As temperatures begin to drop, pumpkins spring up on porches, piles of crisp leaves gather on the ground, resplendent in vivid shades of red and yellow. The fall is a time of harvesting and gathering. It is a time to find gratitude for crisp mornings and cozy evenings spent in good company.

An aesthetic display features creamy white pumpkins surrounding a board which spells out “Happy Fall Y’all” in blocky lettering. Image courtesy of Jana Bishop Collection via Canva.

Of course, like all good things, fall has been heavily commercialized. Now, no home in autumn is complete without a throw pillow that proudly proclaims “Fall, y’all”; every food and beverage item available must include the words “pumpkin spice”; retailers shamelessly start rolling out costumes and pumpkins before Labor Day.

Last year, I wrote a piece about the dangers of disposable consumerism as it pertains to Halloween. If you’re interested, feel free to give it a read here. Essentially, disposable consumerism refers to the series of practices and beliefs that create the behavior of buying something with the intention of only using it once before discarding it. Cheaply made costumes are produced in inhumane working conditions by underpaid workers of synthetic fabrics which leak microplastics into the environment. While the price on the tag may seem reasonable, the overall costs of production, shipping, and disposal to people and planet far exceed the value of the costume. Thinking about the larger picture makes it much harder to justify the purchase of cheap, “single use” costumes.

This year, I wanted to return to those ideas and refresh the annual Halloween piece. As I was organizing the article prior to writing, I admit that I was really trying to force an acronym or a flashy pneumonic to add a little extra pizazz to this piece. I did not succeed, so I jumped on the 3 “R”s bandwagon. I had an extremely poorly thought out pun involving pirates, but this did not make it off the cutting room floor. Instead, let me offer a lens for consideration of Halloween costumes. Ask yourself if your costume is: RESPECTFUL, REUSABLE, & RESPONSIBLE.

Respectful

Respectful of others:

Do not wear costumes that are offensive, appropriative, or otherwise harmful to others. There are thousands and thousands of cool, fun, creative, and not-at-all offensive costume ideas. Challenge your creativity to find something that does not ruin someone else’s day. A number of creators have produced great resources to answer your questions about what constitutes an offensive costume. Avail yourself of these resources. As a general rule, if you are treating race or ethnicity as a costume idea or wearing traditional or culturally significant garments from a culture to which you do not belong, reconsider your choices.

Respectful of your physical self:

If you plan to spend time outside, choose a costume which will adequately suit the needs of your environment. If you know you’ll be comfortable inside, wear whatever you want. If you’re outdoors, don’t risk hypothermia or physical discomfort. Find a way to tie in a jacket or cape. Add a base layer underneath for a little extra comfort. I know I sound like an elderly relative warning you to wear a coat, but life is too short to spend an evening huddling for warmth for the sake of fashion.

Respectful of garment workers and the environment:

If you buy a costume fully aware that you will wear it only one or two times before you throw it away, you are disrespecting the likely poorly paid garment workers who produced it and the waste associated with production, shipping, and packaging this costume. Even in clothing factories, much of the work is done by actual humans, meaning that someone created this novelty item to which you are assigning so little value. Respect the workers and the process, and avoid the trap of disposable consumerism.

An accessory or statement piece can transform clothing you already own into a costume, limiting waste and offering a creative challenge. This colorful mask, conveniently in the color scheme of Thrift 2 Fight, would be a beautiful element to create a Halloween look. Image courtesy of Marta Branco via Pexels.
An accessory or statement piece can transform clothing you already own into a costume, limiting waste and offering a creative challenge. This colorful mask, conveniently in the color scheme of Thrift 2 Fight, would be a beautiful element to create a Halloween look. Image courtesy of Marta Branco via Pexels.

Responsible:

Responsibly made/sourced:

Strive to find a costume secondhand. You may be able to find deals online or in various locations in your town for gently used costumes. 

Purchase secondhand clothing items to assemble your own costume. If you have a concept in mind, visit your favorite thrift store and find a few pieces from which you can create your look. Try to find pieces that you would actually have an interest in wearing again, outside of a costume context.

Pull together a look with what you already have at home. In addition to being the cheapest and least wasteful option, this can be one that really sparks creativity. You might take basics you already own and pair them with different accessories or statement pieces to create a look that invokes your costume idea.

Maybe try your hand at upcycling pieces you already own or finds from a thrift store. 

You might be able to trade costumes or borrow within your friend circle. Ask around and pool resources to create low waste costumes that do not feed into disposable consumerism.

Responsibly considered:

Think your costume through. Make sure it is not offensive and try to imagine ways you might reuse elements of it either next year or in your daily life.

Responsibly repurposed:

When you’re finished with a costume or have an ensemble which no longer works for you for whatever reason, take responsibility to extend the use of these textiles. Look into local theater organizations or school drama departments that may accept costume donations or offer it to friends and family who might enjoy it. Extract elements that you might wear again in another context.

Your old costume could be here. Actors participate in a stage play wearing ornate costumes with vivid colors. Image courtesy of Magno Coronel via Pexels.
Your old costume could be here. Actors participate in a stage play wearing ornate costumes with vivid colors. Image courtesy of Magno Coronel via Pexels.

Reusable

Reduce and Reuse to break the single use cycle:

Purveyors of costumes depend on customers returning season after season to make new purchases, rather than reusing what they already own. Breaking this cycle in any of the ways discussed previously in this article reduces waste and expense. In most areas of environmental activism, limiting new consumption and repurposing things you already own is the most efficient way to reduce the footprint of your life.

 

Eleni Georgiadis

Eleni Georgiadis is a classically trained horn player currently residing in Kentucky. Outside of music, she enjoys knitting, sewing, composting, kombucha brewing, and spending time outdoors. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to share her thoughts about sustainability and inclusivity in fashion, weaving together her technical knowledge, passion, and research.

Image of Eleni Georgiadis, writer