the NonchalantDad: Do-It-Yourself Halloween Costumes!

Last year at a Halloween Party for our son's school I counted numerous store-bought outfits and lamented a time, when I was young, when outfits were simpler and a lot more fun. Of course, like nearly everything else, Halloween has become a big commodity and you will find lots and lots of costumes off the rack from all your favorite cartoon, video game, and celebrity sources. It's enough to make you want to throw in the towel - and many parents have done so. But, let's remember that this is an occasion for children, and shouldn't be an inconvenience or pain in the back side. We, as parents, told ourselves then that this year we'd make more of an effort to bring back some personal value to the Halloween tradition - something lost in all the hassle and parties and demands. So, one way in which to do this was to create our own costumes - build them ourselves - everyone involved. That's not a bad idea when you have a 3 year old who will pretty much wear whatever costume is presented to her. But, when you have a willful 7 year old who shouts out 'Transformer' when you ask him what he'd like to be... well.... the game is a little different.

What we did is one part bold-faced lie (for a good cause!) and another part adventure. I told my son that there were no Transformer outfits to be had - that the robot pieces made it to hard to make them in a factory. The only way we could have a Transformer outfit was to make one ourselves! But, if we did make one ourselves, we could pretty much make whatever incredible thing we could perceive in our imaginations. "How awesome would that be?" I said. We gambled that he would like the adventure, and sure enough, once we all sat down at the kitchen table and started drawing pictures of the outfit and arguing over whether there should be a mega-shield that lights up over the eyes or not, or a jet-pack-spewing-fire thing attached to the back of the robot outfit, he was hooked. The idea that his 'Transformer' (we preferred to call it a robot) outfit could be made pretty near to his interpretation of what it should look like, he was excited to make it himself. And, once our daughter saw how fun the process was, she was hooked too. We had her trying to draw Princesses and Doggys - all colors, shapes, and sizes.

The best thing we did was to start with the table full of drawings. Our son, and daughter, were off and running with wild imaginations as to what we could possibly make. They both conceived of wonderful and fantastical things - our daughter mainly scribbling stuff but talking wildly of what she saw! Then, we slowly but surely whittled the ideas down to more practical means, excitedly arguing over whether or not to have a Mega-Shield that lights up and comes down over the eyes (impractical), or whether or not to have a fire-spewing jet pack attached to the back of his outfit for easy escape (practical - taking into account what his imagination would do rather than what the jet-pack would actually do). As for our daughter, she got in on the idea of what kind of princess she'd like to be - a pink one, a purple one, a green one, and so on. This information we relayed to Nana (I'll explain in a minute). As for a doggy, we worked on what kind of doggy she'd like to be: big ears or little, spots or not, long tail or short, etc. Basically, you tailor fit the process to the imagination of the little one's age. Whatever it was, it was working. No longer was there a desire to simply go out and buy an outfit. We were going to make our own super cool robot Transformer outift! We were going to make our super pretty princess and doggy outfit!

Of course, we are the type of family where there is a grandparent involved. My mother, the kid's Nana, has always been keen on making an outfit for the kids. She's great with the traditional ones. So, not wanting to hurt her feelings and have her involved, even though she lives thousands of miles away, we encouraged her to go ahead and make an outfit too. After all, we reasoned that there would be a few parties leading up to Halloween and, our daughter especially, wouldn't mind a change in costumes. So, we relayed the info to Nana regarding the Princess outfit. And, between you and I, if that didn't work - well, Nana would be happy just to see a photo of the little one in the costume... so we couldn't lose. And, of course, if you can't or won't have time to make an outfit for the kids, then at least you can go to the effort of making the drawings with the kids and then farming out the labor to a relative or friend. Either way, the kids are involved! And, that is what's important.

Next, we engaged in the challenge of quickly rummaging through our storage shed for material that was not used in prior building works. Mostly, we were in search of cardboard, piping, etc etc.... The search created excitement too. Each item that was found, or picked up, was presented with a comment like "..oh COOL, we could make a sword-arm-guard from this!!!" It was the kind of excitement and bonding I was hoping for - we were having fun. Even our little girl was starting to want to be a princess robot.... hmmm! Now, whatever we couldn't find in the storage shed we went out and found at the hardware store. I had told my children that I didn't want to buy a bunch of stuff that we couldn't recycle for other projects, nor waste money or materials buying stuff that would only go to wasted. In the end, considering my son's robot-Transformer outfit, the only thing we'd not possibly use again was the tape and a plastic grate that we used for his face mask - but even that we could recycle in the plastic bin. As for our daughters outfit(s) we could possibly hand those on to other kids in the future - another good idea alternative to just buying an outfit of the racks.

The ingredients we sought for the Robot were simple: Silver tape, plastic piping, silver conduits, a disused plastic painting tray turned upside down, a small metal air vent (attached upside down for collecting candy in his 'tummy'), cardboard, a purchased plastic drain grate for the face, and one canister of silver spray paint. It doesn't take much - especially once you engage their imagination.

After dinner, the other night, we sat down as a group with scissors, tape, material, Halloween music (optional), and general excitement and slowly but surely - in the space of a few hours - concocted some strange looking stuff. The kids were having fun as each piece of their costumes was assembled and in the end our little girl was running around in her doggy outfit barking at everyone and our son was standing in front of our full length mirror muttering all sorts of Transformer lingo to himself while turning on and off the little light we attached to his belly. We had succeeded in returning the occasion of Halloween costume making into a family gathering.... and what a laugh it turned out to be!

Now, with home made costumes there are some imperfections. For one thing, our little guy couldn't function properly or easily for long periods in his costume. After a bit, he had to take off his mask at the school Halloween party (he also grew a bit intimidated with all the other kids coming up to him to see who was inside the robot) because it got a little claustrophobic. And our daughter's crown kept flying off every time she jumped with excitement. This reminded me of the time one of my older brothers dressed as a home made Jack-the-Box and was unable to operate easily while trick-or-treating in the neighborhood and was knocked off a porch by a door opening.... a big box with a dangling head all caught up in the bushes! But, all in all the kids were loving it and we vowed then and there that we'd try this out every Halloween to come.... until, of course, the kids get embarrassed of us!

And, the latest? Now our little girl now definitely wants to be a robot too! So, we are thinking we will make her a little cardboard robot outfit and somehow incorporate the princess dress or doggy outfit over that... his and her robot/Transformers!!! Here we go!!!!!!!!! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

please send us an email with your home-made costumes so that we can share them with everyone for ideas for next year! just send us an email to: karim'at'nonchalantmom.com