Halloween 2014 Costume Contest Winners!

They’re here! After much agonized sifting through the many amazing entries, we have finally settled on the winners of this year’s costume contest. If you need a refresher on the rules and what the whole deal here is, check out our original contest announcement post. The level of quality in the entries was incredible this year, and the judging was painful. There were many, many very close decisions. Thank you, all of you, for participating and sending us your wonderful photos and stories. And if you didn’t win this year, there’s always next year!

Now that I’ve done this a couple of years in a row, I realize why so many Halloween contests just announce the rules and the overall prize purse up front and leave the specific awards TBD until they’ve seen all the entries. You really do have to tailor it to the type of submissions you get. Maybe we’ll do that next year. As it is, we’ve enlarged our prize purse this year to give out more awards than we’d originally announced—wahoo!—and we’ve tweaked the names a bit to better reflect the achievements.

There are no second or third places; all of these are first-place prizes. Blue ribbons. We’ve put each winning costume on its own photo card so the winners and their friends can download them, pin them, whatever. We’ll also upload each card individually to a Facebook album for sharing. They’re sized down quite a bit for loading on this post, but you can click to embiggen and take in the full glory of each costume. So without further ado:

Category Awards, Adult Division

These are only for costumes that appear or might appear on our website in one of our standard categories: Notable Women, Mythological Figures (goddesses and legends), Queens, and Glamour Grrls. All winners will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate.

Best Notable Woman Costume


Winner: Zavi Smith as Bessie Coleman. The only thing better than a Bessie Coleman costume is a Bessie Coleman costume that actually includes the plane. The mystery here is how Zavi was able to get through the photo shoot without cracking up. Huge kudos for everything: the outfit, the plane, Zavi’s game face, the photo shoot, everything. LOVE.

Best Mythological Costume


Winners: Nina Ghaffari and Jeff Rudis as Akna and Bahlam. These phenomenal costumes are Nina’s original designs, and they’re utterly brilliant. Akna and Bahlam are Maya gods (she’s a fertility goddess, he’s a jaguar god), and Nina created these outfits using upholstery fabric, pieces of old luggage, feathers, paint, beads, and a heaping portion of pure design genius. Seriously amazing.

Best Queen Costume


Winner: Janice Strickland as Queen Puabi. Anyone with eyes can see that Janice is the very embodiment of a magnificent Bronze Age queen. But it’s possible that you need to be either an archaeology buff or a hard-core Take Back Halloween aficionado to appreciate just how perfect this costume really is. Suffice it to say that we no longer need to have our Puabi costume photographed on a model; we can just refer people to Janice’s pictures. Janice, you’ve made our dreams come true.

Best Glamour Grrl Costume


Winner: Beckie Geddes as Marlene Dietrich. Talk about going above and beyond: not only did Beckie dress up as Marlene and do her make-up as Marlene and fix her hair as Marlene, she also arranged some kind of Zelig-quality photo shoot that blurs the distinction between original and imitation. You’re almost scaring us here, Beckie. (Just kidding. We love it.)

Category Awards, Junior Division

Same rules as for the Adult division: only costumes that fall into one of our standard categories. All winners will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate.

Best Notable Group Costumes


Winners: Momma B’s Rockford Peaches and Racine Belles. So what do you do if it’s Halloween and you have a sewing machine and access to several children? Obviously you turn them into baseball players (and one manager) from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Nice job!

Best Mythological Costume


Winner: Amanda Gilbert’s daughter as Athena. This little costume is quite the work of art: its creation is documented in detail on the DIY Del Ray blog. Amanda crafted every bit of this, including the gorgeous crocheted aegis. We are in awe.

Best Queen Costume


Winner: Rose Huse as Princess Elizabeth Tudor. If I’d had a costume like this when I was Rose’s age, I never would have taken it off. I would probably still be wearing it, in fact. Congratulations, Rose! And props to your wonderful mom Karen.

Special Achievement Awards

This division is so we can call out particular accomplishments, like superior artistry or homemade craft-fu or impressive design execution. We’ve also added (since our original announcement) an award for “inspired performance,” to recognize entrants who did an amazing job of inhabiting their characters. All winners will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate.

Outstanding Artistry, Queen Category


Winner: Angelica Reyes as Nefertiti. We told Angelica that we have a terrible case of Blue Crown Envy after seeing her costume. She says she made the crown with cardboard and felt; the gold band was trim from JoAnn’s. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Outstanding Artistry, Notable Woman Category


Winner: Gabriela Salvador as Vittoria Colonna. Gabriela describes herself as a “self-taught seamstress with an interest in historical costuming.” Her work on this mid-16th century Florentine gown is absolutely exquisite. WE WANT THOSE SLEEVES.

Inspired Performance, Queen Category


Winner: Lori Russell as Eleanor of Aquitaine. If the real Eleanor of Aquitaine had lived in a suburban neighborhood in Alaska, she would have looked just like this. Hanging out in the backyard, wearing her crown and her silver-shot dress, looking all regal and imperious. Full props to Lori’s daughter Robyn, who pulled together the costume pieces and did the styling.

Inspired Performance, Notable Woman Category


Winner: Becky Murphy as Calamity Jane. If they ever do a sequel to Deadwood, let’s hope the casting director sees these pictures. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Becky Murphy! (My mother looked at these pictures and said, “My goodness! Is she…drinking?”) Good job, Becky.

Resourceful Ingenuity


Winner: Tessa Pekeles as Charlotte Corday.
Make sure you click to embiggen so you can see what Tessa did here. She cut up a thrift-store blazer to fake the look of an 18th century bodice, which happens to be one of our favorite costume hacking techniques. We’re also in love with Tessa’s shoes. WE WANT THOSE SHOES.

