A guide to the witty, cheap and easy Halloween costume of your dreams

When it comes to Halloween costumes, I have always been a fan of DIY looks. Goodwill, H&M and Forever 21 are my go-to for unique, cheap costume ideas. Every year when October rolls around, I sit at my desk and brainstorm unique characters I can embody. This year, I spent $20 on a pale blue wrap dress for my Katara from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” costume, the year before, $15 on a black gown and bonnet to be Hester Prynne from “The Scarlet Letter” and, the year before that, $18 on a pink blouse and white vans to capture Pam Beesly’s girl-next-door look. 

The first step I take towards finding the perfect Halloween costume is deciding on a pop culture reference everyone understands, but no one would find at a costume store. Katara, Hester Prynne and Pam Beesly from “The Office” are three widely recognizable characters, but not the immediate choice when one thinks “Halloween costume.” If you are having trouble deciding which character to dress up as, a good start is thinking of famous, teen cult classics. You could derive really cool costumes from movies like “Back to the Future,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Heathers,” “Clueless” or “Mean Girls.” Childhood TV shows also often inspire some really fun ideas – think “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” “Rugrats,” “Powerpuff Girls,” “Kim Possible,” “Lizzie McGuire” or “Phineas and Ferb.” Classic literature is probably the hardest beast to tackle since there often is no visual reference, but it still can be a really cool concept if you pull it off correctly. When I chose “The Scarlet Letter,” I sewed a white collar onto a dress to make myself look more like a pilgrim and cut out the letter ‘A’ out of bright red fabric to glue on my chest. Other pieces of famous literature you can create cool costumes from include “The Great Gatsby,” “Catcher in the Rye,” “Gone With the Wind,” “Junie B. Jones” and “Madeline.”

Once I choose a character, my next step is looking up reference photos. For my Katara costume, I looked up cosplay, fanart and other images of her. From there I choose a color palette and try to find clothing in that color. Katara wears a long blue robe-like dress, so I went shopping for blue dresses. When I find the closest match in a store, I decorate it with accessories that match my character’s. For Katara, I made a blue choker, found beads for my hair and paired it with a white belt to match the white lining that her dress is hemmed with. 

Making creative costumes does not have to be hard or expensive. I knew I could not afford a $100 exact replica of Katara’s robe and jewelry, but I still managed to capture her essence for only $20. All that you need is to be able to find out what features of your character stand out the most and hunt for the cheapest design at fast-fashion or second-hand stores. Obviously, the most important thing is to have fun with it. Do not be afraid to think outside of the box, because you will be surprised by how many people come up to you and ask, “Oh my god! How did you think of that?”