Last minute Halloween costumes ideas for adults, kids and pets

Nothing to wear on Halloween? No problem! Here's how to cobble together a winning costume on the cheap — including some of the season's hottest trends.
Image: Robot costume
A robot can easily be made out of different sized boxes, duct tape and aluminum foil.Carol Yepes / Getty Images
Get the Better newsletter.
SUBSCRIBE
By Nicole Spector

All month long, Halloween fans have been waiting, and finally it’s here: the weekend before the big day. What exactly does that mean? Well, if you’re a fan of this spooky, weird holiday, there's probably a costume party on your calendar.

I’m a Halloween zealot and had my costume idea (Persephone) all figured out back in August. Then, life happened and I put the whole thing off. Now, I’m due to be at a costume party in 24 hours and I have no costume. There’s no time left to order off Amazon or any other site, and while there are plenty of retail stores still touting Halloween costumes, I know from past experience that the shelves by now will be ransacked, the lines will be insufferable and the prices will be outrageously high.

The obvious solution to my problems is to DIY my Halloween costume. But where do I begin, and how can I keep it really cheap and easy? I spoke with master crafters to learn their favorite tips for making costumes in a pinch.

Let Google guide you in turning old clothes into new Halloween wonders

Alexa Westerfield, a DIY crafting expert and the mind behind The Swell Designer blog suggests that you don’t necessarily need to spend a dime on your costume. The centerpiece of costume can be as simple as a shirt, and you’re just a Google search away from discovering a slew of ideas on how to transform it for Halloween.

“Have a red shirt and nothing else? Search for a ‘costume using a red shirt’ and you'll find a bevy of options available at your fingertips,” says Westerfield. “In today's technological age, whipping together a costume from things laying around the house can be done in five minutes with some quick and savvy searching skills. Look up ideas like ‘easy costume ideas from your closet’, ‘T-shirt costume ideas’, or ‘punny costumes’.”

Don’t just consider thrift stores, but also hardware and even auto parts shops

If you don’t have any clothes you want to sacrifice for a costume (because let’s be real: fake blood, glitter, and all that other decorative jazz tends to get everywhere), consider the local Goodwill and other thrift stores for cheap threads. But don’t stop your search there; Candy Keane, a cosplaying mom and founder of Geek Mamas says you should also check out hardware stores and even auto parts shops.

“You can find a lot of last minute costume materials at the hardware store or even auto parts store,” Keane says. “For example: if you were a pirate last year but want to use those brown boots for your Superman costume and need them to be red, you don't have to buy a new pair — just buy a can of upholstery spray paint at the auto store and you can turn them any color without the cracking and chipping you'd get from regular paint. The paint there is made for changing the color of car seats, so it actually dyes the material.”

Ace Hardware has a whole section devoted to Halloween decor, and you can discover cool things like this battery-operated wreath for $10 (enter your zip code to learn of local in-store availability), which could possibly be reworked into a pretty awesome accessory for a Greek goddess or a fairy. I was surprised to learn that Home Depot sells ready-made Halloween costumes, so if you’re in a pinch and you want to buy a premade costume, you might have better luck checking out this retailer than say, Target or Walmart, which is where everyone else is going for that last minute buy.

No time to sew? Spend $10 on a hot glue gun instead

I have a sewing machine I’ve been meaning to learn the ropes of for oh, 10 years or so, but even if I did know my way around it, do I really have the time (or the supplies) to tailor an entire costume? The answer is a hard no, and fortunately, it doesn’t matter, because a hot glue gun can get usually get the job done fast.

“Entire outfits can be hot glued together,” says Keane. “Just glue along the seam where you would sew. My mom made me an entire jester suit by hot glueing the entire thing together. It lasted for years. Just remember to always hand wash it and never dry clean.”

Get the better newsletter.

Another perk of hot glue guns? They’re pretty inexpensive. You can order one on Amazon for under $10. For $11.79, you can buy one in-store at Target, just check to be sure they have them in stock before you make the trip.

Turn last year’s Cinderella into this year’s zombie Cinderella

I have a handful of retired costumes that I don’t foresee myself wearing again. Rather than keeping these garments stored in dusty bins in the closet, I might want to repurpose one into something new.

“No one says you've got to start from scratch,” says Michael Bonebright, Consumer Analyst with DealNews.com. “Take a costume you've already got in your closet, and mess it up. Cut holes, add fake blood — your goal is to show that this character has had a really bad year. Maybe Cinderella is a zombie now.”

Hacks for pirates, witches, animals and Harry Potter costumes

According to a recent report from Pinterest, this Halloween we’re seeing top searches for costumes inspired by Powerpuff Girls, Stranger Things, Joker, Elton John, Freddie Mercury and other trendy pop culture phenomena. But we’re also seeing a lot of Halloween classics turn up on this most-searched list, including pirates, animals and robots — all of which are pretty simple to DIY.

