Considering a Family Halloween Costume? I Do Them Every Year, and This Is What You Need to Know
Come Halloween, when people find out that I'm one of "those moms" who gets her entire family to coordinate semi-elaborate costumes for a group concept, I get a few different visceral reactions:
- "So cool!"
- "OMG, I've always wanted to do that, but it seems so hard!"
- "You have way too much time on your hands."
And I get why a quick scan of my family's group costumes over the past several years would elicit a mix of astonishment, envy, and even a little contempt. They're what millennials refer to as "extra," and most parents can agree that's often a foolish enterprise when little kids are involved.
But I love doing it, and with the right attitude (and some well-managed expectations), I bet you and your family will love it, too.
First off, let me introduce myself. I'm the one in that photo up top with the black dress. Yep, Morticia Addams.
I get why a quick scan of my family's group costumes over the past several years would elicit a mix of astonishment, envy, and even a little contempt. They're what millennials refer to as "extra."
I've always loved Halloween — candy-obsessed from an early age, the idea of being able to score a giant pillowcase of Skittles and individually wrapped Twizzlers free of charge (and with my parents' permission) was mind-boggling. I dressed the part and had an annual sugar haul to show for it. Like most kids, though, I gave up costumes in my teen years and in college. But in my mid-20s, a roommate with a penchant for themed parties got me hooked again. It wasn't, however, until having a baby did the idea of a group costume come to mind.
In fact, I at first only planned to pull together a duo costume for my baby and pet dog, named Moose. I'd thought to myself how cute it'd be to do a Rocky & Bullwinkle pairing with my daughter as a flying squirrel and my aptly named dog as a miniature moose. It was an afterthought that my husband and I decided to portray the villains, Boris and Natasha, for a neighbor's kid-friendly Halloween party.
I won't lie: the adulation we received over my husband's mustache-and-fedora combo and my daughter's handmade squirrel onesie got to my head a little. In that moment, I knew we'd have to go for it the next year.
Still, I never intended our family costumes to become an annual, must-see tradition (not exaggerating: I now have random relatives texting me in July if I've chosen our group costume yet). In fact, I assumed after our tantrum-heavy second year, in which my little Dorothy nearly refused to wear her ruby slippers, we'd call it quits. Or that we'd have to retire after year three, in which our Addams Family alter egos set the bar so high that I knew no future costume idea would live up to it.
It seems, though, that we just might be group-costume lifers: my kiddo flatly assumes we all dress up and expressed serious disappointment when I suggested just she and her little sister would wear costumes this season.
So here we are, entering our fifth year with no signs of stopping. And over the course of these past several Halloweens, I've learned a lot about what it takes to commit to something like this. It's not for everyone, but it's beyond worth it for our clan.
If you are at all considering embarking on a family costume, here's what I've learned.
It's OK to Do It For the 'Gram
Perhaps the most important takeaway of all is that it's truly fine to get everyone gussied up solely for a photo you'll post on Instagram. Because our dog — who often plays a key role in our costumes — is skittish, we never once planned to debut our collective look at a party or while trick-or-treating. And aside from that, some years, it's been too hard to finish a workday and do the hair and makeup necessary to dress up alongside our kiddos, who are eager to start going door to door at 5 p.m. on the dot. So, yes, we usually only all don our complete looks for a camera with a self-timer running on the kitchen counter. Some might think that is utterly ridiculous. To those people, I say, "then you don't have to do it!" I love sharing the final photos with far-off family and friends and can't tell you how much joy it brings me to look at those kooky portraits year after year. It works for us just fine, and, heck, it adds a lot less pressure.
Incorporate Pets and Pregnancies
There's no way I'd consider doing a family costume without my dog. By far, the most laughs we've gotten have been for Moose as Cousin Itt, and when it comes to "awwws," those were mostly reserved for the little red Tin Man heart on my baby bump. Sure, it adds a layer of complexity adding an animal to the mix, and sometimes it's hard to figure out how to integrate a baby bump versus downplaying it. To make it work, when coming up with a group idea, I always start with the most difficult participants first. Before I'd ever commit to, say, a Mary Poppins theme, I'd first ask, "What will Moose be?" If I were pregnant, maybe I'd forgo dressing as the magical nanny and portray a plump penguin. Then, once the trickier members are determined, it's easier to flesh out the rest.