Realization of a Painting-Inspired Design


Winner: Laura Gill as Clytemnestra (based on the Lady of Tiryns). The inspiration for Laura’s Clytemnestra costume is the Lady of Tiryns, a fresco from a 13th century BCE Mycenaean palace. The crafting that went into this costume is incredible, because Laura made the dotted border by cutting out and gluing a billion little felt circles onto black grosgrain ribbon. And she’s still sane!

Realization of a Take Back Halloween Design


Winner: Tyler Whitaker as Christina of Sweden. Here’s Tyler, and here’s our Queen Christina costume. Good job? You’re darn right that’s a good job. Though strangely, Tyler elected not to wear a large crocheted napkin at her neck. We can’t imagine why.

Realization of a Take Back Halloween Design, Junior Category


Winner: Chanelle Mendes as the Queen of Sheba. Chanelle is only 14 years old and is obviously a very smart young lady. She tells us that she is fascinated by the queens of antiquity, and used our costume ideas to put together a Queen of Sheba outfit. She also arranged this very atmospheric photo shoot. Wonderful job, Chanelle!

Most Hacktastic Maker Mom/Daughter Creation


Winners: Emily and Juliette Langer, Athena costume. We adore hacktastic costumes, and this one is heart-meltingly delightful. Emily and her daughter Juliette worked on this costume together, and were obviously very resourceful with their crafting. The shield looks like a pizza circle or cake circle, with a craft store mask and glittery pipe cleaners glued on. But what really puts it over the top is Juliette’s performance. She’s just killing it as Athena. So serious.

Exhibition Class Awards

This division is for costumes that fall outside our regular categories: copyrighted and fictional characters, animals, things we didn’t expect, whatever. But we’ve enlarged our prize purse so that all the winners in this division get a $25 Amazon gift certificate like the other winners, so it’s all good.

Scariest Costume


Winner: Kat Clark as a Hellhound. Best comment on this costume from our Facebook page: “Holy CRAP that is terrifying!” Yeah. Kat says the burning eyes are tealights, and the head assembly is constructed out of coathangers, wire mesh, plaster wraps, duct tape, and hot glue.

Most Amazing Movie-Inspired Costumes


Winner: Marial Clark, Evil Queen and Snow White costumes. Marial is the Evil Queen (heh), and she made these marvelous costumes by hand for herself and her daughter, Snow White. Darth Vader not included.

Most Hacktastic Movie-Inspired Costume


Winner: Olive Johnson, Stormfly costume.
Olive made this incredible Stormfly costume for her 5-year-old daughter, and she says it was a month-long project. We have no idea how that whole thing is working there (what is that foam?), but we can believe it took a month.

Coolest Book-Inspired Costume


Winner: Brittany Turner as Hester Prynne. We love this costume, and Brittany hand-embroidered that lovely scarlet letter all by herself. The unswaddled baby somehow makes it both hilarious and creepy.

Congratulations, everyone! Until next year!!!


Enter our 2014 Costume Contest!

Enter our 2014 Costume Contest

Our costume contest last year was a blast, so this year we’ve added even more categories and prizes. (Check out last year’s winners to see what kind of costumes won and why.)

Our prize fund is much bigger this year: a total of 12 Amazon gift certificates ($25 each) have been donated for the winners. That’s $300 in prizes! If we need to award second and third place prizes, those winners will receive a beautiful poster of their choice.

We’ve planned our prize levels based on last year’s winners, with a couple of extra prizes thrown in for better coverage.

So send in your pictures! Make ‘em good, because it helps a lot when we’re judging the costumes. We’ll upload all the entries to our Facebook page.

The deadline for submissions is 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, November 9, 2014.

Here are the contest categories:

Regular Category Awards, Adult Division

These are only for costumes that appear or might appear on our website: goddesses or folklore figures, a great queen, an actual historical person, or a glamorous star. No generic costumes and no copyrighted characters (such as Batgirl or a Neil Gaiman character).

Best Goddess or Mythological Figure Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate

Best Queen Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate

Best Notable Woman Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate

Best Glamour Grrl Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate

Regular Category Awards, Junior Division

Exactly the same rules apply here as in the Adult Division. We’re not doing a Glamour Grrl award in this category because reasons.

Best Goddess or Mythological Figure Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate

Best Queen Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate

Best Notable Woman Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate

Special Awards for Crafting and Creativity

Same rules in terms of which costumes we want to see, but these awards are to recognize special achievements in fabulousness. Check out last year’s winners and the full set of contest entries to see what we mean.

Most Resourcefully Ingenious Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate
This category is for especially ingenious and resourceful homemade costumes.

Most Artistically Outstanding Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate
This is a professional-level award to recognize incredible costumes by serious costumers and reenactors.

Most Hacktastic Costume by Maker Moms and Daughters = $25 Amazon gift certificate
This is for all the devoted moms out there who put together super-clever homemade costumes for their daughters.

New prize: Most Faithful Realization of a Take Back Halloween Design = $25 Amazon gift certificate
We’re always thrilled when we see costumes that look exactly like our design images; for examples, check out Ada Lovelace from last year or Freyja from the year before that.

New prize: Most Amazing Painting-Inspired Costume = $25 Amazon gift certificate
We were blown away last year by the gorgeous costumes based on famous paintings, from Alphonse Mucha’s beer ladies to portraits of the Blessed Virgin. This year we decided we’d have a prize just for that.

Exhibition Class Awards

Every year people send us amazing entries that either don’t really fall into our regular categories (copyrighted characters, for example) or are just something totally unexpected. That’s what this class is for. We will award poster prizes for the best costumes in this class; we won’t know how many or for what exactly until we see the entries.


