the boys).

What’s your best last-minute Halloween costume idea?

Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and the publisher of Parent Hacks, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier.

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Last Minute Halloween Costumes

Last minute Halloween costumes, like this homemade train, can be great fun!

Last minute Halloween costumes, like this homemade train, can be great fun!

Last night as we were tucking her into bed, my three-year-old announced that she wanted to go to school the next morning dressed as a zebra. Or a giraffe. Or a train.

“I want you to sew me a zebra costume, Mommy!”

Her dad saved the day with an awesome last minute Halloween costume: a cardboard box transformed into a colorful train.

Are you on the hunt for a last-minute costume? Here are some simple, cheap ideas for delightful costumes:

The Train: This one looks so great it’s hard to believe how easy it was. Simply cut half the bottom out of a rectangular cardboard box, and tape construction paper or felt around the edges to make the colorful sides. You can add headlights and a grill if you feel like getting fancy with your paper cut-outs. Trim the cardboard flaps into circles for wheels and color or paint them black.

How is the kid going to wear this costume, you ask?

My husband attached a fanny pack that looped through the back of the cardboard box to hold it around our kid’s waist. The fanny pack makes a great place to stash trick-or-treats, but you could use a simple belt too.

Professional Parent: This is a classic: dress your child up as your profession. Whether you’re a doctor, a secretary or a dancer, you probably have the tools and clothes of your trade around the house. Nothing is cuter than a kindergarten-sized mad scientist!

Medusa: The ABC story I linked above has a great recipe for a quick and easy Rapunzel costume. If you’re feeling  a little more daring (and less coordinated), you can skip the braiding and use that leftover yarn to create wild Medusa hair for your little darling. She’ll be the terror of all the Percy Jackson clones roaming the neighborhood!

Zoo Animals: ABC lists “giraffe” as one of their top picks for last-minute costumes. This is clearly because the writers of that article have never had a little girl ask them to sew a giraffe costume the night before the school Halloween party.

Zoo animals do make for pretty easy costumes though, because they’re so iconic. An old white t-shirt and leggings can become a zebra with the magic touch of a sharpie. A pair of scissors can transform that yellow top you haven’t worn in years into a fearsome lion’s mane in minutes. Any preschooler will recognize these costumes, no matter how crudely put together they are. Score.

Dress-Up Potluck: Finally, when looking for a last minute Halloween costume comes down to the ten minutes before you walk out the door, there’s your dress-up chest. Somewhere, your kids have a stash of costume pieces: cowboy hats, fairy wings, ballerina tutus. The stuff they play dress-up with, the leftovers of Halloween’s past. In a pinch, put these to good use, and assemble a costume just like you would an outfit for the day: is everything clean? Warm enough? Covering top and bottom? Great! We’re costumed. Let’s go trick-or-treat!

Halloween costumes can be a joy to create and wear, but the real fun of Halloween is trick-or-treating with your friends, not worrying yourself sick over the details of a costume that will be worn for only a few hours.

Photo: Sierra Black

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