5 Costume and Hair Designers Share Their Best Halloween Costume Hacks

How to move beyond a cat ear headband with very little effort.
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How to move beyond a cat ear headband with very little effort.
Squee, pink wig! Photo: Anne Morgan

Squee, pink wig! Photo: Anne Morgan

It’s getting to be Halloween crunch time, and don’t tell me that you’re not dressing up — it’s the best holiday of the year! Since Halloween is on a Friday, everyone should definitely be in a costume come 5 p.m. (Bonus points if you dress as Maleficent.) To give you one less excuse for not donning a costume, I hopped on the phone with four costume designers and one hair designer to pick their brains about the best tips and tricks for pulling together a costume easily and cheaply.

The experts:

• Ane Crabtree, costume designer for “Masters of Sex.” Past projects: “Pan Am,” “The Sopranos” (You can also catch her at our LA “How I’m Making It In Fashion” conference in November.)

• Meredith Markworth-Pollack, costume designer for “Reign.” Past projects: “Hart of Dixie,” “Valley Girls”

• Lou Eyrich, costume designer for “American Horror Story.” Past projects: “Glee,” “Nip/Tuck”

• Sophie de Rakoff, costume designer. Past projects: Legally Blonde, In Her Shoes

• Anne Morgan, hair designer. Past projects: “True Detective,” many Jim Carrey movies

Where to shop:

Sure, costume shops start popping up everywhere come October. But they can be 1) generic and 2) expensive. All of the costume designers agree that you should first hit up neighborhood flea markets, Sunday church sales, garage sales and thrift stores like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, Crossroads Trading and NYC’s Housing Works. If you’re in Toronto, try Value Village. If you’re in LA, there is a treasure trove of shops: Crabtree recommends Santee Alley, Out of the Closet and Uncle Jer’s for quirky finds. Then, of course, there’s Etsy. “Don’t be intimidated,” recommends De Rakoff. “Just start typing in keywords.” Each experts also mentioned Michael’s for crafty supplies.

How to deconstruct and zombify your clothes:

Lou Eyrich and an American Horror Story zombie. Photos: Matchbook/FX

Lou Eyrich and an American Horror Story zombie. Photos: Matchbook/FX

Yes, sexy costumes are all the rage for Halloween, but that doesn’t mean you should wear one. Luckily we’re also in a zombie period (please, no sexy zombies) which is one of the easiest costumes to throw together. Eyrich, whose work on “American Horror Story” gives her plenty of credibility in this area, explains how to deconstruct and destroy something convincingly. First off, get some Rit dye in grey, tan, or brown and “overdye” whatever garment you’re using to make it look extra grungy – just toss it in the wash with the dye. Eyrich and her team also have Old English furniture polish on hand for rubbing into clothes. “The mahogany color looks like blood,” she says. She also uses a colored hair spray called Streaks N Tips to spray on clothing to make it look aged.

To shred clothes, Eyrich recommends cutting tiny holes in a garment and then using sandpaper or a sanding block to shred it. She uses a cheese grater on jeans, since denim is harder to shred. My favorite tip? For making someone look like he or she has just come out of the grave, Eyrich sticks Mod Podge – popular with kindergarteners — on clothing and then "throws some dirt and sand on there." Instant zombie detritus. 

How to make something modern look vintage:

Ane Crabtree and her handiwork in "Masters of Sex." Photos: Matchbook/Showtime

Ane Crabtree and her handiwork in "Masters of Sex." Photos: Matchbook/Showtime

So you say you want to be pretty rather than undead. Then think “Masters of Sex” or early “Mad Men.” You should model your style after a Hitchcock heroine. “Look for pencil skirts and peter pan blouses,” Crabtree recommends. “Or a sheath with kitten heels. Add a pointy bra and tuck everything in.” Crabtree trolls Santee Alley for pointy bras (which are gloriously all over “Masters of Sex”), but you can find them at fetish shops, too. Just stuff them with some old hosiery and you’re good to go.

