Need a last-minute Halloween costume? Thrift stores to the rescue


Halloween is rapidly approaching, and with it the potential for this scenario: mid-afternoon on Oct. 29 you remember with dawning horror the costume party you’ve agreed to attend that evening. Having put zero thought into what to wear, you consider and reject the notion of spending hundreds of dollars on whatever scraps remain at major retail outlets. While eyeing your bed sheets with vague ideas of Casper the Friendly Ghost, you wonder about just staying home.

Have no fear, costume procrastinator – thrift stores have got you covered, offering lower prices, greater diversity and more inventory that can be modified or turned into part of a costume. And having LOTS of fantastic inventory at the last minute leads the key advantages:

No running out of inventory. Because many thrift stores receive and store random Halloween-friendly donations year-round, finding resources for an original costume is just as good the day before Halloween as it would be three weeks earlier. “Because donations are mixed and unique, we end up pulling out boxes of amazing attire every day through Halloween,” said Georgeann Johnson, South Hill Goodwill store manager and head of Goodwill’s Costume Expert training. “It’s like a shuffled deck of cards: You can get the face cards at any point!”

50+ years of style = multiple retro options. Donations span more than five decades of random attire, meaning that anyone with a drop of imagination can put together a retro costume with little effort. Check out an older movie or go online for inspiration.

Creativity rules. Check Pinterest for fun thrift-inspired ideas that require a minimum of materials, such as painter Bob Ross (fake beard, fluffy wig, blue shirt, easel), Minions (overalls, yellow shirts, headlamps) or Rosie the Riveter (headscarf, coveralls, bicep curl).

Lower costs. According to the National Retail Federation, Halloween spending is expected to reach $9 billion in 2018, with consumers spending an average of $86.79. Thrift stores offer more variety at lower prices, allowing shoppers to save their dollars for the next major holiday (think December).


A caveat: one danger of shopping for Halloween in a last minute rush can be failing to consider when a costume may be offensive or in bad taste. Johnson warns of a few things to watch out for:

Culture is not a costume. If you’re thinking of wearing a faith-based, ethnic or culturally inspired outfit, imagine yourself in a room entirely populated by people who are of that ethnicity, culture or religion. Consider how you would look through their eyes.

Sexy or sexist? By now, every possible profession and pastime has inspired a “sexy” version. These include “sexy food taco,” “sexy Charlie Brown” and “sexy Twizzler package.” If sexy is your goal, try aiming for something that doesn’t require subverting professions or beloved children’s book characters, i.e. Sexy Winnie-the-Pooh. (Yes, that’s a thing.)

The wrong side of history. Some historically based costumes will never be in good taste no matter how much time has passed. These include Anne Frank outfits (re-branded with a different name after consumer backlash) and references to both near and distant tragedies. The same goes for dressing up as members of hate groups. Not a good look on anyone!

Excessively violent or obscene outfits. If the effect you’re going for is a bomb going off in a quiet room, significant amounts of fake blood and dangling or exaggerated body parts are probably just fine. Otherwise, you may find yourself banished to the dungeon.

With these tips in mind, be creative, get out there and enjoy your Halloween – even if it’s at the last minute!

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