A woman, man, and child wearing halloween costumes walking into the fall sunset on halloween night.
October 3, 2023
 in 
Lifestyle

Get Spooked: 10 DIY Sustainable Halloween Costumes with Video Guides

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s the leaves turn golden and morning coffees are replaced with pumpkin spice lattes, the fall wind breathes forth a chilling reminder: it’s almost Halloween and you still don’t have a costume …

Costumes are the best and worst part of Halloween. They’re an excuse to let your inner kid come out and play but they’ll also have you up at night panic-scrolling through weird, mostly plastic outfit options that cost both you and the planet more than they should.

It’s time to put the sustainability back in spooky and the fun back in dress-up. Halloween is the only socially acceptable time of year to leave the house with a pumpkin on your head and in this article, we’ll share an eco-friendly DIY to make that and 9 other costume options a reality (with videos to help!).

Keep reading for a full guide on sustainable Halloween costumes, why it’s worth going the eco route for the most frightful night of the year, and easy tips to make the costume ideas you already have a little more environmentally friendly.

Table of  Contents

The Environmental Impact of Conventional Halloween Costumes

As it turns out, the scariest part of Halloween won’t be a haunted house, but the mountains of plastic waste that will accumulate by the end of the beloved holiday. A UK study in 2019 found that the equivalent of 83 million plastic bottles is generated by Halloween outfits which are, more often than not, thrown out after just one wear. That’s a pretty startling fact to consider when we’re already in a global plastic-waste crisis.

The problem with Halloween costumes is that most are made cheaply with fabrics that aren’t recyclable or designed to last long. They are the single-use version of an outfit, but they don’t have to be. More sustainable Halloween costumes are a chance to lean into greener practices, limit waste, and contribute to the fight against climate change. 

The Benefits of Going DIY

Making a costume yourself may seem like a faff, but if you lean in, you’ll find benefits for both you and the planet. Here are some of the best parts of going DIY with a sustainable Halloween costume:

  • Creative Freedom: A DIY costume is a chance to go all out on your creative vision and make something that no store could ever copy.
  • More Cost Effective: Even inexpensive Halloween costumes can feel like a lot to spend for just one night. Going DIY can help save money, especially if you stick to reusing materials or items you already own.
  • A Stress-Release Project: Multiple pieces of research have shown that crafting can have a positive impact on stress and mental health.  Making a DIY sustainable Halloween costume isn’t just great for keeping plastic out of landfills, but it’s also great for your well-being.
  • Make it Fun with Friends: A DIY project is as much a chance to enact some self-care as it is an excuse to meet up with friends. Break out the candy corn and get all your people over for a joint costume-making session. You’ll probably laugh more than you DIY, but you may also be able to pool sewing and crafting skills for some amazing results.
  • A Chance to Go Sustainable: As we’ll explore more later in this article, going DIY doesn’t just allow for creative freedom in terms of your design choices, but with sustainability decisions too. You get to have far more control over the materials used and, as such, can limit the use of plastic and non-recyclables.

Unleash Your Creativity with these 10 DIY Costume Ideas

From frightful to funny, here are 10 DIY sustainable costume ideas to try out this Halloween:

1. iPod Costume

Hire a Helper featured this genius video on turning an old moving box into an iPod costume. It’s a little silly and very nostalgic.

Difficulty Level: Easy

What You Need:

  • A large cardboard box
  • White paper
  • Glue
  • Blue and grey paint
  • Scissors and box cutters
  • A permanent marker
  • A pencil

Why We Love It: This plastic-free costume not only uses recyclable materials but is a way to reuse an old box you probably already have lying around at home. To make it even more of a sustainable Halloween costume, we’d recommend skipping the spray paint from the video and instead using eco-friendly craft paint. 

2. Cardboard Frankenstein

Zygote Brown Designs on YouTube has a great video on making a Frankenstein head with just cardboard and one of their low-cost templates. This kid and adult-friendly costume is spooky and seriously creative.

Difficulty Level: Medium

What You Need:

Why We Love It: The final result can be added to a plain black outfit or a full Frankenstein-inspired look. It’s a simple, eco-friendly Halloween costume with room to add extra details if you want such as color, etc.

3. T-Shirt Skeleton

This no-sew clothing DIY from Salina Siu can turn an old black t-shirt into a skeleton customer with just a pair of scissors.

Difficulty Level: Easy

What You Need:

  • A black t-shirt
  • Scissors
  • A ruler

Why We Love It: If you use a cotton or thrifted t-shirt, this upcycling design is a fully sustainable Halloween costume that can be made in less than an hour.

4. Creepy Spider Claws

These spider claw fingers from Jeremy Shafer Origami can be added to a larger Halloween look or simply paired with an all-black outfit for an understated but spin-chilling vibe.

Difficulty Level: Easy

What You Need:

  • 10-inch paper squares

Why We Love It: This sustainable Halloween costume DIY achieves an admirable level of creepiness for something made entirely from paper. We love that it’s so simple and completely recyclable.

5. Putting the Corn in Candy Corn

This 3-part series from @Coolirpa breaks down the making of an all-ages Halloween corn costume using some basic sewing skills and various pieces of second-hand fabric. 

Difficulty Level: High

What You Need:

  • X3 Yellow T-shirts
  • Bamboo wadding/ quilt stuffing
  • A curtain/large piece of fabric
  • Thrifted wig
  • Yellow and green dye
  • Sewing machine

Why We Love It: This creator specializes in upcycling projects and her video truly shows how much you can transform discarded fabric and other items for dramatic results. Some eco-friendly updates we’d recommend though are using non-toxic dyes for the fabric, replacing synthetic quilt stuffing with a bamboo alternative, and generally trying to stick to natural, recyclable fibers where possible.