“Pirate costumes are always popular,” says Beth Gawlik, blogger at MisFit Parenting. “For men, pull out a distressed pair of pants and use a pair of scissors to make them even more ragged. If you don't own a ragged pair of pants, pick up a cheap pair from a thrift store. Add a button-down shirt, leave it untucked and don't button it all the way. If you own a vest or can find one cheap at a thrift store, layer that on top. Finally, tie a bandanna on your head. Leather shoes, boots or sandals can complete the look. If you're going to a party inside or it's really warm where you live, you might even consider going barefoot.”

Women can also employ an untucked button-down shirt with a vest, but instead of pants they might consider “a long, flowy off the shoulder dress or a long skirt,” Gawlik says. “You can complete the look with leather shoes, boots or sandals. Wear a bandanna on your head or tie it around a ponytail.”

A cute animal costume is also super easy to DIY

“All you need to buy, if anything, is ears and a tail,” says Gawlik. “For a black cat, pair a black shirt with black leggings/pants and/or a black skirt. If you're just a little bit crafty, you can make some ears out of cardboard and attach them to barrettes or a black headband to keep them on your head. For the simplest of tails, you can just cut a long piece of black construction paper and pin it to your pants or skirt, [or] create a more substantial tail with a long black tube sock or one leg of a pair of black nylons. Stuff your tail with tissues if you don't have any cotton stuffing on hand. A black scarf folded into a tube shape and pinned works well, too. You can repurpose these ideas for just about any animal. Wear orange clothes to become a fox, spotted clothes for a leopard, or brown clothes for a rabbit.”

Noelle Collins, family lifestyle blogger at Living And Loving Your Best Life, vouches for the fairly simple process of making a robot costume for a child.

“A robot can easily be made out of different sized boxes, duct tape, a box cutter (to cut out a hole for the face), and aluminum foil to cover any part of the box that the duct tape doesn't,” Collins says. “We get a lot of boxes from Amazon, and using them for a costume [is] a great way to recycle; however, if you don't have saved boxes, most grocery stores are happy to save boxes for you if you ask and are willing to go to the store during or right after the times they stock the shelves. Shoe boxes work well to make robot arms, the boxes can be connected with a glue gun or clear packing tape in areas where it needs to be flexible. Permanent markers in different colors could be used to draw designs of different shapes on the robot once it's all put together, and the great part about this costume is most kids can help put it together.”

Portrait of a pre teen girl dressed as a woodland deer in a homemade costume using fabric flowers, felt and fur pinned to a golden velvet dress.Cyndi Monaghan / Getty Images

Make makeup the centerpiece of your costume, with guidance from Instagram tutorials

Keep in mind that a great costume doesn’t have to depend on apparel, you can create all kinds of looks using makeup.

“If you're into makeup, then the clothing part of your costume barely matters,” says Bonebright, adding that you don’t necessarily need to buy any new products. “Just about every beauty guru on YouTube and Instagram puts out Halloween tutorials, not to mention the many artists who do this all year long.”

Keane points out that an eye shadow palette can be a perfect tool for creating a variety of ghastly looks. “Bruises can be done with purple, black and green [eyeshadow]. For burns use browns and dark blush,” she says. “You can cover a larger area by crushing a bit of eye shadow and mixing it with lotion for a sheer coverage, or use a stiff blush brush for solid coverage. The eye shadow actually gives off a neat sheen you don't get with liquid or cream makeup.”

Want your dog in on the fun? Repurpose an old T-shirt

There’s nothing more darling than a reasonably annoyed dog in a Halloween costume, but pet apparel can be pricey, and sometimes these adorable garbs don’t always work out as pictured. I spent $20 on what looked like the perfect batwing costume for one of our dogs, but said dog was absolutely miserable in the bulky contraption and kept thwacking them into furniture so that they were sliding off the whole night.

A cheaper and more comfortable costume for your pup probably already exists in your closet. Russell Hartstein, a certified dog/cat behaviorist and trainer and the CEO of Fun Paw Care, suggests cutting up a T-shirt or even an old bed-sheet as a costume. You can draw on the shirt with a sharpie, or if say, you want your dog to be Batman, use a black shirt and iron on a Batman patch.

"Keep it simple and let your furry friend compliment your costume in a humorous yet simple way,” adds Westerfield. “For example, are you [and your partner or friend] going as salt and pepper? Draw an ampersand on your dog's tee to be the accent. Or try modifying their collar to make a tutu, flower or a funny tag.”

More on BETTER

Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.