When I say I’ve never worn a store-bought Halloween costume, I mean I’ve never opened one of those rubbery-plastic snap envelopes and used its contents to become a Sexy 80s Alien Pirate Native American Stereotype for a night. I mean, I do buy pieces of costumes at the store – sometimes even at the costume store when the props get specific. I don’t weave my own cloth or melt rubber into molds, and if I “sew,” it’s a bibbity-bobbity job that only lasts until midnight – if I get lucky.
This list is for couples willing not to be purist about MacGyver-ing common household items into a chainmail minidress. It’s also not about the trending pop culture movie costumes that literally everyone will be doing this year. There are a hundred DIY lists out there if you want to be one of the 84 shiny and chrome War Boys at the party this year. I will love your costume if you are, but this isn’t your list.
These are not cute. These are not trendy. They are badass. And half the people you see won’t even get how badass they are – THAT’S HOW BADASS THEY ARE. But if you like movies and you like other people who like movies, it’s a great way to find those people. Last year we dressed my infant son, who was 3 months old at the time, as Snake Plissken. We drew a cobra tattoo on his tummy with a washable marker and found a kid-size eye patch. Our neighbors all thought he was a pirate. Except for one badass neighbor.
So, without further caveats or ado:
Dorothy Vallens and Frank Booth from Blue Velvet
This couple is so demented and deliciously Halloweeny. And Frank’s adult beverages for the evening can be part of the costume so long as they are PABST! BLUE! RIBBON! Fuck Heineken.
- Purchase a dark blue, fuzzy robe from a department store or borrow one for a friend. If you find velvet, awesome, if you don’t, people will still get it.
- If you have short, brown hair, curl it with a medium curling iron, spraying lightly while your hair is wrapped around the barrel. Do it all over your head then give it a good spray to set. When it’s dry, pick it out or fluff with your fingers. OR buy a Dr. Frankenfurter wig from a costume shop.
- Red lipstick, dark eyebrows, blue eyeshadow.
- Buy a set of OTC medical masks at a drugstore, and peel off the plastic part that holds the masks to the cardboard backing. Poke holes in the sides of the plastic part. Cut the rubber bands off of two of the actual masks. Tie them to each hole letting the ends dangle.
- Borrow a leather jacket. Someone you know has one.
- Tuck a white undershirt into some khaki pants – hopefully you own those things.
- If you have dark hair, run flour through it to give it a Hopper-esque salt-and-pepper look. OR get a dark wig and do the same thing. OR have salt-and-pepper Hopper hair to begin with.
- Carry around a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Norma Desmond and Her Dead Chimp from Sunset Boulevard
The chimp is obviously not the hero of this piece, but it’s probably my favorite detail in the whole movie. It’s so awful and sad and hilarious at the same time – and it makes for a way more obvious costume than Joe’s vintage suit would.
- You’ll need to buy (at a thrift store) or de-moth-ball a floor length formal gown. Yes, it is best if it has some Old Hollywood charm, but I’ve found that almost any floor length gown can look the part if you pair it with a shawl or boa.
- Get a long shawl or boa to drape across your shoulders. If your dress really isn’t Old Hollywood-ing for you, then drape the shawl across your chest and backwards over your elbows.
- Either wear a turban OR curl your hair OR both.
- Buy elbow length gloves at a costume shop.
- Buy false eyelashes at the drug store.
- Use a paper clip or some other easily-twisted wire (I actually used one of those thingies that come with Easter Egg dye kits, but you might not have one of those lying around in October) and twist a hole big enough for your finger. Then twist it up into another loop big enough for a cigarette. If you smoke, do it that way for the evening. If not, just wave it around dramatically.
For The Chimp:
- Buy a monkey mask – at a Halloween store OR a drug store. Draw X’s over the eye holes.
- Wear black. Best would be a black choir robe.
Lucy Ricardo Montalbán
This one’s maybe a little cute and a little more TV than movie, but we had a lot of fun with it. And the people who got it without an explanation felt superior to everyone else at the party that night. [Ed: We’re clearly not clever enough, because we didn’t immediately get that it’s a play on words.] For Ricardo you could of course do any part he has played; we chose Wrath of Khan since it’s his most recognizable role. Plus, hilarious fake chest plate.
- You need a fit-and-flare dress with short sleeves. If it’s the traditional polka dot, great, but it’s not necessary.
- Get any white apron, use a pair of scissors to round the edges with a scalloped cut.
- Buy false eyelashes at the store.
- If you have red hair, curl it and pin up the sides with bobby pins. OR get a wig. They usually actually have a Lucy one at costume stores.
- Wear red lipstick.
- Buy fake chest plate at the costume shop.
- Buy blonde rocker wig at the costume shop.
- Wear brown sweatpants and a sweater hanging open over the chest plate.
- Apply black eyeliner.
- Talk about fine, Corinthian leather.
Alabama Worley and Drexl from True Romance
If you must be a pimp and his ho for Halloween, this is so much better than whatever the hell those neon pimp costumes are about.
- You need a short dress, preferably a halter top.
- Wear a black bra and make sure the straps show under the dress.
- Buy a pair of fishnets at the drugstore.
- If you can get your hands on a leopard print faux fur jacket, get it. But it’s not necessary.
- Find a pair of giant heart-shaped earrings. You can usually find some at one of the junk jewelry stores at the mall. I found mine at Claire’s.
- If you have short blond hair, part it down the middle. OR buy a wig.
- Wear heavy make up.
- Buy a Captain Jack Sparrow wig and mini rubber bands. Make tiny braids all through the wig and tie off with rubber bands. OR give it the tiny dreads he has in the movie if you know how.
- Buy the most amazing shiny boxer shorts you can find at Wal-Mart. Preferably with flames on them.
- Buy fake gold teeth at the costume shop.
- Draw scars on your face and chest and add a little facial hair if you don’t have any.
- Wear a robe, preferably an equally shiny one, open over the boxers.
- Wear some kind of ridiculous, fake, blingy necklace.
Keymaster and Gatekeeper from Ghostbusters
This one is a classic, but weirdly not done very often. You have a better chance more people will recognize it, which can be fun, but it’s still badass enough to earn you the street cred.
- It’s probably easiest to find an off-shoulder orange-red dolma shirt and a matching knee-length full skirt, but if you can find a dress worthy of Zuul, jump on it.
- Spray the shirt/skirt or dress with gold glitter.
- Tie a gold sash – I used shiny ribbon from a craft store – around your waist and let the ends hang to the end of the skirt.
- Spray body glitter on your exposed skin, including your face.
- Apply pale pink eye shadow over your eyes and in thin lines over your cheeks. Wear a sheer, sparkly lip gloss.
- If you have brown hair, curl it in tight, tiny curls. OR buy a wig.
- Rip up the ends of a pair of slacks and smear dirt on a button-up shirt. Wear them disheveled.
- Wear thick-framed glasses.
- Mess your hair up crazy with pomade.
- To give people an extra clue who you are, buy a metal colander (like one for the kitchen), and either multi-colored plastic lanyards from a craft store or wires. Loop them around the colander, taping the ends on the inside of it. Take a white piece of cloth from anything, and make it into a chin strap. Wear the colander as a hat.
Whether or not you decide to do one of these couples costumes, hopefully they get your wheels turning for out-of-the-envelope ideas. For me, this is one of the few creative outlets I still make time for in a house with small children – though this year I will admit I spent most of my time on their costumes.