1. The photo(s) must be of you or a friend or family member in costume. If the photo is of a friend or family member, you must obtain their permission to submit it. You’ll need to tell us their name as well as yours, and note what your relationship is (sister, daughter, etc.).
2. Except for the Exhibition Class entries, your costume must fall into one of our four categories: a notable woman from history, a queen, a glamorous star, a goddess or mythological figure.
3. Please tell us what the costume is, in case we are too dense to figure it out.
4. The costume may be from this year or any previous Halloween.
5. You may enter more than once, if you have multiple costumes you want to share.
6. By submitting your photo, you are giving us permission to publish it on the Take Back Halloween website and on our Facebook page. You can send in multiple photos if you’re not sure what the best one is or if you need several angles to reveal the full glory of the costume.
7. Submissions should be emailed to contest@takebackhalloween.org.
8. The deadline for submissions is 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, November 9, 2014.

We expect to publish the winners the week of November 16, 2014.


We have a winner!

Actually we have 6 winners. The results of the 2014 Costume Candidate vote are in, and first of all we want to thank everyone for participating. So many votes! So much enthusiasm! We had only planned to do 5 additional costumes, but there were 6 that were so popular we couldn’t narrow it down. However, we may not get to all 6 before October 31. We’ll definitely do #1-5, and try really hard to do #6:

Winners #1-5:

Calamity Jane
Calamity Jane (1852-1903): The wildest woman of the Wild West!

Marlene Dietrich
Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992): one of the most luminous stars of the 20th century.

Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday (1915-1959): the incomparable Lady Day.

Dorothy Dandridge (1922-1965): the first African American nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.

Madhubala (1933-1969): the greatest star of Bollywood’s Golden Age.

Winner #6:

Bastet: The beloved cat goddess of ancient Egypt. Bastet was so popular with voters that we are definitely, absolutely going to do a costume for her. However, it is possible we won’t have it ready before October 31 of this year.

As for the other candidates, don’t worry: they’re not disappearing forever. We’ll use the results of this vote to build our roster for next season too. You will definitely be seeing some of those names again.


Costume Candidates for 2014

It’s that time of year when we ask our fans and Kickstarter backers to vote on which new “wild card” costumes they’d like us to do. The wild card costumes, or TBD costumes, are the ones that backers get to pick. They’re extras on top of the regular costumes already promised as part of the Kickstarter (Elizabeth I, Nefertiti, etc.—the full list is on the Kickstarter page).

There are 30 Costume Candidates on this page, and we plan to do 5 of them this year. If you’re a Kickstarter backer, you should have received a formal voting ballot by email. If you’re not a Kickstarter backer, we still want to hear from you! We’re inviting all of our friends and fans to vote in the public poll here:

2014 Costumes Public Poll

The public poll is super important because it gives us a sense of what people would like to see. We count every single vote, and use the public poll to break any ties in the Kickstarter vote.

We’re asking everyone to choose 10 costumes from the candidates on this page. We’ll do 5 this year, and carry over any other popular choices for next year. The candidates are organized by category, but you can vote for whichever 10 you like. (By the way, you’ll notice that our candidate list is heavy on Glamour Grrls. That’s because we need more in that category!)

Voting closes at 11:59pm on Wednesday, September 3, 2014.

2014 Costume Candidates


Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette (1755-1793): Poor Marie Antoinette. She never said “let them eat cake,” and she wasn’t a bad or cruel person at all. True, she was incredibly extravagant, but that was royal life in the 18th century. As for the awful social conditions in France, she really had no control over that; as queen she had no formal political role at all. Nevertheless she became the focus of revolutionary resentment, and her reputation has never recovered.

Tsarina Alexandra
Tsarina Alexandra (1872-1918): Alexandra is another tragic queen toppled by revolution. The Russians hated her—even more than they hated her husband, Tsar Nicholas—and believed every bit of salacious gossip about her and Rasputin. None of it was true, but Alexandra did treat Rasputin like a messenger from God and remained blind to his venality. Unlike Marie Antoinette, Alexandra was serious about politics and exercised significant power. But she was, alas, dreadfully misguided.

Anne of Austria (1601-1666): The dazzling Queen of France in The Three Musketeers was just as fascinating in real life. No guillotines or firing squads here: Anne outlived her husband and Cardinal Richelieu to become Regent of France, ruling the country until her son Louis XIV came of age. (By the way, she was actually Spanish. The “of Austria” was because she was a Hapsburg.)

Empress Dowager Cixi
Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908): Cixi’s reputation is finally being rescued from Confucian and Western prejudice. She ruled China for 47 years, and far from being an incompetent and corrupt old dragon lady, she was in fact a gifted leader of remarkable vision. She ushered China into the modern age, bringing in everything from railroads to feminism to the first moves towards democracy.

Artemisia I
Artemisia I of Caria (ca. 480 BCE): The ancient Persian empire has not been treated well by Hollywood. First the appalling 300 depicted Persians as goblins and giants with a serious thing for facial piercings. Then the sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, went full-bore with the misogyny and turned Queen Artemisia into Bondage Nymphomaniac Revenge Barbie. The real woman was none of those things. She was the queen of Halicarnassus (then part of the Persian empire), a famous naval commander, and a wise military strategist whom Xerxes respected very much. She survived Salamis quite handily and was honored for her contributions. A movie about her would be interesting.

Seondeok, Queen of Silla (606-647): She was the greatest queen in Korean history, renowned for her wisdom, scholarship, and patronage of the arts and sciences. The oldest surviving astronomical observatory in the world, Cheomseongdae, was built during her reign. (Seondeok was a costume candidate for 2013 but didn’t quite make it.)

Rani Lakshmibai
Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi (1828-1858): Rani Lakshmibai is a national heroine of India, revered as the country’s first great figure in the struggle for independence. In the Rebellion of 1857 she bravely defended Jhansi against the British, rallying people of all faiths and castes to her flag. (Rani Lakshmibai is another returning costume candidate from 2013.)

Goddesses and Legends:

Bastet: The beloved cat goddess of ancient Egypt was originally a lioness. Up until about 1000 BCE, Bastet was pictured as a lion or lion-headed woman protecting the people of Lower Egypt. But as domesticated cats became more common, Bastet was increasingly associated with these smaller members of the feline tribe. By the Late Period she had been transformed into a small cat herself, and the popularity of her cult soared. Meow.

