Five Tips for Picking Your Family Halloween Costume

Posted by Lauren Thoman

Via Patton Oswalt's Twitter


For many adults who never outgrew the joy of dressing up as our favorite characters, Halloween costumes aren't just reserved for our kids. Whether it's to wear to work, school, a local festival, or just around the neighborhood, coming up with a family costume can be a lot of fun and a great activity that adults and kids alike will look forward to year after year.

However, deciding on and putting together a group costume that everyone is happy about can also be stressful, especially if your family is full of strong personalities, each with their own opinions about what they are and are not willing to wear. My family has been coordinating our costumes for the past several years (you'll be seeing a few of our family photos in this post), and below are five tips that we've learned throughout the process to maximize fun and minimize angst.


Via Neil Patrick Harris' Instagram

1. Pick a theme everyone in the family can be excited about.

For geeky parents, it's easy to get caught up in picking costumes that are from your fandoms, or would look super cool. Trust me, I get it. I have uttered the phrase “we're running out of good Hobbit years” every October since 2013. But it's important to keep in mind that no matter how cute they'd look in those fake hairy feet, your kids are more than adorable props. These are the costumes they'll wear Trick-or-Treating, in Halloween parades, maybe even to school. They need to feel excited and confident about what they're wearing, not apathetic, confused, or – worst of all – embarrassed.

So make it fun. Get the whole family brainstorming about the characters, books, shows, or movies that you all love. Resist the urge to overrule your kids if they just can't seem to muster up enough excitement about your “great idea,” and really listen to their suggestions and concerns. If you can't get a unanimous consensus, remember, there's always next year (or at least, this is what I keep telling myself. Someday, Lord of the Rings. Someday).


2. Think outside the box.

It's easy to consider only pre-established groups of characters when trying to come up with a group costume, but don't limit yourself. If there's no specific group your whole family loves, what about a unifying theme? Fairy tale characters, superheroes, aliens… the possibilities are endless.

And you don't even have to tie yourself to actual characters – inanimate objects are fair game too, and can inspire some of the best objects. So let your imagination fly free, and don't be afraid to dress up as a mushroom, or a pocketwatch, or a hat, or anything else that fits your theme and sets you apart.


3. Don't be afraid to genderbend.

The sad truth, especially for families that have girls, is it can be hard to find fandoms with enough awesome female characters for everyone. But don't despair; genderbending to the rescue! Genderbending does not mean putting a princess dress on a boy, or a prince's cloak and sword on a girl – although you totally could if that's what your kid wants to do – but rather changing the gender of the character itself, and then creating a modified version of their original costume to fit the new gender.

Many popular costuming choices are already readily available in a genderbent version. Our first year of doing a family costume, my daughters wanted to be Iron Man and Captain America, and, as you'll see in the photo above, a quick Google search turned up sparkly little girl dress versions of both costumes. But even if a genderbent version of the costume your kid wants isn't on Amazon, that's no reason to give up hope. Consider the thing that makes that character recognizable – is it a mask? A costume or uniform? A color scheme? An accessory? – and then brainstorm ways to incorporate that defining characteristic into a new costume that better suits the person wearing it. Remember, dressing up is only fun if everyone actually likes and feels comfortable in what they're wearing.


4. Consider your timetable and your budget.

Every year, on November 1, my family starts excitedly brainstorming ideas for next year's family costume, determined that next year we will plan far enough in advance to do something truly grandiose.

And every year, around October 1, we remember that we forgot to talk about it at all after November 1 of the previous year.

If you have months to pull together your group costume, you can take your time in crafting each individual piece by hand, or special ordering components that take weeks to arrive. If this is you, more power to you. But if you, like us, tend to put off the planning until just a few weeks before, maybe don't go for the super-elaborate theme, and instead stick with costumes you can quickly and easily purchase or assemble out of your own closets.

Similarly, decide how much you're prepared to spend on a family costume ahead of time, and stick to it. It's easy to get carried away buying accessories and wigs and jewelry, but all those little pieces add up, and it's not worth breaking the bank over. If you find your costs creeping higher than you'd anticipated, go back to that one defining characteristic for each costume, and ask yourself if you really need to put your kid in fur from head to toe, or if a brown sweatsuit would work just as well.

If you really want to make a statement, but are limited on time and/or funds, focus the bulk of both on one costume that will make your group really pop, while the rest of you play supporting roles. Just make sure that your showpiece costume is worn by someone who's okay being the center of attention.


5. Remember to enjoy the process.

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it can be easy to get swept up in the finished product and forget that the main benefit of doing a family costume isn't the number of likes you can rack up on Instagram, but the experience of doing something fun and creative together as a family. So if, for example, your precious little R2-D2 decides the morning of Halloween that the costume you spent hours making for her, the costume that ties your whole theme together, the costume that she specifically requested and has been looking forward to wearing for weeks, is too embarrassing to wear and that's she'd rather Trick-or-Treat in the old Power Ranger costume stuffed in the back of her closet… take a deep breath, remind yourself that the important thing is that you had weeks of fun planning – and maybe see if you can talk her into at least taking a family photo before transforming into the Pink Ranger. 

Lauren Thoman

Lauren Thoman

Lauren is a writer of YA speculative fiction and a dedicated eater of queso. She lives in Middle Tennessee with her husband, two daughters, and a half-blind dog. When she’s not busy with her family, binge-watching TV shows, or writing books about dragons or superheroes, she can probably be found on Twitter, or in close proximity to coffee, tacos, or a bookstore.