But to really make something look period-appropriate, both Crabtree and De Rakoff agree that accessories are more important than the garment. Crabtree recommends making the accessories really over the top – like overly back combing that ‘60s bob wig so there’s no question what era you’re channeling. Don’t underestimate the power of a pair of gloves or a feather boa, either. “You can take any shape dress and if you accessorize it right, you can make it into whatever you want,” De Rakoff says. “[The dress] doesn’t have to be specific.”

How to make clothes and jewelry look like they’re from the 16th century:

Meredith Markworth-Pollack and some amazing flower crown game on "Reign." Photos: Matchbook/CW

Meredith Markworth-Pollack and some amazing flower crown game on "Reign." Photos: Matchbook/CW

That medieval look, a la “Game of Thrones” and “Reign,” is also all the rage this year. Markworth-Pollack, who is the costume designer on “Reign,” says to look beyond the clothing racks. "You can find an old piece of curtain that you think is a beautiful fabric and you can make that into something," she says. “You can find textiles that are cheap and dye those and make something out of that.” She also stakes out old wedding dresses, then dyes them different colors. “All of a sudden it looks like a 16th century gown with a train. That’s a lot of fun,” she says. And don’t worry if you can’t sew: All of the costume gurus here copped to using things like hot glue guns, staplers and safety pins.

And no medieval lady worth her salt leaves the house without some bling — but it has to be old bling. To make cheap gold mall jewelry look antique, Markworth-Pollack recommends using a black or brown Sharpie to mark it up – instant heirloom.

Headpieces can also really add to the historical look you’re going for here. You can break up old jewelry and repurpose it into head jewelry. Get some wire and fake flowers from Michaels (or a similar store) and get your DIY on. "You can take a necklace, grab a pair of pliers and a hook and make it into a dangly headpiece," Markworth-Pollack says. To make head pieces stay on, hair designer Anne Morgan relies on patches of horsehair, which she glues inside; that gives the hair pin something to stick into.

What to do with cheap wigs:

Sophie de Rockoff and hair designer Morgan in one of her creations. Photos: Matchbook/Anne Morgan

Sophie de Rockoff and hair designer Morgan in one of her creations. Photos: Matchbook/Anne Morgan

Speaking of heads, nothing is more transformative than a good wig. But if you don’t have the coin to spend on a Khaleesi wig, don’t despair. Hair designer Anne Morgan had lots of ideas.

The most annoying thing about costume shop wigs is that slippery, synthetic surface. Here’s what the pros do: “You put the wig in your sink in really hot water to take off that synthetic coating that makes it so slippery that you can’t do anything with it,” Morgan says. "Then use half a cap of fabric softener and it will help soften it. Then just brush it out and lay it in the sun. Use a Tangle Teezer. That’s a perfect brush to have in life anyway." While direct heat is a no-no, you can style your cheap wig with steam rollers or dry it under a hood dryer.

The only product that should touch the cheap wig is cheap hair spray. “You need something almost plastic to hold the wig hair in place,” Morgan says. You can then backcomb it to your heart’s content. If you want to do something more elaborate, like braids, wash the wig, then roll it in a towel and gently squeeze it out. Braid it while still wet to put some wave into it. When the wig dries, take the braids out, then put the real braids in – it’s easier to work with if there’s some wave.

A word on temporary color hair spray:

If it lasts longer than you want it to, Morgan recommends washing with baby shampoo (“It’s the best stripping shampoo, ironically”), then using baking powder on sections with stubborn color. Because the baking powder is abrasive, it will help lift out color. Be sure to condition well after this abuse, though.

Now get out there and be a zombie with an amazing wig. 

If note you're going to be in LA: Sophie de Rakoff and Anne Morgan are collaborating with their friend Marie Monsod to host a Halloween pop-up shop. Vintage and custom costumes, handcrafted wigs and unique head pieces will be available for sale at Recess LA (111 North La Brea, LA ) until October 31st.