Let Older Kids Take Part in the Process
The first three years, my daughter didn't have much of an opinion. But leading up to our fourth year, she had opinions — and many of them. When she made it clear she still wanted to do a group costume, I changed my pool of ideas (thankfully, I exhausted 1960s-era cartoons before she got a say) to more kid-friendly ones, like Moana. When my kiddo settled on us re-creating the emotions of Disney Pixar's Inside Out, she instantly began practicing her Disgust pose while dictating who she wanted everyone to be. Luckily, her choices were all doable, so I followed her lead. (My husband still rolls his eyes when I brag how she chose me as Joy and him as Fear.)
Get Your Dream Costumes In Early
I was pretty eager to do a Game of Thrones costume this past year, but when my preschooler expressed interest in selecting the theme, I knew I'd never realize my vision of Moose as a tiny dragon. Looking back, I wish I'd waited a few more years to do a Wizard of Oz theme — something my kiddos would likely be on board with — and used that early phase, when it was still entirely up to me, to pick something a bit more PG-13 that they wouldn't otherwise sign off on. If you have a burning desire to make a Beetlejuice play or do something only adults would appreciate, like everyone dressing as a different pun (I see you, French Toast and Cereal Killer), I suggest you don't delay.
Know Upfront That This Will Cost You Time and Money
When you have one costume you're responsible for, it's as easy as three clicks on Amazon Prime. But when you have upward of three, five, or (my god) seven family members to consider, getting everyone coordinated will take a decent amount of research. If you DIY, you're talking hours upon hours of preparations, and if you opt to buy, there goes your paycheck. I've found that a quick Google search might get me what I want at a premium, but if I spend another 30 minutes digging, I'll find something similar — like the perfect Pugsley striped onesie — at half the price. It's a constant juggle of time or money, but be advised: you'll be spending both. Because Halloween brings me joy, the "costs" involved are more rewarding than stressful (some years, just barely).
Remember Who You Are Dealing With
I tend to always assume the worst, and that has turned into a strength when envisioning costumes. Despite having a generally agreeable dog, I know to test-drive ideas before committing to them. For Inside Out, I would have fought against my youngest being Sadness if I knew she would refuse to wear glasses (an essential accessory) without crying, but thankfully, she loved them. For that year, too, I wanted my kids to have colored hair. Wigs would be easy, I thought, but when I had them don one for a few minutes, I realized that, oh God no, my kids don't like wigs. It took a few attempts at different colored hair waxes and nontoxic temporary sprays before we found one they'd tolerate. And, even then, after donning our costumes for a neighborhood Halloween event, they opted out of having their hair colored the next night for trick-or-treating.
Consider a Mix of DIY and Store-Bought Duds
I am all for families who pick a group idea, hit up Party City, grab four costumes off the rack, and are done. Get it! For me, though, I want to flex my creative muscles. With two kids and a full-time job, I only have so much time (and, let's be honest, skill) to go completely handmade. I don't own a sewing machine and can barely do a whipstitch without studying up on YouTube. If you're in the same situation, consider taking on a few modest DIY projects and sourcing the remaining essentials elsewhere. For our Wizard of Oz year, I cobbled together a tin suit out of a cardboard box while trying my pregnant best not to inhale silver spray paint, yet I bought Moose's cowardly lion mane on Etsy and let my husband consult his closet for scarecrow-worthy flannel. Even when I'm not making something from scratch, I tend to cobble things together without ever entering a costume shop. (Yes, for the Tin Man, I wore a kitchen funnel on my head and old shinguards on my arms.) And if I do, I try to think outside the box. For Moose's infamous Cousin Itt costume, I opted for a clearance-rack Harry Potter Hermione wig and broke apart a woman's feathery fascinator hair piece for the hat.
Don't Let the Costumes Take Away From the Fun
I've been doing this for long enough to know that I get a thrill out of troubleshooting costume ideas. I had a blast figuring out how to, say, attach a tail the size of my baby to her onesie so we could still do diaper changes or to affix the purple curlicue pipe cleaner to Fear's head. I also know that my family, while happy to dress the parts, don't find the same joy in the process as I do. After nearly forcing a kicking-and-screaming toddler into those ruby slippers, I swore I would never let these costumes become a point of contention that zap the fun out of an otherwise crazy-weird holiday. This year, we're doing a — how shall I put this? — "loose interpretation" of a popular superhero group, with heavy creative input from my children, particularly my 2-year-old. Would I have liked to stay true to the source material? Sure. Is that an insane thing to say regarding a child's Halloween costume? Probably, yes. But after five years of this, I know what matters most in a family Halloween costume is the family.