Five Halloween Costumes You Should Avoid (and Tips on How to Pick a Better One)

If you're going to wait until the last minute to throw together a Halloween costume, you should at least make sure it's not already played out. Check out our five costumes to avoid, and no one will sense your lack of care to plan ahead.

Every Friday, I’m compiling a list of five things that meet one criterion. “What is that criterion,” you ask? Well, it’s going to change every week and you’re just going to have to try and keep up.

This week…

Five Halloween Costumes You Should Avoid (and Tips on How to Pick a Better One)

When it comes to Halloween costumes, guys don’t traditionally plan that far ahead and this behavior frequently yields unimaginative, lame, and cheap costumes. And while I always like to help when it comes to playing pretend, I cannot sit down with each and every one of you to produce a great idea that will help you get the most compliments on October 31.

So, for everyone struggling to figure out a costume idea, here is a textual map for your trials – be sure to avoid the following five massive potholes on the road to costumed glory.

5. Any non-specific “zombie” version of anything

You know how 93% of all female Halloween costumes boil down to sexed-up versions of normally non-sexed-up things? Like a girl can’t just be a simple police officer or maid or teacher, she has to eliminate most of the clothing normally associated with each of those vocations and then rationalize that they are “a sexy cop” or whatever. Well, “zombie” is the male version of “sexy” when it comes to Halloween costumes.

Guys who have no ideas but actually want to CREATE a costume generally choose a relatively pedestrian costume like “businessman,” inject some bloody carnage and suddenly, they feel perfectly content with their costuming self, as they are now a “zombie businessman” (whatever that is). This behavior is embarrassing for the guy in question and everyone who comes into contact with him.

SOLUTION: if you’re willing to put the work into transforming something ordinary into something extraordinary, at least put that creativity into doing something uniquego as one of the Marvel Zombies or something.

4. The Joker

This advice would’ve been even more prescient last year, I realize. However, based on the sheer number of fan-made Joker costumes photographed at comic conventions in the last 12 months, the amount of people still paying tribute to Heath Ledger's final proper performance has not decreased at all.

While the character is extremely popular, the degree of difficulty on this costume is off the charts. Just from a wardrobe perspective, look at some of the fan-made versions of it online and tell me why you believe you will be able to succeed at finding a replica of a custom, tailored purple suit (amongst many other elements of the get-up) where so many others have completely failed.

On top of that, there’s the make-up/hair aspect and… look, I’m just going to tell you now: the odds of you ever pulling that off in any sort of accurate fashion are slim (again: look at other fan attempts to recreate it). Combine that with the clothing-you-will-not-be-able-to-find and when it comes to a character this recognizable, if you don’t do it complete justice, it’s worse than not attempting it, at all.

SOLUTION: if you love The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger’s portrayal so much that you MUST dress as The Joker in this or any other year regardless of how painfully common it is, there is a very simple and extremely under-utilized costume worn by this character that you should pursue — “The Bank Robber Joker”.

First of all, the readily available, it-looks-cheap-but-it-also-looked-cheap-in-the-movie clown mask removes all need for you to try and turn your face/hair into a perfect Ledger look-alike. If your hair is not dark and/or long enough, you might want to look into finding and maybe modifying an appropriate wig but if you’ve got relatively long dark hair, there’s probably no point in wasting time on this barely-visible part of the costume.

Wanna be the joker - screenshot

Secondly, the entire wardrobe is easily found in any thrift store for a very low total price: a charcoal or black jacket and pants (they don’t need to match), a light blue button-up shirt, brown loafers, and some black gloves (the older and more-used any of these aspects look, the better). Bang. Done. You probably already have these things in your closet.

Finally, as the cherries on the sundae, you may want to carry a toy pistol and a baby blue duffel bag but you can get along totally fine without either. If you really want the character to pop, practice the Joker’s distinctive walk and mannerisms, as they will really sell a personality that may not be visible through that mask of a frozen face.

3. The really obscure or nondescript character that almost nobody will understand or recognize

Because part of the challenge in deciding on a Halloween costume is ensuring you do NOT choose something that everyone else will be wearing, many people will hastily go to the complete other end of the spectrum and choose a character with which almost nobody is remotely familiar (or worse: a character so mundane, it doesn’t even look like a character).

Obviously, if you expertly pull off a really obscure-yet-recognizable character, one small portion of the world will completely love you for it but most Halloween parties generally don’t have that diverse and informed of an audience. Thus, your painstaking attempts to become “Eli Cash near the end of The Royal Tenenbaums, when he’s high on mescaline and with his face painted up like an African priest” will only be met with confusion.

SOLUTION: I’m all for people trying something new so I will not even suggest you completely cease being creative but you should consult a short and important checklist if you’re worried nobody will know what the hell you’re supposed to be.

  • Would most of your friends and immediate social circle understand this costume? If even your closest peers are slow to get it, it’s probably not going to get any better when the party-going cross-section expands and gets more and more drunk.
  • Does this look like a costume? Sometimes the problem isn’t just that most people have no idea what you are supposed to be but they also can’t even tell you’re supposed to be dressed up as anything (even if you make every single effort to make the costume perfect). Example: this year, I can definitely envision a lot of guys dressing as Alan from The Hangover, complete with a fake baby. This is fine. Most people will get the reference. However, if your friend is going as Alan and you want to stay with the Hangover theme… don’t. All of Alan’s friends in the film are normal-looking and will come off the same way, as your Halloween costume (even with the best of intentions). Be distinctive, especially when you're being someone else.

The Hangover costume idea

2. Yourself (or any iteration of yourself)

You wearing your gym clothes and pretending to be the workout version of yourself? Lame. You wearing your own clothes and carrying a bottle of liquor, pretending to be an alcoholic? Dumb. You wearing one of those “Hi! My Name Is…” nametags with your name or one of those “This is my costume” t-shirts? Get real.

Michael jackson as a zombie

SOLUTION: I don’t even have a solution for this one. If you’re dressing up as yourself, you don’t deserve any help.

1. Michael Jackson

This one is going to be all too prevalent in 2009 and I can already guarantee that there will not be a single Michael Jackson costume you conceive of that represents anything interesting or worthwhile. Most of them will undoubtedly come off as cheap, lame, and/or offensive, in some way. In other words: it’s really a no-win situation.

SOLUTION: You probably just need to go back to the drawing board. However, I will admit that if you worked really hard at it and constructed a perfect Michael Jackson as a zombie from the Thriller video” costume, it would be rather cool and poignant (y’know, as he is now dead). As part of the deal, though, you absolutely must learn and frequently perform the entire dance sequence — sorry, that's a rule.

Justin Brown

Justin Brown is an artist and writer living in Virginia. He channels most of his enthusiasm into making things for his online art shop, Artness! by Justin Brown. You can keep up to date with him, his worldly adventures, and his dogs by following him on Instagram and on Facebook