How to make costumes out of recyclable materials

Updated August 10, 2017

Whether you're getting ready for a Halloween party, marching in a parade or simply making costumes for fun, you don't have to buy your materials new to have a great-looking costume. Recycled materials not only make great costumes, but save money and cut down on your household waste. The key to making a great costume from recycled material is to collect the best materials you can, have the right tools and choose the right costume design.


The first step to making a great costume out of recycled materials is to collect your materials. Fabric is always good: old bedsheets, shorts, towels, curtains and other items should be stockpiled. Other materials are also useful: scrap cardboard and paper are always good bets, especially large cardboard boxes. Storage can be a problem with these bulky items, of course. Lastly, keep items to make decorations: buttons, sequins, coloured scraps and anything that can be turned into a design.

Choosing a costume

Once you have the basic materials you need, decide on a costume. Once you've selected an idea, you'll probably find that there are a few items you need that aren't in your pile of fabric and cardboard. If you're in a hurry, you can try to source these from elsewhere. If you're really committed to doing things with recycled materials, however, you'll find that you can turn fabric and cardboard into most items with a little paint, glue and patience.

Crafting tips

To make accessories and other props, cut the approximate shape of the item out of corrugated cardboard and glue several layers of cardboard together until you achieve the desired thickness. Glue the layers with the corrugations at right angles to reduce warping. Wrap the edges of the item in masking tape or wrap the whole object in paper and then paint it. When sewing clothing, you may find that you have pieces of several different colours. If you have time, you can overcome this challenge by dyeing the whole garment a darker shade.


Costumes with a certain ragged or crude element lend themselves well to being made from recycled materials. If you have a lot of cardboard to use, large flat surfaces are a good idea. For instance, consider wearing a simple uniform-like costume, constructing a box with a window in it to wear, and going as an Action Man. The ragged ends of a pirate's trousers can conceal modern cuffs, and a sash and headscarf can be made from any spare fabric, while the cutlass can be made from cardboard and silver paint.

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About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.