dog in costume

9 Tips for Horrorific & Humane Halloween Costumes

by Marsha Rakestraw

Dressing up on Halloween isn’t just for kids.

According to the 2011 National Retail Federation survey, almost half of adults plan to don costumes for Halloween this year, and more than 1 in 10 pet guardians will adorn their furry friends.

Americans are expected to spend $2.5 billion on Halloween costumes this year. (That’s not a typo.)

But those costumes often come with a larger price than is listed on the tag.

In addition to many costumes becoming another part of the trash on November 1, most commercial costume fabrics contain hazardous chemicals, such as polyvinyl chloride or vinyl.

Make-up –- often thought to be a safer choice than masks –- often includes toxic ingredients, such as formaldehyde, parabens or phthalates.

Additionally, many costumes are made in sweatshops.

And, have you noticed the kinds of costumes available for kids today? Marketers gleefully promote popular media characters and products through costumes; costumes for girls and young women are becoming more sexualized; costumes for boys often celebrate violence; and, some costumes promote biases and stereotypes.

For citizens who want to take part in the costumed fun and still commit to doing more good and less harm this Halloween, consider these 9 tips:

  1. Pay attention to the messages costumes convey about gender, other cultures, violence, stereotypes, etc. Choose for yourself and help your child choose costumes that support and nurture positive messages. (Vegan zombie, anyone?)
  2. Get together with friends, neighbors, co-workers and other parents and have a costume swap, so that costumes can be reused year after year. Or, participate in National Costume Swap Day.
  3. Check out thrift stores; they often offer great bargains. If you can’t find the perfect costume, look for separate pieces to combine. Also try sources like Craigslist and the Buy Nothing groups on Facebook for free or low-cost solutions.
  4. Invest in making costumes yourself. Have costume-making parties with other parents or friends. Be original and creative. There are plenty of ideas online.
  5. Work with your kids to make their costumes out of “junk” around the house. It’s inexpensive, reuses objects, is a great bonding experience, and empowers kids to be part of the creative process. (You can do the same for your own costume.)
  6. Look for fair trade and sweatshop-free costumes and costumes made from eco-friendly materials. More online stores are offering them.
  7. Combine costumes with education. Kids (or you) can dress up as endangered species and share a quick factoid when people ask “What are you?” Or, travel door-to-door covered in plastic bags (or bottles) to bring attention to consumer waste.
  8. Use healthy, humane, eco-friendly cosmetics for make-up. Search online for specific products, and use sources such as the Leaping Bunny and the Skin Deep databases.
  9. Look to craft and similar magazines (online, too) for recipes for homemade Halloween make-up made with simple ingredients like cornstarch and food coloring.


Image via Crystal Agozzino/Flickr.


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