Guinevere: People can argue til the cows come home that King Arthur was a real person, but it’s difficult to make the case for his lady, Queen Guinevere. Her name, Gwen-hwyfar, means “white fairy/spirit,” and everything about her suggests a classic sovereignty goddess from Celtic mythology. When she marries different men or falls in love with a younger knight, she’s just awarding the kingship of the land. Deal with it.

Morgan le Fay
Morgan le Fay: Raise your hand if Morgan le Fay is your favorite character in Arthurian legend. Is she an evil sorceress? A benevolent healer? A Celtic goddess? All of the above?

La Llorona
La Llorona: The ghost called La Llorona (“The Weeping Woman”) haunts Mexico and the southwest United States, wandering around at night and crying for her children. The children she killed, that is. According to legend she drowned her babies for love of a man, and is now doomed to roam the earth until she finds them. That’s the modern version, at any rate; in more ancient times La Llorona may have been an Aztec goddess. (She’s also been linked to La Malinche—the woman who interpreted for Cortez and has been vilified as a traitor—but that’s another ball of wax.)

Vampire (non-sparkly): What’s up with sparkly vampires? When we think of vampires, we think of the original Eastern European variety: terrifying undead monsters who rise from the grave to feast on the blood of the living. Like Count Orlok up there from the silent classic Nosferatu. Not really somebody you’d want to snuggle up with, is what we’re saying. Vampires are female as well as male, so why can’t we have a lady vampire who’s just as scary as the guy in Nosferatu?

Notable Women:

Lucrezia Borgia
Lucrezia Borgia (1480-1519): Her Dad was the Pope, which gives you an idea right there of the state of affairs in Italy at the time. Lucrezia was born into the most scandalous family in Europe, notorious for its corruption and debauchery. Lucrezia herself was rumored to be fond of using poison to dispatch her enemies, though it’s possible this was just slander and guilt by association.

Charlotte Corday (1768-1793): The folks behind Assassin’s Creed seem to think that a female assassin is some bizarro anomaly that could never happen in real life and is therefore way too much work to put into their new game, Unity, which is set during the French Revolution. Except you know what? The most famous assassin of the French Revolution—indeed, one of the most famous assassins of all time—was this here female right here: Charlotte Corday. She murdered Jean-Paul Marat, a leader of the Reign of Terror, in his bath. You know, that painting that everybody in the world has seen except apparently the people at Assassin’s Creed.

Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910): “The Lady with the Lamp” was the founder of modern nursing, establishing it as a trained medical profession and not just an amateur mission of mercy. She was also a pioneering statistician, and did more than anyone to demonstrate the overwhelming importance of sanitation in healthcare. (The germs in the Crimean War killed four times as many soldiers as the weapons did, and the reason we know that is because Florence Nightingale figured it out.)

Clara Barton
Clara Barton (1821-1912): She was often called “the American Florence Nightingale,” which she didn’t much like. But in fact the two women were very similar: only a year apart in age, both committed to nursing as a modern profession, both famous for their heroic efforts in wartime. Clara Barton served as a front-line nurse during the Civil War—the first woman to do so—and went on to found the American Red Cross.

Calamity Jane
Calamity Jane (1852-1903): She was born Martha Jane Canary (or Cannary), and after that things get fuzzy. Almost every detail of her life is disputed, mostly because she told quite a few tall tales (as did all the other Wild West figures who were interviewed back then for newspapers and dime novels). What’s certain is that she lived and dressed as a man and raised a lot of hell.

Ida B. Wells
Ida B. Wells (1862-1931): She was one of the greats: a civil rights activist, a suffragist, a pioneering journalist, a fighter against injustice in all its forms. Her fearless campaign against lynching marked a watershed in American race relations. She was also a prominent feminist, and was one of the first women in the United States to keep her own name after marriage.

Emmy Noether
Emmy Noether (1882-1935): Now that a woman (Maryam Mirzakhani) has finally won the Fields Medal, it seems like a good time to remember Emmy Noether. She was a towering mathematical genius who discovered one of the most profound theorems in physics: Noerther’s theorem, which links symmetry in nature with the universal laws of conservation. It’s absolutely fundamental to modern physics—one writer compared it to the Pythagorean theorem—and Noether herself ought to be as famous as Einstein.

Eleanor Roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962): Eleanor Roosevelt was the greatest First Lady in American history, single-handedly transforming the role from a social position to one of public activism and leadership. She was also a leading humanitarian on the global stage, and after FDR’s death became the first U.S. delegate to the United Nations. Her crowning achievement was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Glamour Grrls:

Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford (1892-1979): Hollywood’s first superstar and one of its most influential women.

Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith (1894-1937): the legendary Empress of the Blues.

Marlene Dietrich
Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992): one of the most luminous stars of the 20th century.

Dolores del Rio
Dolores del Rio (1905-1983): the first Latina to become an international star.

Louise Brooks
Louise Brooks (1906-1985): the fabulous flapper with the bobbed hair.

Maria Felix
Maria Felix (1914-2002): La Doña herself, the queen of Mexican cinema.

Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday (1915-1959): the incomparable Lady Day.

Dorothy Dandridge (1922-1965): the first African American nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.

Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962): Goodbye, Norma Jean.

Madhubala (1933-1969): the greatest star of Bollywood’s Golden Age.


Take Back Arbor Day

Exciting news! We’ve been working super hard for the past month on our 2014 season of costumes, and we’re extremely proud to unveil an important new addition to our project: Take Back Arbor Day.

It’s become increasingly clear in recent years that the rampant sexualization of Arbor Day has changed the character of what was once a creative and empowering holiday. Not that there’s anything wrong with sexiness, per se; we just think it’s important to remember that trees are more than just seed capsules and wind-borne pollen.

