How To Design A Creative Halloween Costume At The Last Minute

It’s not too late! Just follow these simple tips, from designer Ken Tanabe, and you’ll be hacking Halloween like a pro.

It’s Halloween. All the good costumes are sold out. You might think it’s too late to make yourself a great Halloween costume from scratch, but think again. Multidisciplinary designer, educator, and holiday hacker Ken Tanabe has been designing wonderfully inexpensive Halloween costumes for himself using six simple rules. Here, he a few guidelines for whipping up a creative costume in no time.


Find A Cheap Material That Inspires You

The trick to designing a last minute Halloween costume is to embrace and allow yourself to be inspired by the materials at hand. “We’re surrounded by materials that are easily repurposed and inexpensive,” Tanabe says. “When I brainstorm costumes, I’ll start by just finding a material I think is interesting, then draping it over me, almost like a mannequin.”

And that can be anything: Tanabe has used everything from Ikea file folders to boxes full of broken old VHS tapes to make his costumes. The trick is to collect your materials first, and only worry later about what you’re actually going to be. So look around the house and try to find some object at hand that you find interesting, but can’t quite figure out why. Now try to wear it. Inspiration will spring from there.

Names Are Important

When you’re slapping together something at the last minute, you need to figure out what to call yourself. Otherwise, you’re not dressing up as anything; you’re just an oddity.

“I had a professor in college who said that designers solve problems, while artists create them,” Tanabe says. “For Halloween, you need to go as something; otherwise, you’re just creating a problem for other trick-or-treaters to figure out. Design yourself a name.”

According to Tanabe, even a bad costume can be saved by a great concept. One year, Tanabe decided to dress himself up in a suit made of old VHS tapes topped with a skull-like mask. But the costume only really came together when he came up with the perfect name for his creation: the Death of VHS.


Nix The Sex And Gore

One of the key tenets that Tanabe follows when he designs Halloween costumes for himself is to avoid sex and gore at all costs. “There’s nothing wrong with a sexy costume, or a scary costume, but they’re crutches,” says Tanabe. “If you don’t know what to do, you lean on sex and gore. But if you want to be creative, you should be doing something the opposite of what everyone else is doing.”

Dress Up As Who You’d Really Like To Be

To Tanabe, Halloween represents the one day a year when society gives people total creative freedom to dress the way they want. So part of what makes a good Halloween costume is ignoring the way you’d usually dress, and instead give into the kid inside you who would have dressed up in a cardboard robot costume every day if his mom let him.

“Halloween is an opportunity to dress up as who you’d really like to be, or how you’d really like to be seen if society would let you,” Tanabe says. “Why not take advantage of that?”

Why Halloween Is Important For Designers

Even if they don’t dress up for Halloween, designers should consider making a Halloween costume annually, Tanabe says. It’s a chance to be creative in a totally new way and explore a creative aspect of yourself that you might otherwise ignore. “There’s value in working outside of your established medium for a time,” Tanabe says. “It’s standard workplace creativity stuff. This is just a fun way of doing it.”

For more information about Ken Tanabe’s six rules of Halloween costume design, go here.