6. Recognizable TV and Film Characters

If cutting, sewing, and gluing a costume together isn’t something you enjoy or have time for, then this video from PopSugar is for you. It shows just how easy it is to pair ordinary clothing items together for a character costume.

Difficulty Level: Easy

What You Need:

  • The things you already have in your wardrobe.
  • A little imagination

Why We Love It: Shopping your wardrobe is probably the best way to create an eco-friendly Halloween costume because it doesn’t require buying anything new. So much of the waste created from the day is down to people panic-buying last-minute items they’ll probably only wear once before throwing out.

Besides those mentioned in the linked video, here are 5 other ideas for Halloween costumes with clothes you already have:

  1. A chef from The Bear – All you need is a white T-shirt and black apron. Drawn-on tattoos are optional.
  2. Ted Lasso – Draw on a fake mustache if needed and pair it with a puffer jacket, backpack, and sign that says “Believe”.
  3. Emma Stone’s iconic character from Easy A – check out this video from @thetropicalsociety.
  4. The Last of Us – A classic plaid shirt and backpack combo.
  5. A teacher from Abbott Elementary: The main DIY for this costume is making a teacher’s ID card and lanyard. 

7. Paper Mâché Pumpkin Helmut

No DIY Halloween costume list would be complete without a paper mâché moment. This video from AB Art Studios walks viewers through the making of a pumpkin helmet with pretty ghoulish results.

Difficulty Level: Medium

What You Need:

  • A plastic bag of discarded paper for shaping.
  • Painter’s Tape
  • String
  • Newspaper or other paper for the actual paper mâché 
  • Wheat paste (more sustainable than Elmer’s glue)
  • Scissors
  • Marker
  • Exacto-blade
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Semi-transparent black fabric (can just be from an old t-shirt or tights)
  • Velcro dots

Why We Love It: With the chief material being discarded paper, paper mâché is a brilliant way to get crafty while reducing waste and cost in the process. Another thing to note about this sustainable Halloween costume is that there’s loads of room for creativity in how you paint and carve the pumpkin head.

8. A Mushroom Hat

If you’re wanting to go eco-friendly with your Halloween costume, why not go as a beautiful piece of nature to round out the theme? This video from Natasha Rose details the making of a Fly Agaric/Amanita Muscaria mushroom hat that is as ethereal as it is realistic.

Difficulty Level: Medium

What You Need:

  • This template
  • Cardboard
  • Paper
  • Masking tape
  • Hot glue gun 
  • Wheat paste (instead of Elmers or PVA glue)
  • Paint
  • Thrifted lace
  • Texture paste

Why We Love It: This is a far more advanced paper maché project than the pumpkin helmut but we love that it shows how intricate a DIY sustainable Halloween costume can get. The only recommendation we’d make is to skip the beaded edges or use thrifted materials instead as beads like these are often made from plastic.

9. Chucky and Chucky’s Bride

Kiana Bolo is a sewing and upcycling wizard on YouTube so it’s no surprise that she has created the ultimate guide to making your own couple’s costume in the form of Chucky and his bride.

Difficulty Level: High

What You Need:

  • Sewing machine and accompanying tools
  • Chucky: Dungarees and striped t-shirt
  • Bride: White dress
  • Fabric paint
  • Bloody “knives” (here’s an extra tutorial on making one from cardboard)

Why We Love It: This sustainable Halloween costume tutorial uses a mix of thrifted and already-owned items and illustrates how much basic items can be transformed with simple sewing techniques.

10. Ghost ‘Em

As this video proves, a ghostly, Halloween-appropriate look is sometimes as simple as throwing a sheet over yourself and putting on a fun pair of sunglasses.

Difficulty Level: Easy

What You Need:

  • A white sheet (to cut out eyes if necessary).
  • Scissors.
  • Cool Sunglasses

Why We Love It: This eco-friendly Halloween costume doesn’t require you to purchase anything new and, as a bonus, is a great excuse not to fold your fitted sheet after laundry day.

Embracing Eco-Friendly Materials

You probably noticed that in our list of sustainable Halloween costumes, we prioritized those that reused materials, be it second-hand clothing or discarded paper and cardboard. The more you can reuse for your outfit, the less waste is generated. We’d also suggest using fibers like cotton instead of synthetics to keep things more eco-friendly. 

For a full guide on sustainable and biodegradable fabrics, click here

Other Sustainable Halloween Costume Options

If a full DIY project isn’t your thing, here are some other ways to make your costume a little more sustainable this year:

  • Rent an outfit.
  • Sell or give away your costume. Schools and theater groups are often in need of fun costuming and will be able to repurpose items so they stay out of landfills. 
  • You can also buy and sell your second hand costumes at Plato’s closet. If you’d like to learn more, check out our complete guide to Plato’s Closet.
  • Swap with friends.
  • Use second-hand items.

Spooky Sustainability

Equal parts fun and practical, a DIY costume is a chance to flex your creativity, save some cash, and reduce Halloween waste. Plus, there’s nothing better than having someone gush over your costume at a party and getting to say you made it yourself. Turning a cardboard box into an outfit is always impressive and telling people about it can help inspire them to go eco-friendly next year!

That said, you don’t even have to be into crafting to make your spooky look more sustainable. Any attempts to reuse items and reduce waste helps and if you can get your friends in on the action, that’s even better.

Happy haunting!