Halloween is one of the most thrilling days of the year for young children. And of course, the main focus of all the excitement is choosing a really fantastic outfit to dress up in. As a parent, you’d like to make sure that Halloween costumes will look great and be easy to assemble, without endangering either your offspring or the environment.

Repurposed Gear

The simplest way to create a costume is by shopping your children’s closets — or your own — to find repurposable gear. EXAMPLE: a pint-sized pirate outfit can be put together in minutes using:

* Mommy’s discarded drape-y blouse (sew or glue on fabric patches for extra effect)
* two bandannas — one for headgear and the second as a swashbuckling sash
* the child’s own pants and boots.

You can add Halloween excitement to light colored, worn out clothing by drawing directly on it with felt tip markers. My son portrayed whales, squid, and smiley fish on an old pair of pale blue sweatpants as part of a one-of-a-kind “Day at the Beach” costume.

One Great Item

Often all it takes to give a kid that “dressed up for Halloween” feeling is a single truly outstanding item. Invest in an over-the-top tiara, a theater-quality fake beard made of human hair, or a flashy satin cape. All of these have several advantages: they can be reused many times, they will fit children of various shapes and sizes, they don’t interfere with comfortable movement, and they immediately put the wearer in character. As an experienced Mom, I would not recommend spending a lot on objects like canes or wands, which can get lost in the bustle of Halloween. (SAFETY CAUTION: These objects can also be used to start impromptu sword fights or to bop other youngsters over the head with — don’t ask how I know.)


“Sewing” is a scary word to many folks. But isn’t Halloween the time to face your fears? Try it one time –you may be surprised to discover that sewing is less challenging and more fun than you expected. A costume is the perfect newbie project; most designs are fairly loose and don’t require precise fitting. Using a purchased pattern will guide you step by step. Check out a pattern catalog online. You’ll find all sorts of costume styles for both kids and adults, including traditional witches and goblins, Disney heroes, steam punks, historical characters, and even disguises for the family dog.

TIPS: Use sturdy, machine washable fabric (ideally organic cotton or cruelty-free silk or wool) to craft costumes that may be used for years to come. Avoid petroleum-based polyester and vinyl, which can off-gas dangerous VOCs. If you’ll be sewing an outfit for a baby or toddler, choose a version that offers convenient access to the diaper area … for obvious reasons. Add elastic at the ankles of baggy pants; this makes it easy to adjust the length without causing a tripping hazard.


All Halloween costumes should be made of fire-resistant fabric. Keep in mind that “fire-resistant” doesn’t mean “fireproof.” Teach your youngsters the rules of fire safety and avoid decorating with open flames or highly flammable crepe paper and organic materials like dried cornstalks on Halloween.

Face paint can instantly transform a child into a different person, whether regal or frightening, and provides greater visibility than a mask. Buy non-toxic, organic paint — or make your own. If you happen to be in the Bay area at Halloween, splurge on a visit to a professional face painter for painting San Francisco style.


Once the holiday is done, costumes in good shape can be stored for next year, to be used again by someone in your family. Alternatively, swap with a neighbor who has kids about the same age as yours, or donate the outfits to charity. If the disguises have had their day and are too “well loved” to be worn one more Halloween, take them to your local recycling center.