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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 a Statista survey, almost 40 percent of consumers start their Halloween shopping in September or earlier. Forty-two percent make their candy and costume purchases during the first two weeks of October, 21 percent shop in the two weeks leading up to October 31, and the remaining 37 percent start shopping in September or earlier. Learn more about why stores put out Halloween decorations so early.


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 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 a National Retail Federation (NRF) survey. We think these are some of the best Halloween costumes for dogs.

14 Secrets Halloween Costume Designers Want You to KnowI AM NIKOM/Shutterstock

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 the most popular Halloween costume the year you were born.

Sequins and magic wand backgroundAna Muraca/Shutterstock

Top costumes for kids

Remember that Halloween when you couldn’t turn a corner without bumping into a pint-size Elsa or Anna? In 2019, you were only slightly less likely to run into a sister from Frozen; they were 9th on the list of top Halloween costumes for children. In fact, according to the NRF, most kids are planning to dress as their favorite princess character. In the number two spot is a superhero (any), followed by Spider-Man at number three. For 2020, Party City also expects to see kids and adults alike dressing up as the “essential worker” heroes that were all over the news this year, such as doctors, nurses, and firefighters. If you’re on a budget, try making one of these cheap Halloween costumes for kids that you can totally DIY.

Witch hat on wooden table. Halloween holiday conceptsirastock/Shutterstock

What adults want to wear

Superhero and Spider-Man also made the list of NRF’s top ten adult Halloween costumes for 2019 (numbers three and ten, respectively), as well as zombie and Avengers character (excluding Spider-Man). Witch is ranked number one, followed by vampire and superhero, suggesting that grown-ups appear to prefer scary over sparkly. This year, costumes will also be topical, with people (hopefully adults!) dressing up as the major players from the Netflix series Tiger King as well as choosing election-themed costumes. Trick-or-treating with kids? Here are the best Halloween costumes for families.

Sewing machineAgnes Kantaruk/Shutterstock

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.

hair tools and hairdressing concept - hairdryer, hot styler or curling iron, styling spray, pins and hair ties on white backgroundSyda Productions/Shutterstock

Mix it up

When skipping a store-bought costume, designer 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.

twisted strands of white pearls on a gray backgroundNatalia D/Shutterstock

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. Here are some more DIY Halloween costumes that you can whip up with ease.

deskSteve Cukrov/Shutterstock

Source supplies from around your house

Need craft supplies and other accessories for 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 has, but you can easily become a “Cereal Killer” with cereal boxes and plastic utensils. (Get it?) If you like that idea, you’ll love these other punny Halloween costumes you can try this year.

White long wedding dress on the hangerLidiia Kozhevnikova/Shutterstock

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! Make sure you know these 10 basic trick-or-treating safety tips.

Double-sided tapeEkaterina43/Shutterstock

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. Here are 20 easy Halloween makeup ideas that almost anyone can master.

Stylish clothes in the thrift shop. Mindfulness consumeringtartanparty/Shutterstock

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.

For more fun facts, costume ideas, traditions, candy inspiration, spooky entertainment, and updates on how October 31 will look different this year, check out our Halloween Guide.


  • Statista: “When will you begin shopping for Halloween?”
  • National Retail Federation: “Social media influencing near-record Halloween spending”
  • PR Newswire: “Party City Reveals New Trends To Help ‘You Boo You’ Safely This Halloween”

PJ Feinstein
PJ Feinstein is a communications professional with 15 years of writing, editing, marketing, public relations, and digital content experience. She specializes in developing engaging, easy-to-read, and on-brand content for websites, blogs, social media, and newsletters. An editorially-minded writer, she has covered a broad range of topics such as beauty, home decor, parenting, pop culture, and technology for a variety of outlets. In addition to managing her own personal lifestyle blog for nearly a decade, PJ has contributed to sites like Better Homes & Gardens, Brides, Cool Mom Picks, Glitter Guide, Oriental Trading, Artfully Walls, and others. PJ has had the privilege of speaking twice at Alt Summit, a premier business conference for bloggers, has been interviewed on Sirius XM radio, and once had a fashion question printed (and answered!) in Lucky Magazine.