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How to create a costume from charity shop clothes

Updated August 10, 2017

Charity shops are a great way to find the parts you need for a costume on a limited budget. Whether you're getting ready for Halloween, a costume party or another type of event, you can usually find the basic elements of an outfit on the racks at a charity shop. You'll need to employ a little creativity, but that's half the fun.

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  1. Begin your search with more than one costume idea in mind. Creating a costume from charity-shop finds is like working with any other kind of found object: you have to let the material guide you. If you go in with a preconceived notion of what you want, you'll have a harder time getting it.

  2. Choose costume ideas that are likely to fit in with what you'll find in a charity shop. "Post-apocalyptic survivor," "little old lady" or "zombie" are going to be easy to do with charity shop resources; "Renaissance minstrel" might be more of a challenge.

  3. Hit multiple charity shops in a single sweep. Fortunately, most British town centres have at least one dense cluster of charity shops, so it won't be hard to bounce from one to another looking for the best piece of kit.

  4. Look at what you find with an unconventional eye. The essence of charity shop buying is to see things in terms of their colour, shape and texture rather than their intended purpose. You might find an ideal piece of costume among tea towels or drapes rather than among clothes. You're far more likely to find the materials for your Julius Caesar costume among bedding rather than clothing.

  5. Browse other sections of the shop for accessories. If you've already found what you need for your pirate costume, a plastic cutlass from the toy section might be the perfect finishing touch. Maybe your Frank Sinatra costume needs a martini glass to make it complete.

  6. Master some basic sewing techniques. You don't have to be a professional tailor, but you'll get a lot more out of your charity shop finds if you're comfortable taking a garment in a size or two. Remember that you're probably only going to wear your costume once, so it doesn't have to be perfect.

  7. Tip

    In addition to charity shops, look for costume and prop elements at other cheap retailers such as discount stores and army surplus shops.

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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.

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