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Proper Green: Thrift Store Costumes

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Head to the thrift store with these costume ideas, and you can come away with a full, eco- and wallet-friendly get-up.

Dear Proper Green,

I am not a fan of the store-bought costumes. What are some costume ideas that are both environmentally friendly and cost-effective?

-Soraya T., North Plainfield, NJ

Dear Soraya,

We aren’t the biggest fan of store-bought costumes either, especially since many of them are disposed after just one use! One great alternative is to source your costume from your local thrift store. You can find your entire costume there, or supplement what you already have at home. This cuts down on waste and can be cheaper than buying a costume from the store. Plus, thrift stores have an eclectic selection of items that might inspire you to go as something you hadn’t thought of before. Shop around or use some of these ideas for thrifty costumes.

Tacky Tourist: The Tacky Tourist is a classic thrift store costume and one of the easiest to pull off. Some really random souvenir T-shirts end up at secondhand stores — the more far-flung from your hometown, the better. Add a pair of loudly patterned shorts and accessories such as sunglasses, a sun hat, a fanny-pack, and a travel guidebook.

American Gothic: If you’re going as a male/female pair, the iconic 1930 painting of a Midwestern farmer and his daughter can easily be recreated with thrift store finds. To dress as the woman, put a white collared shirt under a black sweater. Wear a brown or dark colored patterned sleeveless dress over the shirt and sweater, and finish with a cameo pin or necklace at the throat. For the man, you’ll need a striped shirt under overalls and a navy blue jacket. Overalls might be difficult to find, but worn, light colored jeans will be close enough. Accessorize with round spectacles and a pitchfork.

Katniss Everdeen: The Hunger Games heroine is likely to be a top pop culture costume this year since the second installment of the trilogy, Catching Fire, opens in theaters this November. Bring Everdeen to life with earth-tone outerwear. Ideally you would put a brown or black jacket over a dark T-shirt, but even a dark vest over a dark longsleeve shirt will work. Wear brown or army-green cargo pants and hiking boots on the bottom. A decorative pin could pass as Everdeen’s Mockingjay pin, while the bow and arrows might require some craftiness.

Cook: Cookware such as frying pans and spatulas are common thrift store items that may find use in your kitchen after October 31. Pick up an item or two of cookware along with an apron and cookbook to complete a cook costume. You might even carry around some candy to give away, since people will associate you with food.

Flapper: Flappers are timeless and timely — a perennial favorite but particularly relevant this year thanks to the The Great Gatsby movie. You might be able to find a retro dress at the thrift store, though it’s the accessories that really make the costume. Try to find a long string of beads, a headband, and a fringed shawl to wear with your dress. Decorate the headband with an oversized brooch or feathers.

Artist: Turn a black-and-white striped shirt into an artist costume by wearing it with black pants and a black beret. A palette and paintbrush are a must, while a mustache drawn with a marker is optional.

Do you have any more thrifty costume ideas? Share them in the comments below! About Proper Green

Proper Green is Recyclebank's green advice column. From promoting good manners in a green world (because ideas about what constitutes proper behavior and the environment are still evolving) to providing easy ways to make your every day more sustainable, Proper Green aims to help smooth the way with answers to questions that are important to you!

Do you have a question for Proper Green? Send inquiries to Please note: Questions may be edited for clarity and length.

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Proper Green
Proper Green

Proper Green is Recyclebank's green advice column. From promoting good manners in a green world (because ideas about what constitutes proper behavior and... more

  • lisa p. 1 year ago
    FYI, There are many tutorials online for the Katniss Everdeen signature braid. I have long hair and my fave long hair tutor is Torrin Page. She is chatty, happy and very good at explaining EVERY STEP. She has a nice tutorial on allk basic braiding styles and then when you need to, you can go back to those if you want mixed styles such as Dorothy's french roll into braids and then the ends curled. Torrin even went as Dorothy one year for Halloween. Here's her Katniss braid tutorial:
    She has other Katniss hairstyles as well.
  • Melissa O. 4 years ago
    I found a really cute dinosaur costume for my son to wear this year. He had a dino themed birthday party that he wore it to first, then a preschool class Halloween party, and finally trick-or-treating. The best part was it was only $2!
  • Cindy W. 4 years ago
    I have done the thrift shop costumes for over 20 years now. I bought items not only for Halloween costumes, but for costumes in class plays. Plus the schools appreciate it when you donate the costumes for future plays. I remember purchasing an old wedding dress when my daughter wanted to be Cinderella from the movie "Ever After". The material I cut off was used for other items. The excess lace was used for her wings and Halloween bag. The rest was gathered and saved for other projects.