Last-minute T-shirt Costumes in a Pinch

Last-minute T-shirt Costumes in a Pinch

By Monica K. Guthrie

When I was young (young-er) I watched the movie “One Fine Day” a 1996 movie starting Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney. I can’t tell you much about it, but I do remember one scene: The kids needed a costume and Michelle Pfeiffer’s character whipped one together from the things in her purse. 

Even as a young girl I was impressed. Now that I am a mother with two boys, I feel the need to be prepared for all situations, and that includes last-minute costumes – especially as we head into Halloween season. So here are some of my quick-and-easy, last-minute costumes you can do with things you probably have lying around your house. 

Note: I didn’t have a lot of the shirts lying around so I went to the thrift store and spent $14 for all the shirts/bedsheet I needed to make these costumes. All of these costumes were made with the assumption that you are like me – you can’t sew, you don’t have a lot of crafting tools lying around and you don’t have any time. So EVERYTHING I made was with masking tape and scissors. If you have extra talents feel free to fancy these costumes up – sew the edges, add some sparkle, make it yours!

White T-shirt costume

 With a white T-shirt and a black sharpie, you can make a few costumes including a burglar, Dalmatian, skeleton, doctor, ghost, zebra – pretty much anything you can imagine up! Then you pair a bit of eyeliner or dark eyeshadow to do some “face painting.” Draw a black spot around the eye for a Dalmatian or zebra stripes across the face. If you want to be a skeleton, find some lighter eyeshadow, mix it with some face lotion (or I use coconut oil – it comes off easier after) and put a mask on – then make skull with eyeliner and shadow. These are pretty easy! For me the hardest part was convincing my three-year-old boy to hold still long enough for me to draw on his face.

This was the easiest to make and the one my 3-year-old son liked the most. If I had more time I would have made floppy ears with a headband and T-shirt scraps. The face makeup was done with my eyeliner and eyeshadow.

Colored T-shirt costume

With colored shirts you can be specific characters like Tinkerbell, Capitan America or Peter Pan. Here’s how:

Peter Pan/Tinkerbell: a green shirt + scissors + belt. I used a shirt a little larger than my son so that the top hung a little more. Then I cut the neck, the sleeves and the bottom (a chevron pattern). I didn’t have green pants or tights so he just wore jeans. I think it would have looked better if I put him in black pants. The hat I made with the fabric I had after cutting the shirt (just used tape to hold it together and then turned it inside out to hide the tape).

I cut the top, sleeves and bottom to make the outfit. I used the bottom scraps to make the hat and just used tape to keep the seams together. It’s not going to last from generation to generation but it works in a pinch.

Capitan America: blue shirt + white and red paper + scissors. This was ridiculously simple. I just cut out a white star to put on the chest. Then cut red and white stripes (about 2 or 3 inches thick) and taped them vertically on the bottom of the shirt. If you have any paper left over, you could make a shield with a pizza pan (cut out circles in red, white and blue and then put a white star in the center). If you wanted.

Personalized superhero: any color shirt + paper letter cut-out. Take a shirt and cut out a letter (I’d choose the first initial of their first name). Tape that to the shirt and tada – they have become a superhero! Pair it with another shirt of a different color, cut open to make a cape (cut off the sleeves and the front of a t-shirt, keeping the neck so they can stick their head through it)! For accessories (superhero cuffs) take toilet-paper rolls, cut them lengthways and color the appropriate color (or use colored paper – or I used an old sequin top that I cut into strips and covered the toilet paper roll with tape – I use tape for everything).  

Other ideas

Here are a few other costume ideas that require a little more than a shirt, scissors and paper:

Jake and the Neverland Pirates – This is the easiest cartoon character to duplicate (to me). Put on some jeans, some brown boots, a white t-shirt and then here comes the magic (the vest). Take a blue T-shirt (that fits the child – you can see in the image that I did NOT use a shirt that fit my son! Haha!) and cut it right down the middle (from the center of the collar down) so that it opens up. Then cut off the sleeves – tada! You have a vest! Then take some yellow washi tape (or masking tape – that’s what I used) and put it along the edge of the vest so that it looks like piping. Put a few more on the bottom half to look like buttons. Now all you need is a red bandana and you are Jake!

I was the most impressed with how well this costume turned out. The masking tape accented the vest perfectly and I even made faux buttons with them. The jeans, boots and sword we had. The headband is actually a bunch of red ribbon taped together to make one large bandana.

Mummy – Just get wrapped up in toilet paper. Okay, maybe not. For something a little more lasting, you can take an old white bed sheet (flat or fitted), cut it into long strips (no need to make them even strips) and then tie them in knots – one to another. Wrap them around your body making sure to have two separate sections, one for the torso and one for the legs (just in case you have to go to the bathroom make the leg portion looser). Note: I made this for my son but he went to sleep before he could try it on so I just happen to know that a full-size fitted sheet will be enough for at least one 5-foot 4-inch, 150 lbs., woman. I wore a camisole to give the strips something to tie on to (the straps) and also wore white leggings so I could tuck the top end of the strips into something. I checked to make sure I could go to the bathroom once the costume was done (a serious consideration as any parent can attest to).

This is my modern take on a mummy – I wore a camisole underneath and left the shoulders bare because I overheat quickly, but you could easily cover them. This was all made with one full-size fitted sheet. This one took the longest to put together because you had to wrap it around the person. Another suggestion would be to attach it to sweatpants and a shirt either by sewing or with glue or tape if you have time.

Mario brothers – Take overalls, a red (or green) shirt and a matching hat and then cut out a small circle on white paper and put a giant letter “M” (red) or “L” (green) then pin it to the hat. Or, for a twist, put the initial of your little on it. Be a new character!

So there you have it! A few options to get you through the Halloween holidays! If you have your own awesome diy, let us know about it in the comments below or share a picture on our Facebook page! Happy Halloween!


Monica K. Guthrie is an Army brat, an Army veteran (Rock of the Marne!) and now an Army spouse with two boys. She is currently the media relations officer for the public affairs office at Fort Sill, Okla., and writes a weekly column called the Okie Bucket List. She also has a photography and graphic design business, Pro Deo Creations, that she maintains between potty training and kissing scraped knees. 

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