Everything You Need to Know About Shopping for a Vintage Halloween Costume
As landfill-bound pumpkin suits and plastic witch hats take over store shelves, we can think of no better time to catch up with Ariana Boussard-Reifel. The founder of hip vintage e-tailer Mode Marteau is invariably the coolest-looking woman in the room, not in small part because she can make fashion magic out of virtually anything.
For those hoping to put together a low-impact Halloween look, we enlisted Boussard-Reifel's sought-after skills with pre-owned clothing and accessories. Whether you’re a thrifting novice or a secondhand-shopping pro, this “one-of-a-find” specialist has 10 on-point tips for how to make a killer costume out of vintage finds. By doing so, you’ll be extending the lifecycle of someone else’s discarded belongings–and maybe even scoring bonus points for authenticity.
Mode Marteau's Ariana Boussard-Reifel.
1. Be flexible–but do have a plan. Have two or three possible costumes in mind and see what pieces you find. Maybe you were going to be a zombie, but then you found an amazing Sgt. Pepper jacket... Be a dead Beatle.
2. Some DIY may be required, but you don’t have to be a tailor. Safety pins are your best friends, as are pinking shears. You can get away with remarkably little sewing if you drape creatively and use lots of pins. Brooches and belts also work well for tacking a costume together and adding sparkle.
3. The accessories make the outfit. It's amazing what the right props can convey. Just like with everyday styling, you can have a simple outfit, but if you throw on great jewels and shoes (or a hat and a pitchfork!), you will really stand out.
4. This is the only time that quality can be thrown out the window. I’m fanatical about quality in all vintage and secondhand purchases. But since this is a one-night deal, I think it's fine to buy that moth-eaten polyester gown as a base to your '60s housewife costume.
5. Don’t lose sight of potential gems in the hunt. You already get big sustainability brownie points for shopping secondhand for your costume (and not throwing another styrofoam Spiderman bodysuit in the landfill). But you can really rein in your carbon footprint if you select items that can be a part of your regular wardrobe after Halloween.
6. Shop early. Most thrift shops have a separate costume section starting in September, comprised of pieces that they've been saving all year but deemed too bizarre for every day. This can be a serious treasure trove–I have stacks of antique silk kimonos that I found just this way!
7. Don’t shop the usual suspects. There are excellent thrift stores around the country. (In New York, I love Housing Works.) These great shops excel because they pre-sort out all the riffraff. It makes it easy to shop, and the chance of finding designer pieces in great shape is much higher. But there is a downside, which is that they don't tend to have random things of little value. So you probably won’t find a 25-cent bag of yarn that will make your Raggedy Ann costume, or a pink XL Hanes shirt that you can rip up into a flamingo dress. For costuming, the less curated the shop, the more creative you get to be.
A full-body base layer will give you something to pin and stitch to–even to paint.
8. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We all want to be original, but sometimes an old favorite–say, Cleopatra–can be truly remarkable if you find a unique way to express it. The added bonus is that you’ll be familiar enough with the style vernacular (gold and blue; a headdress; snakes) that it will be easier to find pieces, because you'll know what you're looking for. If you want originality points, you can riff off an old standard and turn your Cleopatra into Nefertiti (add a conical hat), or even post-asp-bite Cleopatra (use ghostly make-up).
9. Start with a base layer. Whether for modesty or because it can be darn chilly in October, start with something to build on. It can be a black catsuit, a long red nightgown, or even nude stockings. A full-body base layer will give you something to pin and stitch to–even to paint. Plus, it will keep you warm enough to trick-or-treat all night long.
10. Get to the core. Think about what is essential to the costume, and start your hunt for that. If you’re going to be a ghost, you need things that are white and perhaps a bit tattered. Don’t head straight for the sheets, as you could find something that fits that category in almost any department, from skirts to curtains to stuffed animals. When you layer them on, you’ll have a great one-of-a-find costume.
For vintage-costume inspiration, follow Ethica's Vintage Halloween Costumes board on Pinterest.