So we’re introducing a new line of tree costumes that will celebrate the full beauty of these majestic woody plants, with easy DIY outfits that encourage learning and fun.

Arbor Day falls on April 25 this year, so our new costume designs are just in time for this season’s round of parties, tree-planting ceremonies, and of course the obligatory Wear Your Tree Costume To Work Day that’s become a tradition in so many offices.

Our Tree Costumes By Category
Flowering Trees

tree-adult-costumeGlamorous varieties suitable for a night out

  • Japanese Cherry
  • Korean Dogwood
  • Southern Magnolia
  • Golden Chain Tree (ideal for knitters with a large stash of yellow yarn)
Deciduous Trees

All with removable layers, great for the changeable spring weather

  • Sugar Maple
  • Bald Cypress
  • Quaking Aspen (very dramatic)
  • Weeping Willow (even more dramatic)

Year-round coverage for all body types, from petite to pyramidal

  • Norway Spruce
  • Fraser Fir
  • Lodgepole Pine
  • Giant Sequoia (in plus sizes up to 6X)
Small Trees & Shrubs

Especially suitable for kids

  • Boxwood
  • Contorted Hazelnut
  • Key Lime
  • Creeping Juniper (babies only)

Check our website for full details on all our new arboreal costumes. And thank you for helping us Take Back Arbor Day!

Oh, and Happy April Fools’ Day.


Ready for Purim?

Queen Esther costume

Queen Esther costume

It’s only two and half weeks away! Yesterday we published our new Esther costume, and though it looks dramatic as all get-out, it’s actually very easy to put together.

The key items you need for this look are a fez and five yards of fabric. We used china silk polyester lining fabric—which, despite the name, isn’t silk at all. It’s just the lightweight silky fabric that’s used to line garments. It’s super inexpensive (usually $2 or $3 per yard), comes in a million colors, and flows beautifully as drapery. You can order it online or get it at any local fabric store.

You could also use a sari, which is the right length and would add even more richness to the costume. A five yard sari in royal blue would look wonderful.

You can leave your fez plain, but we dressed up ours with fancy ribbons and fringe in peacock colors:


It’s very simple to do: just glue or tape each length of trim right onto the fez. You’ll need about 21 inches of trim for each row. It’s okay if the back looks messy, since the blue drapery will cover it up. For the side tassels, just hook a pair of gold chandelier earrings onto the bottom row of sequins.

Finish off your look with bold gold jewelry and a gorgeous peacock fan from the craft store. And ta da! You’re Esther!


Celebrating Black History Month

Our costume for Queen Nzinga

Our costume for Queen Nzinga

Black History Month is an important season here in the costume world, with lots of school activities, living history demonstrations, and even some fancy-dress galas. Historical costuming is a wonderful way to learn and celebrate history, and we’re always thrilled to help out with DIY costume ideas and resources. If you’re still in need of an outfit, here’s a list of all our costumes connected to Africa and the African diaspora:

The History of Africa

The African Diaspora

  • Asase Yaa – Asante earth goddess
  • Isis – Egyptian goddess of…everything
  • Lasiren – Haitian sea goddess connected to the African Mami Wata

Our costume for Madam Walker

Our costume for Madam Walker


New year, new costumes

Greetings from the depths of winter! As I write this there’s a thick blanket of snow on the ground and ice on the windows. But it’s cozy here in my workroom, which is draped in chiffon and velvet as I plot out the costume designs for the new season.

We have a very big year coming up. The Kickstarter campaign raised funds for 19 new costumes in 2014, including a number of wild card costumes that our backers will vote on.

Here’s the full list of what’s ahead:

New Costumes for 2014

(The first three are already scheduled; we haven’t sorted out the order we’ll do the others in yet.)

The 2014 Season

  • Bessie Coleman (coming up first, in time for Black History Month)
  • Marie Laveau (in time for Mardi Gras on March 4)
  • Queen Esther (in time for Purim on March 15)
  • Catherine the Great
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • Elizabeth I
  • Empress Theodora
  • Nefertiti
  • Hecate
  • Inanna-Ishtar
  • Maria Makiling
  • 5 additional costumes TBD* — will be voted on by backers
  • 1 M/F couples costume TBD* — will be voted on by backers
  • 2 special commission costumes (funded by individual Kickstarter backers)

*We’ve sent out the first round of surveys to our backers to gather suggestions for the To Be Determined costumes. Of course we already have a mile-long list of candidates, but we want fresh input from our supporters on who we should do next.


Halloween 2013 Costume Contest Winners!

2013-contest-widgetWe had over 200 entries to our costume contest this year, which was way more than we expected. That’s the kind of response big newspapers and magazines get when they run contests, though I daresay the level of quality of our entries was higher. But that just made the judging harder.

To make it manageable, the first we thing did was ruthlessly eliminate any entries that didn’t conform to our original stated categories. So that means no comic book characters, no Neil Gaiman characters, no fictional characters at all. (A lot of people seem to be unclear on the difference between mythology/folklore and fiction. Next year we’ll make a point of spelling it out. Short version: Athena is myth. Batgirl is fiction.)

Basically, we only considered costumes that might actually appear on our website: a specific historical person (queen, movie star, notable woman) or a figure from mythology or folklore.

But even after making that cut, we still had an overwhelming number of fantastic entries. Which then brings up the issue of judging and what, exactly, is being judged. The contestants ranged from 8-month-old babies to professional performers. How to compare them? Do adults stand a chance against adorable children? Does it make sense to judge a third-grader’s homemade outfit against the work of a professional costumer? Hmm.

So, we added more categories. We separated the women from the girls, putting the kids in their own division. Then we created a separate division for outstanding achievement in crafting, both in terms of homemade ingenuity and professional-level skill. We don’t have any extra money for prizes, so we scrounged up a couple of more gift certificates and will fill out the rest of the awards with our beautiful posters.

