It's almost Halloween, and you don't know what to do for a costume for your child. You can pay a lot of money to rent something, or buy one of those prepackaged costumes at the store--but if you have more creativity than money, you can probably whip up a cute animal costume based on a sweatshirt parka. The parka-based costume has several advantages: it's warm, relatively easy to put on and take off, and it comes with a built-in hood that makes the head part of the costume simple. Animals are great costume choices for children, because they can be fierce (a lion) or cuddly (a kitten), and they are appropriate for most school and church-based celebrations. If you work carefully, you can remove the costume props and use the parka as a jacket again after the holiday.
Choose a pullover sweatshirt parka in an appropriate colour, or use something your child already owns and adapt the costume to fit that colour. Gray parkas are good for bunnies. Green parkas are great for turtles. The orange hunting parka nobody ever uses (size really doesn't matter much for these costumes) can become an orange and white Garfield-type cat.
Analyse your animal of choice and determine what props you'll need, starting at the top. You can make your own animal ears from fabric scraps or use parts of stuffed animals you own (or buy from the resale store). The turtle costume doesn't need ears, but the bunny rabbit costume definitely will. Have the costume-wearer try on the parka and pin the ears in place on the hood, then remove the parka and hand sew the ears onto the costume.
Work with what you have on hand. Create a stuffed "shell" for the turtle to wear, perhaps sandwich-board style. Or use a round, green pillow to hand tack to the back of the parka. Attach lighter coloured material or fake fur to the chest of a bunny/kitty/dog costume. Attach wide yellow ribbon stripes all the way around a black parka to create a bumble bee (and don't forget the pipe cleaner antennae on the hood). A feather or fake-fur boa can become a horse's mane. Use leftover fake fur fabric to trim the cuffs for a more realistic furry animal. If you're not going to use the jacket as a jacket again, adding details with fabric paint (such as stripes on the orange cat, or scales on the turtle arms) can take the costume to another level.
Create and stuff a small, token tail (a simple stuffed tube for a cat or dog, a powder puff or bath pouf for a bunny tail). Tack the tail to the bottom of the parka back. Remember, your child will have to be able to sit down comfortably, so don't make the tail of wire or anything stiff. For some costumes, such as a dinosaur, the tail can make the whole costume. If you invest the time and materials to sew a long and elaborate tail, arrange it so that it wraps around the body and fastens (perhaps with Velcro, or an arm loop of elastic) somewhere to the front.
Wear an inexpensive rubber nose-masks with a piece of elastic around the head to provide a snout that makes many costumes more authentic. You can also approximate snouts and whiskers with face paint. Also remember little girls love black, press-on nails for their kitty cat costumes.
Make the bottom half of the costume realistic--black leotard and black tights to complete the kitty-cat look--but a parka costume can also easily be worn over jeans. If you have other props, such as furry mittens or animal-foot slippers, send them along. But since this is a quick and easy costume, if you can create something that looks good from the waist-up, don't worry too much about the rest. It's more important for children to wear rugged, warm, appropriate trousers and shoes, especially for school parties or if they'll be out trick-or-treating.
Let your child help you and make choices. If your child wants to be a Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtle instead of just a cute turtle, draw on the eye mask and let him wear a bandolier.
Always supervise children Remind your child that she can pull the hood down if they get too hot and pull it back up for the Halloween parade.