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12 Secrets Halloween Costume Designers Want You to Know

Choosing a Halloween costume can feel like a hugely important decision to many children and adults, so we turned to costume designers and industry experts for their tips on how to come up with the perfect costume.

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Halloween shopping starts early

It may seem ridiculously early to many shoppers, but there’s a good reason why stores begin to stock Halloween products over the summer. According to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Annual Halloween Spending Survey, many consumers start their Halloween shopping in September or earlier. Nearly 40 percent make their candy and costume purchases during the first two weeks of October, almost 25 percent shop in the two weeks leading up to October 31, and the remaining 35 percent start shopping in September or earlier. If you’re on a budget, try making one of these cheap Halloween costumes for kids that you can totally DIY.

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Don’t forget about your pet

If you’ve purchased a costume for your cat or dog, count yourself among the 29 million people who plan to dress up their pet. “One of the biggest trends this year is the growth of spending on pet costumes,” said Phil Rist, executive vice president of Prosper Insights & Analytics, which conducted NRF’s survey. We think these are some of the best Halloween costumes for dogs.

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Inspiration comes from many places

Inspiration for the perfect costume can come from anywhere, but the three most common sources are online searches, retail stores, and friends and family, according to the NRF. Unsurprisingly, women (25 percent) are more likely than men (12 percent) to use Pinterest to research ideas, but men (19 percent) are more likely than women (10 percent) to use YouTube. For more inspiration, check out these vintage Halloween costumes that could still be worn today.

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Top costumes for kids

Remember that Halloween when you couldn’t turn a corner without bumping into a pint-size Elsa or Anna? You’re only slightly less likely this year to run into a sister from Frozen; they’re 9th on the list of top Halloween costumes for children. So what will be the most popular? According to the NRF, most kids are planning to dress as their favorite princess character. In the number two spot is a superhero, followed by Spider-man at number three.

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What adults want to wear

Superhero and Spider-man made the list of NRF’s top 10 adult Halloween costumes (numbers three and ten, respectively), as well as Zombie and Avengers character. Witch is ranked number one, followed by vampire and superhero, suggesting that grown-ups appear to prefer scary over sparkly. Trick-or-treating with kids? Here are the best Halloween costumes for families.

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Step away from the sewing machine

If the last time you operated a sewing machine was 8th grade Home Economics, save yourself the hassle of stitching together a homemade Halloween costume. “Tape, hot glue guns, and staplers can do amazing things,” says costume designer and Broadway dresser Sam Brooks. After all, unless your goal is to create a long-lasting and reusable costume, your DIY creation only has to survive one night.

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Mix it up

When skipping a store-bought costume, Katharine Tarkulich suggests putting your own spin on a well-known character. “Whether that’s doing a superhero as a pin-up, turning a historical figure into steampunk, or combining two things you really love into one unique costume, the sky really is the limit,” says the freelance costume designer. Mashing up multiple ideas is also a fun way to brainstorm clever Halloween costumes for couples.

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Focus on the details

“You can create three different costumes with the same dress just by switching up your accessories and makeup,” says Katie Echeverry, the CEO and founder of Unique Vintage. When going the DIY route, Echeverry recommends keeping your outfit simple and getting crafty with the extras. Take a sleeveless black shift dress, for example. Add pearls, sunglasses, and a top knot, and you’re Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A white jacket, red gloves, and a wig transforms you into Cruella De Vil, and to become a cat, all you need are ears, a tail, and some drawn-on whiskers.

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Source supplies from around your house

Need craft supplies and other accessories your DIY costume? Brooks suggests using what you have on hand first. “You’ll definitely feel like you’re in the ‘MacGyver School of Costuming,’ but it pays off,” he says. You may not end up constructing insect wings out of tape, saran wrap, and old hangers like Brooks, but you can easily become a “Cereal Killer” with cereal boxes and plastic utensils. Here are more punny Halloween costumes you can try this year.

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Don’t wear your Sunday best

A word of caution before sourcing a costume from your closet: “Anything can happen on Halloween, and people are usually covered in makeup and whatnot, so stains are likely,” says Brooks. So if you’re going as the Bride of Frankenstein, you might want to think twice before wearing your wedding dress as your costume—even if you still fit into it! Here are 17 easy Halloween makeup ideas that almost anyone can master.

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Get yourself some toupee tape

Topstick is technically a grooming tape meant for holding toupees in place, but the double-sided adhesive strips can solve most “sticky” situations, according to costume designer Stephanie Levin. Going Greek? Use Topstick to prevent your toga from having a wardrobe malfunction. Borrowing your tall pal’s bell-bottoms? Try it to temporarily hem them for the night.

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Visit your local thrift store

Looking for inspiration? Levin suggests taking a trip to a thrift store. “You can find items that are clearly a new costume, you’re able to put together a whole look,” she says. Thrift stores are also great places to find finishing pieces like a cane, an old-lady handbag, or a trench coat. You might even find what you’d need to put together one of these 14 clever Halloween costumes for work.