At this point I think I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown from all this judging, so it’s time to punt. Here are the winners. Note that we’ll upload more costume pictures later, maybe as a linked album or something, after we’ve copied all of them to our server.

Category Awards, Regular Division

These are the original category awards we announced, though we’ve expanded by awarding second and third place in each category. This division is limited to adults.

All the blue ribbon winners will receive the original prizes we announced: $25 Amazon gift certificates for individual categories, and a $50 Amazon gift certificate in the Best Overall category. The red ribbon winners and yellow ribbon winners in the individual categories will receive 11×14 or 8×10 posters of their choice from our collection; we’ll email them with the details. In the Best Overall category, the red ribbon winner will receive a $35 Amazon gift certificate and the yellow ribbon winner will receive a $20 Amazon gift certificate.

Best Notable Woman Costume



Blue Ribbon: Caitlin Driscoll as Ada Lovelace. Caitlin looks almost exactly like our design original for the Ada Lovelace costume. Didn’t she do a beautiful job? And Caitlin is an elementary school technology teacher, so this costume was an especially apt choice for her. Perfect!
Red Ribbon: Monica Espinosa as Joan of Arc. It’s a whole freaking suit of armor! Way to go, Monica! Was it hard to walk around in that?
Yellow Ribbon: Diana Olivares as Adela Velarde. We plan to add a soldadera costume to our catalog at some point, but in the meantime, Diana shows us how it’s done. She modeled her outfit after the pop art version of La Adelita, replete with braids, gun, and Mexican flag. Good job, Diana!

Best Queen Costume



Blue Ribbon: Adrianne Curran as Cleopatra. The problem with dressing up as Cleopatra is that the real woman has been totally obscured by the Hollywood version. You can try to do a proper historical costume, which no one would recognize, or you can just go Hollywood. Adrianne chose the latter option, with stunning effect. She used gold Isis wings (Adrianne is a belly dancer), a storebought dress from Egypt, and an amazing homemade headdress that took hours of crafting. The result is absolutely spectacular. Outstanding!
Red Ribbon: Janice Strickland as Zenobia in Chains. What delights us about this costume is the exquisite details: the golden chains, the gold jewelry, the tapestry style over-chiton, the fine crown, and Janice’s noble expression as she stands next to a wall, contemplating her lost kingdom. (Look at our Zenobia page and you’ll see what we mean.) Beautiful job, Janice. Just beautiful.
Yellow Ribbon: Denise Goerisch as Boudicca. This is another beautifully rendered outfit, with great details and a fierce performance by Denise. We’ve seen a lot of Boudiccas, but Denise is easily the most Boudicca-ish of all. Excellent job!

Best Glamour Grrl Costume



Blue Ribbon: Amanda Leib as Audrey Hepburn. Isn’t she the spitting image of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? She could be a DVD cover! Way to go, Amanda.
Red Ribbon: Victoria Erica Espejo as Hedy Lamarr. We love the photo shoot for this costume, which really helps the ambiance. Victoria Erica looks so glamorous with her gloves and her hat. And notice the cellphone! Beautiful job.
Yellow Ribbon: Celeste Moye as Mae West. Doesn’t she look stunning? Celeste wore this outfit to a party, and writes, “It was so lovely to have an idea suitable for a curvaceous woman like me. I actually got hit on a couple of times last night. That hasn’t happened to me in quite awhile. THANK YOU!”

Best Goddess or Mythological Costume



Blue Ribbon: Claudia Laughter and daughter as Sea Siren and Sea Nymph. Claudia was inspired by the gorgeous art of Alphonse Mucha, and in fact her outfit was part of a whole group of Mucha-inspired costumes. The result is the most beautiful sea siren we could possibly imagine, and that headdress is to die for. Bonus points for the adorable baby nymph! (The father is reportedly a pirate.)
Red Ribbon: Ashley Hejmanowski and daughter as Demeter and Persephone. Needless to say, Demeter and Persephone make for a perfect mother/daughter costume, and Ashley did a phenomenal job with both outfits. There’s all the stuff from our costume pages, plus perfect details like a Greek key border at the bottom of each chiton. Wonderful!
Yellow Ribbon: Stephanie Decouvelaere as Inanna-Ishtar. We have an Inanna-Ishtar costume coming up in this next season, but in the meantime, Stephanie did a great version all by herself. A spiral-wrapped Mesopotamian robe (is that a sari?), homemade crown, perfect jewelry, appropriately symbolic accessories. Beautifully done!

Grand Prize for Best Costume Overall



Blue Ribbon: Stephanie Nichols as Frida Kahlo. Everyone who looked at Stephanie’s pictures in our contest album was amazed. Have you ever seen a better impersonation of Frida Kahlo? The clothes, the makeup, the monkey, the attitude, the photography…it’s all perfection. Flawless work, Stephanie.
Red Ribbon: Becky Murphy as Anne Bonny. In true pirate fashion, Becky made almost her entire costume from scratch. The pirate coat was fashioned from an old coat liner with an added collar, lapels, and cuffs. The scabbard, pouch, and baldric were all homemade. Look at the details! And not only that, but Becky did a great job of playing Anne in her photographs, looking all piratey and swag.
Yellow Ribbon: Lori Russell as Baba Yaga. Lori is 82 years old, and her daughter writes, “To the best of my knowledge, this is her first ever photo shoot and only the second time I have ever seen my mother dress up for Halloween. When she was growing up in rural Iowa during the 1930s-40s, there was no trick or treating…All of the poses and facial expressions are her idea, by the way.” Sounds to us like Lori missed a career as an actress. Outstanding job!

Category Awards, Junior Division

We separated the kids out into their own division, but the judging was still excruciatingly difficult. Picking the winners was hard enough; ranking them was impossible. So we said to heck with second and third place, and just called a three-way tie in the categories with multiple winners. All the winners will receive posters of their choice.

