How to Put Together a Zero Waste Costume

Would you like to learn how to put together a zero waste costume for Halloween or any occasion? In this post, I will take you through my family’s costumes over the years.

Like you, I have had successes that I can share, but I also like to analyze where I can improve next time. I hope this helps you create more zero waste costumes for your own family.

The Truth of the Matter

I am going to be real upfront and honest right now. As a busy mom, I really struggle to honor my sustainability values when going costume shopping. It is not my shining moment of glory, but like all of us, I AM trying . .

Halloween has always been a favorite of mine. It’s that itchy creative streak in me. I get an idea in my head, and I don’t really want to hit up 20 thrift shops in search of that one article of clothing that I need to pull it off.

So I end up on Amazon again, wading through all the flimsy vinyl monstrosities that won’t make it intact into 2020.

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We Can Do Better

But I think I was a lot better at zero waste costuming prior to having kids, so I know I can do better. Even as a busy mom, this can be done. And I am finding that the best way for me to improve upon an area of my life is to research and write about it. So here I am.

So let me analyze my costumes over the years, to see what I did right, and in what ways I could have gone more zero waste. Use this as a guide for how to put together a zero waste costume.

Clowning Around

two kids dressed up as clowns for a skit
how to put together a zero waste costume

So this one wasn’t actually for Halloween, but a mighty fine costume created by my 4H clowning instructor way back in the day.

This one was very zero waste because pretty much all of it was pulled out of my instructor’s supply closet. Well, we made the oversized flower out of tissue paper.

The dress was an old fashioned polyester number hemmed up short and detailed with artificial flowers. It was accessorized using bright red tights and a straw hat with an assortment of flowers, along with an old yellow pair of Keds with, you guessed it, more flowers.

I learned how to create my own face, too. Pretty cute, huh?

The 20’s Flapper

a young woman dressed up as a flapper

you can reduce waste with your Halloween costumes

This may be my favorite costume of all time.

I happened to already have the absolute perfect modern version of a flapper dress in my closet, so I started from there. I used my winter hat as my cloche hat, and some of my kitten heel dress shoes that can’t be seen, but worked well.

I may have purchased the knee-high nylons, I can’t recall. But I made a glitzy cigarette holder (not shown) out of construction paper and pink sequin strands. The store-bought pink feather boa and white gloves (not shown), finished off the look .

My hair happened to be perfect for the 20’s flapper look, and the makeup isn’t hard to do. I probably could have looked a little harder at thrift stores for the items I bought, but for the most part this is zero waste since I reused the few items that I did buy.

Betty Boop

a young woman dressed as Betty Boop

how to put together a zero waste costume

I would actually give myself an “A” for zero waste with this costume.

Pretty much everything you see, I already had on hand, other than the dog. The gloves, pink boa and homemade “bling” cigarette holder (rolled construction paper with strands of sequins glued on) were all leftover from the previous year’s flapper costume.

The only thing I would have done differently was to find some kind of stuffed poodle at a thrift store instead of purchasing it new. Not bad at all.

Saloon Girl

Murder mystery costumes can be low waste

This ensemble was assembled for a murder mystery party I had been invited to. I think I was a little overwhelmed by the idea of trying to weed through all those thrift stores in search of such a specific type of costume, so I did surrender to Amazon that year.

Ideally, I would have sought out my local costume rental shop. Some of this costume was sourced from my own belongings, though. The boots and the tights were indeed already mine. So not a complete zero waste fail.

“Lions, Tigers & Bears, Oh my!”

lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
a toddler and an infant dressed in bear and tiger costumes

This was the year that I wanted to start doing costumes together as a family. So I came up with this idea through scrolling Pinterest.

With a toddler and an infant, I didn’t really feel like I had the time to figure out what I would need and then hunt down all the pieces . . . so I cheated. Kohls was having a sale and I just couldn’t pass up these little warm, fuzzy animal costumes that were just sweetness.

Today, my toxin wary brain wouldn’t cope well with these new materials surrounding my babies’ skin, but it was only for a few hours and totally worth it. I would recommend instead finding a kids’ consignment sale since I see so many costumes like these at those sales every year. That way you also know that the costumes have had time to off-gas.

As far as my own lion costume, I purchased that online as well; but in my defense I did later reuse it for a onesie bar crawl . .

The black long-sleeved tee on my husband came from his closet, and I already had the puffy paints in my craft supplies. So this idea turned out to be implemented–at least to some extent–in a zero waste fashion.


a toddler dressed as a pirate
My little girl’s miniature pirate costume

Oh. my. god. Are you kidding me right now? This little pirate is pure perfection.

Both my daughters went as pirates that year. My older daughter was dressed as a pirate wench. The costumes were purchased online, and I was too tired from moving to manage a family theme that year.

If I were to do these costumes over again, there are so many ideas out there for recreating it through thrift store finds.


two little girls dressed as witches

Another busy fall, moving into a new home and mama was again too tired to stir up a creative secondhand costume . . . so I committed the wasteful, toxic act of store-bought costuming once again. That said, I did later donate them to a school costume swap for reuse.

If you are looking to dress up your kids in witch attire this Halloween, I would recommend seeking out a used costume swap yourself. There are so many costumes that deserve another go round.

Here are some awesome thrifted (or crafted) witch costume ideas for kids.

Circus Characters

a family dressed as circus characters
you can reduce waste with a circus family costume theme

We had a lot of fun with this circus family theme. As the bearded lady, I used a dress, tights, and shoes I already owned. The only thing I had to buy was a beard, since growing my own would have been both time-consuming and socially challenging.

My husband’s strong man costume also used athletic clothing he already owned. We just had to bulk him up with a fake layer of cloth muscle. I think a homemade barbell such as this one would have really completed the look.

My eldest daughter, the tightrope artist wore her ballet outfit; and her hula hoop made the perfect prop. My youngest daughter’s ringmaster costume was where I struggled, waste-wise. I couldn’t resist purchasing an adorable ensemble, but I will definitely be donating it once she has exhausted using it for dress-up.

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A Little Grace

There is no need for guilt trips. If you are reading this, I know your intentions are good. Sometimes you have it all together and sometimes you have to cut yourself a break. Just like your green mama blogger, here. I hope you now understand a bit better how to put together a zero waste costume.

Happy Halloween!!!

What has been your favorite low or zero waste Halloween costume idea implemented in your family?

If you feel you benefited from the information in this article, please share on social media!

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  1. I loved all the pictures and examples of costumes you have worn – it’s a great reminder to be thoughtful of what we’re buying. Growing up, whatever costumes we bought we played with year-round in our dressup box so that’s also something I’m going to remember.

  2. Such great ideas for zero waste costumes and a great reminder to keep minimizing waste and minimize consumption.
    I always get carried away during the holidays and don’t do as well with Minimalism and less waste.
    My favorite is the Lions tigers and bears oh my, so cute!

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