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Halloween family dress-up

Every fall brings the hunt for Halloween costumes, to help little ones transform into ghosts and goblins, fairies and wizards for parties and trick-or-treating. This holiday, how about getting the whole family – big and little - in on the fun?

Getting together a family costume, where every member of the family dresses along a single theme, can be an amusing and attention-grabbing way to make a memorable holiday.

Carrie Sheerin, vice president of, says one of her best Halloweens was the year her family dressed as characters from The Wizard of Oz.

"My husband was the Tin Man. I was the Lion; my daughter was Dorothy," Sheerin said. "We even had our nanny with us and her dog as Toto, and it was such a success that the media covered it."

Here are some tips to get you started:


Start with a good idea. That’s the secret of a successful Halloween costume, said Jim Ragona, managing director of the Broadway Collection for Costume World, which has a retail outlet in Deerfield Beach.

Spend time on the Internet looking for what kids are into -- movie stars, singers and current events can all be good fodder for costume ideas, he says. Have a family meeting to decide.

"Since it’s a kids’ holiday, listen to your kids," Ragona says.

Know what’s hot. If you want to buy ready-made costumes, it will be easier and cheaper to buy into themes with ample supply. Vampires are hot this year, because of Twilight and True Blood. Pop stars like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga also are big. Toy Story characters have made a comeback, and Disney princesses have maintained their royal status among costume buyers.

Old-time favorites such as zombies and the Addams Family also do well year after year, he said. Back-to-basic themes like cowboys, Indians, pirates, witches, skeletons and animals are big sellers, Sheerin said.

Do your own thing. Uninspired by the headlines? Dig into your own family history to create a unique group costume. One idea, Ragona says, is to have everyone switch places –- the parents become the kids, and the kids become the parents. "Or if a family is into sports, they can all go as a member of the same team," he says. For a few dollars, buy matching T-shirts and paint names and numbers on the back. Stuff them to resemble padding and add a football helmet.


If your research hasn’t unearthed any current events that lend itself to a family costume, don’t be scared. There are plenty of ready-made ideas that can be bought as a set, or put together as a family craft project.

Themes such as superheroes, Alice in Wonderland, Star Wars, Scooby Doo, pirates and the Renaissance are easy because there are lots of characters in each group, and costumes are readily available.


Pick a decade: How about a roaring '20s gangster look? Or try disco duds from the '70s, sock hop attire from the '50s or a hippie look from the '60s.

Crayons: Find sweatsuits in a different color for each family member. Using black construction paper, write the word CRAYON sideways down the front of the sweatsuit. Make matching pointed hats from construction paper.

Cows: Cut out odd-shaped black felt circles and glue on a white sweatshirt and sweatpants. Add ears and a tail. (For fun, give each family member a funny name with "cow" in it, such as "Scowl," "Cowabunga," or "Cow-ch potato.")

The Incredibles: To make this family of superheroes, wear all red and paint a yellow lightning bolt on your chests.

Playing cards: Decorate two poster boards with the card of your choice. Wear them sandwich style to create each card. Have each member pick their favorite, or go as a "Full House."

Paparazzi: Have one person dress in oversized dark shades and black clothes. Have the rest of the group surround him or her and take pictures with disposable cameras.


Now that you have your idea, here are some ways to pull it all together on a budget and without hiring a seamstress:

Shop in your closets. Look at old clothes, shoes and hats to compile pieces for costumes. "When I was a kid, I wore my father’s suit and went as a hobo many times," Ragona said.

Look for raw materials around the house. Bottle caps, trash bags, Stryofoam peanuts and other goods can be used to construct costuming. April Stewart, costume designer with Pompano Beach-based Cirque Productions whose mom made all her costumes as a child, said she earned a lot about pulling together odds and ends from her creative mom.

"Cardboard can be your best friend – it can be made into any kind of costume," she said.

Stack boxes up to make a Transformer. Anchor one around your middle to make a TV set, (with a large picture in the center and bottle caps for knobs), or a box of cereal.

Be an inventor. Stewart offers these suggestions: Turn silver dryer tubing from the hardware store into robot arms. Bend wire hangers into shape and cover them with black stockings for bat wings. Cover them with colored stockings and accent with glitter paint for fairy wings.

Go to a thrift store. Gather up old dresses, jackets and more to repurpose into a costume. One year, Stewart made her toddler nephew a Yoda costume by buying him an oversized jacket that bunched and fell to the floor. She added a hood and gloves.

Forget about sewing. Use hot glue, staples or tape to hold pieces together. It doesn’t have to last a lifetime.

Paint faces. Little kids really don’t like masks, and they’re really not safe. Try face painting – even nontoxic acrylic paint from the craft store will do, Stewart said. New out this year: whole face temporary tattoos that can be removed with soap and water or make-up wipes.

Easy masks – If you do go for a mask, try the newer versions that flip up, so you can eat or drink at a party, or the "half-mask" that covers from the forehead to just above the mouth, Sheerin says.

Top it with a hat. A lot of times a plain outfit can be made into a simple costume with the right headpiece, Stewart says. Use wigs, a Mad Hatter hat or magician’s top hat for a costume without a lot of fuss.

Don’t underestimate the power of colored paint. Wear all black. Use fluorescent colored yellow paint to mark dotted lines from top to bottom. Glue on match box cars and voila, you’re the road.