Best Notable Woman Costume, Junior (three-way tie)



Blue Ribbon: Allie Akers as Alice Paul. Allie’s mom Sarah tells us that Allie masterminded this costume herself: “She put together her own costume (with various thrift store trip findings, a sash she bought with her own money at the centennial suffrage march in DC, and a yard stick from Home Depot) so she could dress up like her favorite woman in history, Alice Paul.” Fantastic job, Allie!
Blue Ribbon: Fiona D’Andrea as Marie Curie. Fiona’s mom Keri says Fiona spent months planning this costume, replete with radioactive test tubes. It’s terrific!
Blue Ribbon: Jessica Sheldon as Eleanor Roosevelt. According to family friend Treanor Baring, “Jessica designed the costume from photos—ER loved blouses with frilly necklines, but simple suits, and almost always wore a string of pearls. Although she was a wealthy woman, she dressed simply, never wanting to intimidate the many diverse women she advocated for. The typewriter is vintage, and the photo of FDR is in a frame from the Sequoia, FDR’s presidential yacht.” Wow!

Best Queen Costume, Junior (three-way tie)



Blue Ribbon: Emma Udell as Cleopatra (with her cat Cleocatra). Proud mom Chrissy Udell tells us that Emma was inspired to be Cleopatra after reading a book about her in school. They made the costume together, with absolutely no sewing. It looks great!
Blue Ribbon: Amy Carrigan’s daughter as Grace O’Malley. This adorable little two-year-old is pretty much the best Grace O’Malley ever. The end.
Blue Ribbon: Kristen’s daughter Mira as Hatshepsut. Little Mira was determined to be Hatshepsut for Halloween, so her mom re-purposed a pretty Cleopatra costume for the occasion. The Nile photo shoot is a bonus.

Best Glamour Grrl Costume, Junior (one winner)



Blue Ribbon: Charlotte Eshelman as Liza Minnelli. There is only one winner in this category; in fact, there’s only one entry. But that’s okay, because this costume is hilarious. Liza with a Z!

Best Goddess or Mythological Costume, Junior (three-way tie)



Blue Ribbon: Alowi Sanchez as La Calavera Catrina. Mom Erica DeLaPaz dressed her daughter as La Catrina, and what a beautiful job she did! Notice how perfectly the makeup and flowers match the embroidered dress. The black lace mantilla is a gorgeous touch. Excellent!
Blue Ribbon: Mila DeSimone as Snow White. Baby Mila is as lucky as she is adorable: her grandmother’s hobby is sewing and her mom’s hobby is photography. The result is some of the cutest costume pictures we’ve ever seen. Perfect!
Blue Ribbon: Cecilia Braun as a mermaid. We love everything about this costume, and Cecilia is too precious for words. Squee!!!

Grand Prize for Best Costume Overall, Junior (one winner)



Blue Ribbon: Aria and Anavie Sapkota as Frida Kahlo with Self-Portrait. This entry has it all: it’s brilliant, clever, adorable, hilarious, and perfectly executed. Congratulations to mom Ann-Marie Conrado (clearly the design mastermind behind it all) and her two precious daughters.

Awards for Excellence in Crafting

There was so much inspired crafting on display in our contest entries that we decided to create a special category just to recognize it. Of course, almost all of our winning costumes involve crafting; what this category is about is recognizing those costumes where we really want to draw attention to the ingenuity or skill of the maker.

The Resourceful Ingenuity category recognizes ingenious homemade costumes. Outstanding Artistry is for superb professional-level costumes that are frankly far beyond the capabilities of most people. Maker Moms and Daughters is for particularly good examples of mom crafting (and daughter modeling). All the winners will receive posters of their choice.

Resourceful Ingenuity



Award of Excellence: Zavi Smith as Isis. Look at that headdress! Zavi was inspired by this
Egyptian Vulture Headdress Tutorial, but she really amped it up. She curved the wings more so they would frame her face, added a solar disk, and made a 3D vulture head. Instead of foam board and spray paint, she used poster board and acrylic paint. Fantastic job!
Award of Excellence: Tuesday Critz as the Egtved Girl. Archaeologists celebrate Halloween too, and if you’re an archaeo/anthro geek (or maybe just a Dane), you immediately recognize the Egtved Girl. Did Tuesday make the string skirt from scratch, weaving the band on a warp-weighted loom as an exercise in experimental archaeology? Nope. It’s just a mop head dyed brown. Awesome.
Award of Excellence: Theo Marston as Hera, styled by her sister Barbara Chitouras. This is a perfect example of the kind of can-do spirit we encourage at Take Back Halloween. Let Barbara tell it: “I dressed my sister as Hera, and we went with a peacock theme, as peacocks were Hera’s animal. She borrowed a teal maxi dress, put an iridescent curtain panel over one shoulder and tied it with a gold curtain tie and teal scarf. I bought a czarina-style crown on Ebay for about $10 and added a clip-on peacock Christmas ornament I’d bought at Target a few years ago. The dangly gold earrings and Greek key bracelet were already something I had in my jewelry box.” And the result is fabulous!

Outstanding Artistry



Award of Excellence: Jenn WinterRose as Alice Paul. This whole costume is exquisite testimony to Jenn’s skill as a costumer and seamstress. It’s absolutely flawless and surpassingly beautiful. Outstanding work, Jenn.
Award of Excellence: Lindsey Lecher as Elizabeth I. Lindsey writes, “I made Queen Elizabeth’s gown and headpiece for a reproduction of ‘Blackadder’ last summer. Every piece was made from last April to July; the pearling took nearly 40 hours including the handmade ruff and headpiece.” It’s gorgeous, Lindsey. You did an amazing job.
Award of Excellence: Robin Lynn as Tomoe Gozen. Robin says, “I dressed as Tomeo Gozen, a female samurai warrior. I made my brass crown and tassels, and rope sandals. I did extensive research on proper kimono wear (I’m also wearing a hakama & 65 pounds of samurai armor). She was known for her archery skills, her military planning and her bravery in battle—she refused to wear a helmet and instead wore a crown. She is often depicted wearing full-makeup of the period and there is a yearly festival honoring her. My boyfriend (who is Nisei and from a samurai family) is dressed as my guard.”

