The 13th Floor

To Hell with Pre-Fab Halloween Costumes — Make Your Own, Dammit!

The venerable B.J. Colangelo, a regular contributor here at, recently authored a salient essay about the sorry state of Halloween costumes that are currently made available for women. In short, her argument was that men are allowed a great variety of Halloween costumes — from creepy to silly to strong to sexy — and take to the world with a great deal of variety. Women, meanwhile, tend to be offered “sexy” more often than anything, and are rarely allowed a chance to be creepy or scary or anything else. Women’s costumes, the essay pointed out, consist of high heels, tight-fitting blouses, leg-revealing miniskirts, and other stripper-ready renditions of scary beings and licensed characters. The men, meanwhile, get to be more screen-accurate, spooky, or whatever they want.

This is most certainly a problem, and one that has been growing for the past decade. At some point since the year 2000, Halloween has become increasingly commodified, and has now grown into a cottage industry. This coincides with an increased co-opting of the holiday by adults. Halloween was once more kid-friendly, if I recall, sometime back in the 1980s.  In 2016, there’s more blood, booze, and sex involved, and adult Halloween pay-for-admission parties are more and more common. As such, more and more adults are dressing in costumes, and “adult” costumes are, let’s be honest, showing a staggering lack of creativity and variety.


This is not just a sentiment for women, either, who have been given nothing to choose from other than a rotating sleazewheel of slutty pole-dancing outfits. The types of costumes available for both men and women tend to reflect the usual dozen-or-so public domain figures (vikings, cowboys, vampires, etc.) or whatever movie character is hot this year (in 2016, we’re likely to see plenty of characters from the AVENGERS films, and no shortage of Harley Quinns). Either way, our costume choices are beholden to whatever the costume companies have elected to be bankable.

When did we stop making our own costumes?

Personally, I may be a bit gung-ho about Halloween purity and maintaining “the spirit of the holiday,” whatever that may mean, but I do feel that a lack of variety in pre-fab costumes is not the problem here. A general rejection of self-made costumes, however, is. It seems to me that fewer and fewer people have embraced the glorious challenge of making their own costumes from scratch, and more and more people are relying on ready-made costumes. As something of a Halloween fascist, I object to pre-fab costumes as a notion, and implore you: You don’t need to buy them. You can make your own.

If you’re a casual young adult, and you need a Halloween costume, but are short of inspiration, where do you go? It’s likely you’ll hunker down to SPIRIT or a similar Halloween-themed store to check out their pre-fab costumes in bags to either find a costume, or to at least look for inspiration. It’s fun to look at the Goth Princess or WWII soldier, and muse yourself into said costume. Said Halloween stores also tend to offer up any number of glorious accessories so that one may embellish their pre-fab costumes with handheld props. If you’re slightly more ambitious, you may also purchase any number of high-quality makeup kits to transform your face into a the devil, vampire, zombie, Incredible Hulk etc.


Then you go to a party, a street carnival, or a spooked-out amusement park, and what do you see? A hundred other people who have done exactly the same thing as you. There are now dozens of “Purple Spectre #36s running around Knott’s, each one less scary than the last. And, good Lord, how many “Sexy Dorothys” do we really need? How many sex kittens can we see in one night before our eyes start to cross?

Is it me, or has Halloween become a holiday to celebrate sameness and uniformity? I’m not referring, of course, to the notion of tradition. Traditions are wonderful. I’m talking about routine, which is strikingly different. Halloween costumes have reached a point of bland mediocrity, and with so many adults now openly celebrating, the costume consumption has finally sauntered comfortably over the middle ground, where corporate spending is preferred in place of actual creativity. Halloween is a celebration of all things scary and spooky, right? Well, there is nothing less scary than uniformity. And what is a pre-fab costume but a pre-approved uniform? It seems that, in most people’s minds, there are only 50 or 60 approved outfits acceptable for Halloween (with a bonus 20 for whatever movie/cartoon is hot this year), and there is no thought as to extending beyond that.


There is a way to defeat this overwhelming wave of sameness and uniformity, of course, and Halloween junkies have been savvy to the secret for years: Make your own damn costume. The elements are already right there at your fingertips. You can make your own. You can apply your own makeup. You can buy your own coats at Goodwills and used clothing stores. You can paint your own boots, alter your own wigs, paste on your own fake mustaches. As a teen — and this may speak more to my personal experience than to anything universal — it seemed that pre-fab costumes were considered incredibly gauche, and that a “proper” Halloween costume involved legwork and creativity and self-construction. Buying a costume in a bag and throwing it on was last-minute, Halloween-spirit-free nonsense for people who didn’t care. There seems to have been a shift, and now the latter is the more popular option. Let’s bring things back around.

And you know what? Your costume will be all the better for being handmade. The slight shabbiness or screen inaccuracies speak louder to your Halloween-loving character. When I see a 10-year-old in a pre-fab Spider-Man outfit, I see only a kid who likes Spider-Man. Hardly a novelty. If I see a kid in an old sweatsuit that he clearly colored on, and ironed patterns onto, and altered to make look kind of like a Spider-Man outfit, I see a dedicated fan or both Spider-Man and of Halloween.

Another gripe about pre-fab costumes — and this is a mere practical concern — is that they don’t fit. I’ve tried on a couple in my day (usually for non-Halloween-related events) and found that they are tailor made for a being that has no real human dimensions. Waistlines are too high, legs are too short, chests cave in, and sleeves have uneven lengths. These are costumes made for that hunchback character from 300. And don’t get me started on that awful, puffy, fake musculature that is now a standard detail on all superhero costumes. Raise your arms in one of those things, and you suddenly have pectoral muscles on your chin. I have yet to encounter a person who manages to look comfortable in a pre-fab costume. So in addition to offending one’s creative sensibilities, these costumes also tend to look bad.

So if you’re offended by the fact that the costume shop doesn’t have the costume you like, or that women are only offered “sexy” versions of pop characters, the solution remains in front of you. It is a simple and elegant solution that communicates your love of the holiday, your creative spirit, and your dedication. There’s a way to get a better-looking costume, a cheaper costume, and a more fun costume: Make it yourself. You have the means. There’s no reason not to go for it.

Unless you’re under the age of 4. Then pre-fab costumes are fine.