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10 Tips for Picking the Right Halloween Costume

Know what to look for in a costume to ensure safety and comfort for your Halloween fun.

One Halloween, Marilyn Rouse’s 7-year-old daughter was set on being Little Red Riding Hood. The mom from Hudson Falls, N.Y., found a hooded, child-sized cape at a flea market. “It was red and cheap. I snatched it up.” But when it rained on Halloween night, the dye from the cape ran, coloring the girl’s blonde hair and staining her skin bright pink. And it wouldn’t come off! “She looked bizarre the entire first week of November that year,” remembers Rouse.

This is one of the reasons it’s important to take your time when choosing a costume. For a fun, safe and dye-free Halloween, here are ten tips to keep in mind.

  1. Read the Packaging
    With lots of candles around to create that spooky Halloween atmosphere, fire is a real concern. All Halloween costumes sold in the United States, whether manufactured domestically or overseas, must meet flammability requirements. The flame retardant properties must extend to accessories, such as hats, wigs and beards. The Consumer Products Safety Commission advises consumers to look for “flame retardant” or “flame resistant” on the product’s label. This does not mean these fabrics won’t burn — they will, but at a slow rate, allowing parents time to get their child out of a costume should it ignite.

  2. Avoid Rashes
    If your child suffers from environmental allergies, or has extra-sensitive skin, you know to be wary of foreign fibers. Carry this caution to your costume purchase. “The best material for anyone with skin and allergy sensitivities is one that is breathable,” says Helene Pinkerton, children’s merchandise manager at “For example, cotton is a lightweight, breathable fabric and lends itself well to fabulous costumes.”

  3. Buy the Right Size
    Your child should be able to move freely in the costume. While wearing a cardboard box decorated as breakfast cereal is a clever idea, your child’s arms and legs may feel trapped. Make sure the costume you pick is comfortable and allows your child to move quickly if necessary, such as getting out of the way of traffic. Pinkerton also recommends that parents avoid billowing outfits, flowing veils, long sashes and anything that can get caught in your child’s feet and be a tripping hazard.

  4. Find the Right Mask
    When selecting a mask, make sure it fits securely. A loose-fitting mask can slip, blocking vision and obstructing breathing. Many inexpensive masks have small eye openings that block peripheral vision. Search for a mask that has openings large enough to allow a full range of vision.

  5. Get Creative
    Or consider using makeup instead of a mask. But check the makeup packaging for an expiration date. Many manufacturers add antibacterial ingredients to makeup, but these ingredients are less effective after expiration and can cause skin irritation. And if your costume requires glasses to complete the look, use empty frames.

  6. Choose Sensible Soles
    A pair of glittering glass slippers might be essential Cinderella footwear, but she won’t do much dancing at the ball with blisters or a twisted ankle. Keep footwear sensible. Well fitting, low-heeled shoes are your best bet for a safe, comfortable Halloween. To make them extra-special, cover them with glitter for a princess-perfect shine.

  7. Be Careful with Swords, Wands and Flying Broomsticks
    This is a case where flimsy is a good thing. Look for accessories that are soft and flexible. If your little swashbuckler must carry a sword, make it a sponge or thin plastic one that will bend should the child fall. Keep in mind many schools ban weapons with costumes.

  8. Plan for Bad Weather
    The end of October can get cold. It is not unusual for snowflakes to fall on trick-or-treaters. “One of our best tricks to keeping little ones warm without overshadowing their costume is to wear a skin suit underneath and leave the face portion unzipped,” says Pinkerton, “The skin suit provides amazing warmth and protection.” Another way to keep warm is with a fuzzy animal costume, which, Pinkerton says, will be very popular this year.

    Learn more about Planning Your Halloween around the Weather ť

  9. Save Some Dough
    If you’re searching for a popular costume, like a character from the latest hit movie, expect to pay a premium. If your costume plans are more generic, don’t overlook the clearance bin at a costume store. You may find excellent, quality costumes at reduced prices. When purchasing a costume online, do a quick search for coupon codes issued by the online retailer.

  10. Be Original
    Or save a lot of money and make the costume yourself! Put together your own creation by browsing through wigs, capes, makeup kits and accessories. You will guarantee a unique look, and many of the pieces can be reused for future Halloweens or re-purposed for dress up.

    Check out these 48 Easy DIY Halloween Costume Ideas ť

Gillian Burdett is a freelance writer. Her work can be found here.