Maker Moms & Daughters



Award of Excellence: Wendy Lally with her daughter as Athena. Wendy detailed the making of this costume on her blog, particularly the amazing homemade breastplate. Wendy is clearly a Maker Mom to the max!
Award of Excellence: Sandy Langelier with her daughter Kayla as Mother Nature. Sandy created this whole costume for her daughter, from the floral headdress (which is actually a straw hat bedecked with flowers, leaves, and feathers) down to the moss-covered shoes. And Kayla wears it very well!
Award of Excellence: Karen Huse with her daughter Rose as Athena. Do you know what the helmet is made out of? Do you? It’s a foil roasting pan. A ROASTING PAN, PEOPLE. That right there is the spirit of Take Back Halloween. Yay, Karen and Rose!


Last-minute Vestal Virgin

In the final run-up to Halloween, we’re offering tips on how to do last-minute, stripped-down versions of some of our popular costumes.

Vestal Virgin costumeOur Vestal Virgin outfit is the bedsheet costume to end all bedsheet costumes. It’s almost nothing but sheets. Plain white sheets. The only other thing you need is a scrap of something red to tie around your head: red yarn, a red scarf, a strip of red fabric.

Our full-blown Vestal Virgin costume is shown at right. Here’s the last-minute version:

  • If you have two white flat sheets, you can pin them together as an Ionic chiton (tunic). If you have only one flat sheet, you can fold it around you as a Doric chiton. The instructions for both kinds of chiton are on our Hypatia page (which, by the way, is another bedsheet costume suitable for last-minute styling). If you can’t manage the chiton thing, just wear a long white dress—like a maxi dress, a lounger, even a plain nightgown.
  • Take another white sheet and drape it around your shoulders as a big shawl.
  • Tie a piece of red something around your head. A red scarf, some red yarn, anything red.
  • Drape another piece of white material over your head as a veil. A white pashmina, a white curtain panel, even a white pillow case with the seams opened up.

And that’s it. You’re now a Vestal Virgin, one of the highest-ranking women in all of Rome. You can sit at the right hand of the emperor, travel in a litter accompanied by bodyguards, and even do something no other woman could ever dream of doing: vote.

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Last-minute Glamour Grrl

In the final run-up to Halloween, we’re offering tips on how to do last-minute, stripped-down versions of some of our popular costumes.


If you have an evening gown—a prom dress, a bridesmaids dress, any kind of formal—you can go as one of our Glamour Grrls. The trick is just to match the gown you already have with a movie star from the right era. And you’re not limited to the celebrities in our Glamour Grrl category; you can pick any movie star or entertainer.

For example:

  • If you have a dress that looks like it could be from the 60s (maybe a narrow sheath), go as Audrey Hepburn or Diana Ross.
  • If you have a gown that looks like it could be from the 50s (full skirt, tight waist), go as Grace Kelly or Dorothy Dandridge.
  • If you have a black strapless gown, go as Rita Hayworth in Gilda.
  • If you have something slinky and cut on the bias, go as 30s stars Jean Harlow or Josephine Baker.
  • If you’re a curvy woman and you have a form-fitting gown, go as Mae West.

Pick your star based on the dress you have, and then pile on the makeup and jewelry to bump up your look to red-carpet level.

Accessories are good too. You can get a feather boa at any craft store or party store; you can also probably get a cigarette holder. Opera gloves are always glamorous. And if you have a piece of faux fur you can use as a stole, go for it.


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Last-minute Mary Read (or Anne Bonny)

In the final run-up to Halloween, we’re offering tips on how to do last-minute, stripped-down versions of some of our popular costumes.

maryread2013_costumeHere’s the thing about pirates: most of ‘em wore rags. Their clothes were a wild mishmash of stolen loot, cast-offs, stuff they’d sewn themselves, and old clothes they’d been wearing since junior high (if pirates had junior high).

So putting together a last minute pirate costume is just a matter of embracing your inner hobo and raiding your closet. Or possibly the closet of a convenient male relative or friend.

Our full-blown Mary Read costume is at right. Here’s what we suggest for a last-minute version:

  • Skip the tricorner hat. You don’t need it. You know what pirates wore a lot of the time, maybe even most of the time? A knit hat. Yep. It’s true: pirates were the first hipsters. And if you don’t have a knit hat, just tie a bandana around your head and go full Depp.
  • Wear a man’s shirt. Stripes, checks, and solids are all good. If it’s an old shirt and you can get away with it, cut the collar off for a more 18th century look.
  • Optional: if you have an old jacket or blazer that you can destroy, cut the sleeves off. Instant waistcoat. Any other kind of old raggedy vest could also work. If you have a pea coat or a short jacket, you could also wear that. But it’s okay if you don’t have any of those things. Just a shirt is fine.
  • Wrap some material around your waist as a sash. Any kind of material: a cut-up sheet, some rags, a scarf, anything.
  • Sling a wide leather belt across your torso as a baldric. Fasten another wide leather belt around your waist. Neither one needs to actually have a hilt or holster for weapons; just the look of the leather belts is enough.
  • Wear cropped pants or cut off an old pair of pants at the knee.
  • Wear white knee socks with flat shoes. This is what most pirates wore all the time, not boots.
  • Optional: stop by the drugstore or pharmacy aisle and get a plain black eyepatch. For some reason an eyepatch is the International Symbol for pirates, so this will help cement your identity.

And there you go. You’re a pirate.

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