Halloween costumes shouldn’t have to come with a big price tag – check out the charity shops on your doorstep for cheap, ethical, and original costumes this spooky season.
While some people’s scariest Halloween nightmares involve monsters chasing them around haunted houses or running out of candy during the first hour of Trick-or-Treat, mine was always having an unoriginal costume. I spent months before the holiday scouring websites and department stores for ideas and sales. While most students were buying school supplies in August, I was at Target combing through the aisles for the perfect (and budget-friendly) outfit to show off at my friends’ parties.
However, it never seemed to matter what I bought because every year I would run into multiple people wearing not only my same character, but the same articles of clothing from the same stores.
That all changed the Halloween I forgot it was Halloween. When my friends came to pick me up for a party, I realized I didn’t have a costume. All of the department stores were closed for the night and I knew I probably couldn’t drop a lot of money on a pre-made costume anyway. Instead, we drove to a late-night charity shop in hopes I could quickly piece something together.
I found a pink dress for $5 and a large jean jacket for $8. I paired it with my own knee-high socks and grabbed a box of Eggos from the fridge. After curling my blonde hair, I showed up to the party as Eleven.
It was the best reaction to a costume I had ever gotten. Not only was no one else wearing it, but the entire outfit was less than just the shoes from some store-bought costume.
From then on I was hooked on charity shopping for Halloween costumes, and I don’t think I could ever go back. I’ve always upcycled – which means transforming something used into a new product – my holiday outfits, and there are a lot of reasons you may want to do the same this spooky season.
Why use charity shops for Halloween costumes?
Charity shopping for your Halloween costume is both less expensive and better for the environment.
Store-bought Halloween costumes are often cheap and fall apart after a few uses. And if you’re anything like me and go all out at Halloween, I plan on reusing my costume multiple times throughout October. Instead of shelling out £50 to £80 on Amazon, costumes like my Stranger Things one can be made with a combination of charity clothes and accessories you already have at home for under £20.
The average customer transaction value in a charity shop is just £4.05, according to The Charity Association. This provides market competition to “fast fashion” outlets, which are companies that sell mass produced items imported from all around the world, where the workers are often paid very little for making those products. Charity shops give consumers the option to buy clothes sustainably at a lower price without being unethical.
If you care about the environment, purchasing your costume at a charity shop is a more environmentally-friendly solution compared to shopping from a major retailer. In 2018 alone, 327,000 tonnes of textiles alone were kept out of landfills as a result of charity retail in the UK, according to The Charity Retail Association. This is because a charity shop’s first choice is always to ensure that these items are re-used by selling them on to local shoppers. If a charity retailer can’t sell an item in the front of the shop, they will seek to recycle it directly or through a textile recycler. This is why charity shops are able to reuse or recycle over 90% of donated clothing, over 90% of donated books and 85% of donated electrical goods.
The reduction in landfill use also makes a positive difference to the UK’s carbon footprint. In 2017 charity retail helped to reduce CO2 emissions in our country by around 7m tonnes.
What are some upcycled costume ideas I can do this Halloween?
You can either take items directly from a charity shop and turn them into a character, or you can upcycle the articles of clothing and turn them into a costume. Because I am not exactly “artistically inclined” I like to just mix-and-match clothes until they make a character. I’ve bought a white buttoned-down shirt, tucked it into some shorts and wrapped a red tie around my head. After printing off a nametag from Google, I was Shaun from Shaun of the Dead.
My friend upcycled a costume by buying a men’s suit jacket and decorating it with sparkles and colorful patches she found at a craft store. She taped tin foil balls to her neck and became Hipster Frankenstein's Monster.
My personal advice is to find a pop culture character you like and when you go to a charity shop find two or three main staple pieces that fit your character. You can then accessorize the outfit with items you have at home.
Find a blue shirt and jeans paired with an art pallet? You’re Bob Ross.
A black dress with a collared white shirt underneath? Braid your hair and be Wednesday Addams.
Put a red vest over a denim jacket and checkered shirt? You’re Marty McFly.
If you’d rather upcycle an item, I suggest taking a plain article of clothing like a jacket or dress and decorating it with patches, sparkles and stickers from a craft shop.
Where can I find a charity shop near me?
So, you’re pretty new to Glasgow and don’t know which of the West End’s abundance of charity shops will have the things you’re looking for. Have no fear fresher, The Charity Retail Association has a ‘Find a Charity Shop’ tool to help you locate retailers across the West End. This tool can help you find shops based on specific products including clothes and accessories, and narrowing it down to the West End means you won’t have to trek across the city to find the perfect costume – especially good if you’re running a little last minute this spooky season.
Also, choosing to research before you head out will lead to an all-round more relaxing – ergo more fun – second-hand shopping experience. Make sure you know which local charity shops are within your budget and which causes you’d most like to support to add extra bang for your buck. For some suggestions, Sense Scotland is supposedly very budget-friendly. Shelter has exclusive clothing for niche costumes, including vintage items. PDSA not only has a wide-variety of clothes, but their profits go to helping sick and injured animals.
For more top tips and information on the benefits of charity shopping head over to www.charityretail.org.uk/