The Procrastinator’s Guide to Budget-Friendly Costumes

Emma Dortsch, Copy Editor

Are you one of those people who always seem to get caught off-guard by holidays? I don’t mean to scare you, but Halloween is just two days away — and if you need a costume for one of those eleventh-hour parties, it’s now or never.

While it might be easiest to hit up the nearest Spirit Halloween, costumes there can be pricey, which definitely isn’t ideal for those who fit the “broke college kid” cliché. Plus, imagine how many other people might be wearing the same outfit!

Don’t worry: As a former thrift store costume consultant and longtime cosplayer, I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve. Here’s how to speedily put together a unique costume without breaking the bank.

Step 1. Map out your ‘fit

If you don’t have an idea yet, do a quick web search — there are tons of online guides that can help you find one.

What are the costume’s essentials? Make a list of components and divide it into what you can’t go without and extras that might be nice to have. Are there any parts that might require DIY-ing? Make a note!

Step 2. Gather what you have

See anything on that list that you have at home? Drag it out! If not, are there any items at home that work as replacements? Can a piece be borrowed?

Doing this will both downsize your shopping list and provide an opportunity to visualize the costume. Knowing exactly what you’re looking for will make the trip much more efficient.

Step 3. Budget

After everything has been gathered, note which items are still needed and how much you’re willing to spend in total. Plan to spend more on the “essentials” from your list.

Don’t forget to budget time, too — it can help to have a shopping time frame so you don’t risk spending all day in the store.

Tip: While DIY-ing is a great way to save money, I’d recommend saving it for quick fixes like accessories — there’s a timeline after all!

Step 4. Go shopping

Focus on getting the essentials first and nonessentials second. If any money is left over, consider replacing any substitutes from Step 2.


Head to your local thrift or consignment shop and start looking! In my opinion, thrifting the outfit part of the costume is the best way to go; not only will it be cheaper, but there’s always the chance you’ll discover something really cool. As a bonus, some of the bigger thrift store chains have employees dedicated to helping with costumes.

Keep your eyes (and mind) open while shopping; many good ideas come just by browsing. And don’t be afraid to look outside of the costume section — sometimes the perfect thing is hidden in plain sight.

Tip: Thrift shops tend to be cheaper than consignment shops, but spending a little time looking for clothing rips or stains is advised. If you find a great piece that’s flawed, decide if it can be hidden or if you’re willing to compromise.

There are also specialty costume stores around, like Red Light Vintage & Costume in the U-District and A Masquerade Costume in Redmond. These tend to be a little pricer but are perfect for picking up statement pieces.


Check out what stores have in the way of used accessories, too. What you need might be right there!

On the other hand, sometimes accessories are worth splurging on and buying brand-new, especially if they’re essential; sometimes the selection of used accessories is limited, and a high-quality piece will ensure that your costume looks great.

All of the store types mentioned above should carry a variety of new goods, but commercial costume stores and big-box retailers are also worth checking out. If you’re doing DIY, don’t forget arts & crafts stores.

One thing to keep in mind: If you can’t find a specific item, it’s better to find an alternative (if available) than hold out for the next store. There’s no guarantee something will be available, and you might risk losing a backup. It’s also not the end of the world if you end up lacking a part — sometimes less is more, and a few simple pieces can have a great effect.

Now get out there and show the world just how awesome of a costume you can put together!