A Halloween costume swap is a genius way to keep your Halloween affordable and eco-friendly. You’re probably already doing a version of it by passing along outgrown costumes.
Here’s how to make it a bigger (or small but still impactful) event.
Growing up in the early 80’s, Trick-or-Treating was pretty different than today’s Halloween. Most years, we wore homemade costumes. One year my brother was Batman, and I was Casper the Friendly Ghost – complete with vinyl costumes and smelly masks. I still wonder why I didn’t just wear a white sheet with holes for eyes.
Most of my favorite autumn memories are wrapped up in simple pleasures like homemade popcorn balls, peanut butter logs, and the hit of the night – a trip through the general store owned by the nicest old man in town where each child got to pick out a whole candy bar for their treat!
My parents knew just about everyone in our community, so the only safety issue we had to deal with was not getting molasses all over your treat bag. Because it was also your pillowcase, and your mom expected it to come home presentably.
Fast forward to today’s Halloween…
Hitting the Halloween circuit as a parent can be a bit of a culture shock if you’ve been out of the loop for a decade or two. Sometimes “over the top” is the only way I can describe it.
Giant inflatables, elaborate decorations, and the candy… as if today’s kids needed a day devoted to even more sugar than they consume on a daily basis.
Halloween Fun Without All the Waste
There are many ways to simplify and green your Halloween, but when it comes to saving money, the costume is huge. Store-bought costumes typically run between $25 and $80.
A DIY costume often saves a lot of money, but can involve a pretty big time investment as you run from Goodwill to thrift shops looking for all the necessary elements. (Be sure to check out these amazing nature-inspired DIY Halloween costumes.)
When you take part in a Halloween costume swap, you’re limiting waste even more. Fewer resources are used to make new product, but it also means less packaging, less transportation of the product, and less waste from costumes being trashed.
Host a Halloween Costume Swap
Costume swapping is a brilliant idea. If you’re like me, you’ve probably never thrown last year’s costume in the garbage. Instead you pass it along to a younger relative, friend, or donate it to Goodwill.
And while that’s the responsible thing to do… your child still needs another costume when October 31st rolls around again. Costume swapping is the win-win solution for kids, parents, and the planet.
You can make it a small party or a larger community gathering if you have the time and energy to organize it. Whichever option you choose, here’s an outline of how to manage it.
1. Set a Date and Time
The first Saturday in October typically gives everyone enough time to work out the details of the costume before trick or treat night arrives. It’s also a great time to start getting people in the mood for Halloween.
2. Secure a Location
A local park or a meeting room at the library are perfect. Scope out any other community buildings that could work. If it’s a smaller gathering among people you know, you can always host it in your home or backyard.
3. Spread the Word
For a small party, you can text, email, or evite your friends. For a larger gathering, make signs for community spaces or start a Facebook group and encourage people to share. Some of the swapping can happen via social media for those who can’t attend or those who are looking for a very specific item.
It might be smart to include a little note that, depending on sizes and how many costumes are available, they may not go home with a costume. See below for rules.
4. Collect and Organize Costumes
Most people will be bringing their own to the party and leaving with another. But others are happy to donate without attending the event. Offer a drop off location for these items or if you’re really energetic, go pick them up.
Have attendees spread the word that costumes are accepted without attending. You’ll end up with more options to choose from.
5. Set the Rules
Everyone brings the costumes or dress-up items they’re willing to part with. If they bring one costume, they can leave with one costume. Decide in advance what you’ll do if there aren’t enough sizes for everyone to take a costume home. Sometimes bigger costume swaps are more effective for everyone to find something.
6. Or Opt to Do It All Online
If you get the vibe that no one has time to attend an in-person event in your area, turn your FB group into a marketplace-style costume swap. There’s no charge, and people can post costume photos along with sizing info and other group members claim what they want.
One of the group rules is that you can only receive the same number of costumes as you donate.
DIY Costume Inspiration From Swapped Items
You don’t have to bring only store-bought costumes to the swap.
If you got creative with DIY in years’ past, bring those too! Or bring outgrown elements from your child’s dress up cache to share with other parents. Your daughter’s old dance recital tutu might be the piece another child needs for her fairy costume.
Mom of three Lauren Mancke began creating adorable DIY Halloween costumes for her kids in 2015. Her Instagram is a fun one to watch this time of year. (Here’s her Ted Lasso costumes from a few years ago!)
If you can’t do a costume swap in person, trade in your old costume and look for a traded one at Swap.com’s Halloween section.
Find more Halloween fun here:
This article was originally published in 2011 and updated in October 2023.