Halloween Should Be Scary; Costume Shopping Shouldn’t

Halloween, like almost all holidays, has been commercialized for as long as any of us can remember. We get roped into buying decorative pumpkins, festive ceramics we’ll put out for just a few weeks every year, and bags upon bags of candy to give out for free to swarms of overexcited kids.

The most important of the purchases we make during the spooky season, however, is a costume. It’s something that, as a college student, I forget to budget for every year, and more often than not end up spending $50 on at the very last minute. It’s hard enough to find inspiration for a costume, but once you’ve got something you like you’re forced to face the fact that whatever it might be may not be very cost-effective. For this, I offer a solution. I’m a big fan of anything DIY, and Halloween is no exception.

Thrifting your Halloween costume is a fun and cost-effective way to get into the spirit of the season without breaking the bank, and almost 100% of the time you can pair thrifted pieces with clothes and accessories you already have at home. This year I came up with a few fun ideas to get me through Halloweekend, so as inspiration for whatever costume you may be trying to recreate on your own, I’ll share my experience finding the pieces of the puzzle that make up my costume this year, as well as a success story from Halloween 2018.


My first costume is the Joker. Whether or not you enjoyed Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix’s adaptation of the classic villain, the Joker is a costume that has been done time and time again and never seems to get old. I picked something like this because it’s a little different for a woman to try out, and to be honest Harley Quinn’s sparkly getup would have been a hell of a lot harder to find at Goodwill. That being said, this costume idea is a great one to thrift because anyone can make it work. I’m putting a bit of a feminine twist on the character, but all of these pieces can be tailored to your own portrayal of Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime.

I realized pretty quickly that the most important part of the getup would be an iconic purple blazer. In my hunt for this piece, I learned two lessons, the first being that sometimes you have to make do with what you’ve got. Trying to be realistically prepared, I walked into Goodwill last weekend knowing that I might not walk out with a bright purple jacket fitting my exact needs. I first started looking for white or light-colored blazers that would be easy to dye with a simple tie-dye kit, something you can get for around $10 at any craft store. Problem solved.

What ended up happening, though, taught me my second lesson about thrifting: never limit your search! After combing through jackets and formal wear and turning up empty-handed, I was wandering through the children’s pajama section of all places when I found the most perfectly purple, hilariously iconic, laughably ideal purple blazer complete with shoulder pads and a little gold button. I was prepared with a Plan B that worked with my budget, but when I looked hard enough an Allston Goodwill offered up exactly what I needed in the most unexpected of places.

The rest, for this costume, was a piece of cake. With a $5 jacket already snatched, finding a green collared shirt from the men’s section of the same thrift store was simple, and cost me another $4. I snatched a purple tie from the same store for $3, a cheap face makeup kit from Michael’s for another $5, and threw on boots and a jean skirt I already had at home, bringing our grand total to $16. Compare that to a range of $35 to $85 for an adult Joker costume on Amazon, and you’ve saved anywhere from $20 to $70. If you really want to go all out I would definitely recommend picking up some green temporary hair dye or clip in pieces, but even without those final touches I give this getup a 10/10.

The Office Characters

Another simple but crowd-pleasing couple costume that I personally love is Jim and Dwight from the Office. If you’re flying solo one of our two favorite paper salesmen will work out just fine, but this costume is so easy to pair with a significant other, roommate, or friend! If you don’t want to make the trip to a thrift store these items can almost be guaranteed to live in your dad’s closet, but I had a ton of fun putting this together on my own.

The first thing you’ll need for either character is a collared button-up shirt, short-sleeved and mustard yellow for Dwight and light blue for Jim. These shouldn’t cost any more than $4 each. Stick some pens in Dwight’s breast pocket and you’ve got half the costume accounted for already. As far as ties, stores like Goodwill and Savers always have an abundant selection for just a few dollars, and I would recommend a dark blue for Jim and something striped and yellow or green for Dwight.

Dwight will also need a pair of glasses, and though aviators are best almost any style will make the character recognizable. If you don’t have any glasses on hand, these can be purchased for around $10 on a site like Amazon or thrifting apps like Depop. After that, dress pants or jeans and almost any shoe completes the basic costume! If you want to make your characters even more recognizable (I had a lot of fun with this) you can hand draw or print out Dunder Mifflin name tags to pin to your shirts, and I also printed out the sign with a sketch of Dwight’s face on it from season 3 for a little added comedy.

If you’re interested in other characters any other business attire is easy to thrift, and for Michael Scott a suit, red bandana, and prop mug make for a simple and hilarious getup. For each individual costume I spent about $20, and this price can be lowered even more if you opt to borrow a tie, shirt, or accessory since so many of these items are likely to sitting in the back of a parent or friend’s closet.

More Easy Ideas!

I had just as much fun putting together these costumes as I did wearing them, but in case neither of these has given you any spooky season inspiration, here are a few abbreviated ideas of costumes made up of items that are also simple to thrift or find at home:

Wednesday Addams

White collared shirt, black dress, black tights, black boots

Stevie Nicks

Top hat with added feathers, shawl, flowy dress, chunky heels, tambourine


Hawaiin shirt, bermuda shorts, sunglasses, bucket hat, prop map, white makeup for sunscreen


Tiara, formal dress splattered with lots of red paint for blood

Despicable Me Minion

Overalls, yellow t-shirt, baseball cap to paste on a big paper eye, printed out or hand drawn

Farmer or Scarecrow

Overalls, flannel, floppy hat, added makeup (scarecrow), prop stuffed animal (farmer)

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