If you always buy ready-made Halloween costumes, Doug Banner thinks you're bypassing a great opportunity.
"How do you take things, and turn them into other things? That's true creative thinking — it's missing, and I see this profoundly at the university level," says Banner, who teaches art at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. He also organizes hundreds of kids and parents every year to make costumes for the city's animal-themed Procession of the Species parade. "If creative neural pathways haven't been used as a child, you're not going to instantly create them in an adult."
Besides which, who relishes taking the kids into a store stocked with pricey and/or adult-themed outfits? You're better off at a thrift store, guiding your child's developing neural pathways in a more positive direction. "A trip to the thrift store becomes a treasure hunt," he says. "Figure out how to use things a different way."
Or search your house, or get permission to look through a relative's junk. This is one time that clutter is useful. Can you recycle something before it hits the landfill? Knobs off a junked stove can be glued to baseball hats, making weird eyes. The heating coils from a trashed toaster, stuck to a hat, make bouncy hair. An old kitchen colander becomes a knight's helmet.
Asking Banner for costume ideas is like turning on a faucet. "Stick pipe cleaners out of an old colander, now you're a sea urchin. An old bike helmet makes great armature for headdresses. Build a dragon head off the front, out of foil and duct tape. You can stick all kinds of things on a bike helmet. You can drill into it. Wearing it, you can still see, and you've got mobility."
Here's how to make a wig: "Take a baseball cap, cut off and discard the bill. Hot-glue yarn or raffia, layers of it, all around the skullcap. Tie back the yarn hanging in front of the face."
Look for anything that can be draped and belted. Curtains, sheets and old clothes are cheap sources of fabric. "You can do a lot with a folded piece of outrageous fabric from a thrift store," he says. "Cut a neck hole, get a belt, you've got a wizard's robe. Make a conical hat, or find a wig. (Or) take a single-layer rectangle of fabric, fold the top corners down, attach a cord, you've got a fancy cape."
Or, embellish the back of your cape with a star, letter or other unique symbol. Now you're a superhero.
"The point is to be creative," says Banner, who offers more ideas:
Fairy: Cut fabric into long, 1-inch-wide strips. Knot strips, with both ends hanging long, onto a long clothesline or rope. Wrap rope around child's trunk. Fashion wings from coat hangers. "Instant fairy, with long strips fluttering in the wind."
Zombie: "Rip up old clothes and put them on. If you're using face paint, get the kind that's hypoallergenic, nontoxic and water-soluble. Avoid oil-based stage makeup; it has too many additives, plus it doesn't come out of clothes." Or use watercolors. "They're not as vibrant, but they're safe."
Cat: Use regular makeup to draw a black triangle nose, whiskers, arched eyebrows. "No need to go overboard. The younger the child, the more leeway you have."
Hobbit: Glue cotton batting on shoes, for hairy feet. Cut pants short, add a jacket or vest. Use hair spray to mess up hair, and face putty to make points on ears.
Smartphone or tablet: "Make a sandwich board from cardboard to wear over shoulders. Decorate as desired."
Knight: Fold a rectangle of fabric in half; cut a neck hole in the middle of the fold. Cut bottom half of fabric tunic, front and back, into strips (still attached to main piece). Draw crest on front with markers. Add a belt to tie it all together.