Seattle's Child

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cheap costumes

A toddler naps in a borrowed pirate get-up. (Photo by Jillian O'Connor)

Thrifty Halloween costumes: Cute with low carbon footprint

How one mom minimizes waste and cost on baby and tot costumes

Halloween. You love the tradition of kids roaming the neighborhood, trailing their costumes and candy bags along the sidewalk, cheerfully shouting “trick-or-treat!”

And yet you can’t help but cringe at the consumption and waste that accompanies this October holiday. Especially the costumes.

With a little planning, you can create meaningful, low-waste costumes for (and with!) your children, and enjoy the day by following your little pumpkins and princesses around as they delight in the magic of this holiday. 

Here are a few tips to help you enjoy Halloween without overspending or adding to the landfill.

[ See also: More ideas for DIY Halloween costumes, Halloween-inspired crafts and projects to do at home ]


(Photo by Jillian O’Connor)

Look around. What do you already have?

My babies were just over 6 months old on their first Halloween. They couldn’t have cared less about what they were wearing, but it’s basically required to dress your infants up for Halloween, right?

And with twins, there are loads of creative ideas for Halloween costumes — cookies and milk, ketchup and mustard, peas and carrots. Any classic pair can be easily turned into two costumes. 

After looking through ideas and considering how to put a costume set together, I decided that my babies would be salt and pepper for Halloween. 

I started the costume with something we already owned: a white, long-sleeve onesie for the “salt” baby. 

What could you use?

Then, of course, I purchased a black long-sleeve onesie for the “pepper” baby. 

I also ordered two grey beanies. These would serve as the salt and pepper shaker tops.

I purchased some grey felt, cut out some letters and circles, and loosely stitched an S on the white shirt, a P on the black shirt, and a handful of small circles on the hats (to represent the holes in the shaker tops). 

After a very adorable baby Halloween gathering, I cut the felt pieces off the clothes and, voila! We had new, useful staples added to our wardrobe. 

Use recycled materials 

Fast-forward to the following Halloween. Festivities were certainly limited due to COVID, but we still wanted to do costumes for our twins. 

I’m not sure where the original inspiration came from, but I decided to use burlap bags to make my toddlers into bags of coffee beans. We almost didn’t have to purchase anything for this costume. 

I picked up some recycled burlap coffee bean bags from a local coffee shop, cut the burlap up, and loosely stitched some holes in for heads and arms. I’m not much of a seamstress, but that didn’t matter at all for these loose-fitting costumes. 

Instead of buying black hats (I couldn’t find any I liked and that I thought they would wear again), I purchased some black fabric and fashioned two loose hats with a simple stitch, and rubber bands. In just a few steps, we had coffee bean hats.

The hardest part of this costume? At 1 ½ years old, my toddlers were not interested in wearing costumes. My son had his on for about 10 minutes. My daughter, not at all!

OK, OK — you might not be into hand-making a costume for your child. 

No worries! Here are some other methods to keep your cost down and your consumption low this Halloween.

cheap costumes

This pirate costume was borrowed from a neighbor’s child. Sleep away, matey! The price was right. (Photo by Jillian O’Connor)

Buy Nothing or local parenting groups/forums

We find and give all kinds of items on Buy Nothing and other parenting groups. Halloween costumes seem perfect for these sharing economy groups. 

Simply search through your local group to see if you find anything that might work for you, or write a post describing what you’re looking for. You will likely be surprised at what might happen. A neighbor just around the corner may have a firefighter costume that will fit your toddler perfectly. 

Have extra costumes from past Halloweens? Offer them up on these forums and help other families find their perfect costumes for this year. You can either gift or loan your costume. The only rule for these kinds of exchanges is to find an arrangement that works well for both families. 

Consignment stores

Check in with some of the Seattle-area’s fabulous consignment shops to see if they carry costumes.

Can’t find anything locally? Search online for consignment shops that carry and ship costumes right to you.

Whether you trick-or-treat or enjoy the festivities in another way, here’s to creating fun Halloween memories this year without breaking the bank or creating excess waste.

Good ‘ol Goodwill

Let’s face it. Goodwill (and other thrift stores) is the mothership of recycled items and clothing and a great place to search out low cost costume bits and pieces (or full costumes). The fabric industry is one of the heaviest pollutants when it comes to climate change. So skip buying new fabric and head to the mothership instead.

How about a costume swap?

If you live in a neighborhood or school community with lots of kids and good community connection, why not organize a costume swap? All you need is a yard, a couple hours, some flyers or the community email list. Families bring all their old costumes. The organizer lays them all out and when you “open the gates” the swapping begins. Note: Remind parents to that there is no promise that they will find a costume of equal value and all should be willing to give away the costume they bring whether or not they find something to replace it.

*Seattle’s Child staff contributed to this article.

Find fall fun:

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7 farms where your family can go apple picking

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About the Author

Ellie White

Ellie had the privilege of growing up in our beautiful Pacific Northwest. She currently lives in the Green Lake neighborhood with her husband and twin toddlers.