I started getting awesome hand made costumes when I was just a baby. My mother hand sewed me a dragon costume when I was still just crawling. It had cute little bug eyes on top and everything. I looked pretty stink-en cute scooting around in it.
When I was small there was a little thrift store in a near by town called the mustard seed. You would go into this dimly lit store with worn wood floors that I imagine was built in the 1900's. The place was really old and looked as if it had been an old grocery store or something. At the mustard seed you would pay one dollar for a paper bag and what ever you could fit inside the bag was yours for that amazing price.
This was a treasure trove of dress up cloths for me. I had cocktail dresses with bright floral print on them. One was my absolute favorite. I would stand in the middle of the living room and spin in circles to make it fly out around me. The classic A cut 1950's dress would probably be worth a small fortune now days since collecting vintage clothing is a big deal. I kept all of my rhinestone decorated dresses, fur shawls from my great grandmother, purses and gloves in a chest in my room.
Aside from fabulous dress up clothing it was a great place to get supplies for halloween costumes. I decided on year to be a fortune teller. I bought the flimsy mask and a fabulous long black wig but found the complete black lace dress and amazing costume jewelry at the mustard seed. This was just the start though. Both my cousins, brother and I began putting serious time into thinking of things to be and some serious creative time went into making it happen.
Sometimes a costume was so good it would get reused. My cousins had gone out one year as a pickle and my brother reused the costume. The pickle was made from paper mache. It had fantastic rumpled texture to it and was a variegated dark green. It was the sweet kind of pickle in looks. The little ones you get at thanksgiving next to a tray of olives and some other small snack. My brother's whole body fit inside of it with a hole cut around his face and holes for his arms. About a foot of his legs stuck out of the bottom. It is kind of an alarming but funny story. We lived out in the middle of no where and so tricker treating sometimes required driving. The pickle costume was amazing but not super practical for getting in and out of the car so after several struggle stops and starts it was decided my brother would just stay in the pickle costume in the back seat. That night we were heading through the state land to go see my grandparents when my mom hit a deer. I clearly remember the silhouettes of candy flying around and my brother rolling around in the back seat in a giant pickle. No one was hurt. My mom wasn't driving fast at all. It was just a very unusual accident and kind of funny with a giant pickle rolling around in the back. This is a great idea for a classic halloween experiance. You can fit a nice coat under it if your trick-or-treating in a classic New York halloween where it will probably snow and sleet.
Back in the 80's someone had a brainstorm to make beer balls. These made fantastic halloween costumes. Astronauts were the first things to come to mind. My family drilled holes to breath of corse and created a really awesome astronaut helmet from the giant yellow beer ball. There are other ways to make spherical shaped masks. A not so traditional Chinese dragon type costume and aliens were pulled off by stapling paper Dixie cups with the opening facing out together. This created gigantic hollow balls you could stand in. Cups could be left out as an opening for people to see through. Pipe cleaners glitter and other accessories were added to make it even crazier looking.
Leonardo De Vinci
This was not for halloween but still in the fall. We had to dress up as a famous person, list some facts about them and have our classmates guess who we were. With some old chunky yarn my grandmother had salvaged from something out of the thrift store we made an amazing white beard and wig using a old laundry soap bottle as the structure to attach the beard to. The costume was dead on though and I only had a second of glory as everyone guessed right away who I was.
The Villain For A Science Fiction Play
Also not for halloween but still awesome. I was the bad guy in a science based play for 4H. The villain was from space and was stealing scientist's brains. A colander with christmas lights stuck through it made the most excellent villain brain sucking hat ever.
Another recycled costume was the leaf. Large kind of thin foam was cut out in a leaf shape with a polyester type fabric stretched over it. Two halves were sewn together in a sandwich with arm and face holes cut out. It worked much better then the pickle because it was flexible and easy to slip on and off.
My aunt took the cliché out of the halloween ghost costume by adding a cut out plastic jug to the face of the sheets. She used her artistic talent to transform old laundry soap bottle sides into a plastic face mask. She cut out the eyes nose and mouth pieces and then used a black permanent marker to draw really skeletal looking features onto the plastic mask. The plastic then had the sheet attached around the onside edge and draped down around the rest of the body. I think she tied bailing twine around the waists of the kids to keep the whole thing lined up correctly. All of these costumes happened a long time ago so some of the details are a little fuzzy. I was also in a sugar coma for most of it.
The Haunted Road
A friend of the family used to shut down their dirt road up in the hills of New York and host a haunted road. My aunt and mom created a barbecue bob prop for this. They used plywood to build three walls that soaped at the front. A large sponge with multiple tones of acrylic paint was dipped and then applied to the plywood to create bricks over the top of a grey base coat. a paper mashe man was maid and placed on a spit in the faux fire pit. My family dressed up as demons and barbecued bob for the haunted road. It was pretty amazing.
The all time best costume I saved for last. I decided one year I wanted to be an eyeball. My mom took quilting material. The kind with padding attached to cottony filling and cut them into elliptical shapes. She sewed these together to make a sphere. There was a hole left at the bottom and some recycled mesh from a old tent was used on the face. The pupal was where the mesh was used and the rest of the iris was hand drawn with permanent marker as well as some dramatic blood shot veins. The rest of the tent structure was used to give the eyeball structure. The thin plastic pvc pipe that was used to prop the tent was bent in a circle and placed inside the eye to provide structure. This costume won me first place at the new P & C in Cazenovia NY. I got a barbie doll and was SO happy.
Where there is a will there is a way. Just using the old containers around you can create some pretty amazing costumes. Structure is key and then just having someone artistic apply the details with marker, paint or even glitter gets the job done. Good luck on your projects!