5 Halloween Costume Tips for Procrastinators

Left your costuming to the last possible minute? Local costume designer Ivania Stack spills her secrets for transforming yourself on the fly.
Two of Ivania Stack's expert tips for last-minute costuming. Top: Modcloth Put on a Show Sunglasses ($14.99) and ModCloth Right Black Cat Ya Headband ($12.99); Bottom: Smashbox Always Sharp Waterproof Kôhl Liner ($20) and Make Up For Ever Artist Shadow ($21).

Thinking about skipping out on dressing up for Halloween this year? Maybe you don’t think you’ll have enough time, or perhaps you don’t feel like putting a lot of money—or, let’s be honest, effort—into your costume. But don’t concede to spending next Friday couch-surfing with the candy stash just yet. We asked local costume designer Ivania Stack—who’s designed wardrobe for productions at Woolly Mammoth, Studio Theatre, and MetroStage, among others—to spill her secrets for last-minute costuming. Read on for her tips.

1) Remain neutral. “Whenever we have an actor or actress who’s playing a lot of different characters we’ll typically dress them in neutral colors,” says Stack. This one’s easy for everyone. Who doesn’t have a host of neutrals stashed in their wardrobe? Hues like cream or gray can easily be the base of a whole variety of looks, and they transition easily from workwear during the day to costume come evening. Try this: Pair a gray suit with a trench coat and a hat to turn yourself into Inspector Gadget. Or don all black, and you can be a mime, a beatnik, or—with the addition of ears and a tail—the ever-popular black cat.

2) Always accessorize. “Accessories are the easiest to work with,” Stack says. The difference between nailing a costume and not quite pulling it off is sometimes as easy as having the right accessories and props. And you probably already own pieces that can work as a costume. Got a few strings of pearls and big sunnies? You’re Holly Golightly. Fedora and a red carnation? A 1920s gangster. Take those same sunglasses and add a fur coat, and you can be a movie star (or Rachel Zoe).

3) Focus on the face. Stack suggests focusing on hair and makeup first, especially if you’re short on time, because that’s what people will see first. Halloween is one of the only nights during which you can get away with over-the-top looks that would be too extreme on a regular night, so don’t be shy. Try easy tricks like smudging a red eyeshadow under the eye for instant creepiness. If you’re working a historic character, go for period makeup such as a 1960s cat eye, ’80s-style hot pink lipstick, or a ’20s-inspired pin curl. And don’t forget about the power of eyeliner—it can be used to add a mustache or animal features in a pinch.

4) Think power in numbers. Don’t forget about your friends! “Group costumes can be some of the best costumes,” says Stack. Sometimes dressing as an iconic character last-minute can be too difficult to pull off well. But when you amplify an idea with a friend or two, the look stands a better chance of translating. Here’s an easy (and local!) idea: Put a few friends in power suits. Instant Scandal.

5) Explore your resources. Your closet isn’t the only place to find inspiration for costuming. If doubts over skillfully painting on the perfect cat eye are what’s standing between you and your inner Amy Winehouse, YouTube has your back. Try checking your favorite thrift store for costume potential. Urban Outfitters often stocks some seasonal silly specialty pieces. And, of course, there’s always Google. Do your research to see how others have pulled off a costume idea, then replicate as needed.

Get Our Weekend Newsletter

The best DC news, delivered straight to your inbox.
Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.