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Fall is tough on parents. It's the season when we instinctually throw candy at children, cheering them on in a delirious sugar binge in the hopes that they'll fatten up and tire themselves out enough to sleep straight through the winter. Sadly, it never quite works that way. (Somehow those idiot bears figured it out but we still can't get the formula right.) Still, moms and dads keep trying every October, enduring the self-entitled tantrums over costumes and curfews, optimistic that this will finally be the year the Kit Kat/Skittle ratio will push their children into a lasting coma, at least through November.

"Don't touch her just ... just leave her there until Christmas."

But that doesn't mean parents only have to patiently absorb the Halloween torture -- they can also dole a little out on their children as well. And if the Internet is to be trusted, homemade costumes seem to be their weapon of choice. There are thousands and thousands of How-To guides online, teaching parents to ignore the pleas from their kids for packaged Spider-Man costumes, opting instead to construct knock-off versions at home made of electrical tape and old sweatshirts. That's not to say that homemade costumes are all bad, some of the DIY jobs are truly spectacular -- but I assume those are for the good kids. Far more look like they were stitched out of resentment and glued together by scorn.

So in the next week, as you hear kids making greedy demands of their parents or whining about how many Snickers they should be allowed to have in a day, there's a good chance those awful children will end up in one of these suits of pure punishment. Like ...

This Turtle Costume

Reader's Digest

Don't let that child's elation fool you, no kid wants to wear this. It's a Halloween costume idea from Reader's Digest, a magazine that's never been in any danger of brushing a finger across the pulse of pop culture. In fact, I suspect the Reader's Digest editors have no idea that not a single kid has dressed up as a turtle in the last 20 years unless it was also a teenager, a mutant and a ninja. But parents do, and it must be a special treat for them to send their awful kid out into the night with his friends as the famous team of Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and that shitty, roastin-pan, regular turtle.

"I'm the sensitive one!"

I will give Reader's Digest credit for dressing up the background of the picture with streamers, fearlessly suggesting that not only is this mediocre costume suitable for wandering around in the dark, but also well-lit costume parties. This costume is so gracelessly cobbled together that whoever wears it is probably more likely to be mistaken for a robot, or a baseball catcher, or a meal. For instance, I'm not sure how the hat helps define him as a turtle. In my experience, turtles hate wearing hats. I assume it's only included so the boy has something to hide his shame behind while standing on porches waiting for adults to guess what he is before they'll just give him some of that goddamn candy already. This isn't a costume parents make for their kids, this is a costume a child makes himself out of garbage when his parents are too drunk or too divorced to remember it's Halloween.

This Bear Costume

Woman's Day

The introduction of this How-To calls it a, "A head-to-toe bear costume that kids will love" but I refuse to believe that Woman's Day magazine actually believes that. I'm not sure why middle-aged ladies are so dead set on talking in code all the time but fine, Woman's Day, we'll all go on pretending that Brookstone personal massagers are for backs and that this costume is supposed to be anything other than revenge.

No you don't, lady.

Any kid with dreams of being a bear for Halloween wants to look so bloodthirsty and threatening that people lock their doors when they see him coming down the street, pushing all their candy out of mailbox slots in the hopes that he'll move on and maul a neighbor instead. He wants the skin of an actual bear. But this homemade costume is such a bastardization of that dream that I'm certain it's intentionally patronizing.

Any parent who sees the picture already knows there's no way a child can open his mouth while wearing that, which seems like the logical point for Woman's Day to focus on. Additionally, forcing a kid to wear a costume that's 90 percent sweatsuit from the local drug store and 10 percent jagged cardboard that hugs his face is like the last legal loophole for child abuse. This costume is the spanking of the 21st Century.

It's additionally humiliating that the kid is forced to carry around a two-dimensional prop so people know he's not a ground squirrel or something. A mistake I imagine is probably common given that he also has whiskers for some inexplicable reason. I'm no biologist but whiskers don't seem like a defining characteristic of bears. Massive teeth and blood-soaked claws usually do that job. Still, I can't imagine that face paint lasts long with all the jaw-clenched tears that kid will be crying.

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This Crocodile Costume

Evil Mad Scientist

Granted, the head is cooler than everything else on this list; the jagged teeth and the menacing yellow eyes are exactly the type of thing a kid would want for Halloween. But it looks like even the costume lost interest in itself halfway through creation. Everything from the eye-catching tape to the cargo pants are testaments to the half-assed effort that went into this costume. I wouldn't be surprised if his parents slapped the head on him and said, "Fuck it, he can't see what he looks like in that thing anyway."

But the real mediocrity of this costume shines through in its tail. As an experiment, scroll down so the head in the picture is hidden by the top of the screen, then tell me what the costume is supposed to be. If you said anything other than arthritic boy who's shitting so hard it's spilling over his pants, you're lying. Assuming each parent was responsible for a different element of that costume, I can immediately tell who loves their child more.

"It's Colette? I've been calling her Colleen, like, this entire time."

This Robot Costume


I imagine that the magic of being a parent is in helping a brand new person experience the world. It's in seeing everything through a fresh lens, looking at ordinary objects most people don't think twice about and wondering, "What are the thousands of ways I can use this disappoint my kid?"

Point in case, this robot costume. While it's not specifically for children, it's one of the most comprehensive DIY guides for a robot suit on the Internet, and it's exactly the type of thing I imagine parents stumble across while trying to adhere to the screeching Halloween demands of their children.

I'm fascinated by the priorities of this How-To guide. Aesthetics clearly don't play a central role since the boxes are still covered in packing tape and shipping addresses, and I don't entirely understand why certain body parts require so much coverage while others are left completely exposed. Yet somehow the directions are an exhausting 10 pages. It's a special kind of cruel for parents to work vigorously on a robot costume for days without even allowing a kid a peek at it, and then finally revealing that all that work was for this clumsy pile of cardboard. That look of disenchantment must be real satisfying for some parents.

"Hold on, don't start crying yet. I want to get my camera."

Sadly, it doesn't look like the type of costume that will last very long, if the night. Though I don't think it matters much to the kids who will be happy to destroy it and it probably doesn't matter much to the parents either who likely pushed their kid out the door in it and prayed for rain anyway.

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This Fishbowl Costume

Country Living

Country Living magazine has made no pretenses of appealing to children. They know that kids want to go trick or treating as Iron Man or as Harry Potter, but they're not interested in what kids want. They're on the side of parents who have spent too much time with their kids in remote, rural areas where Country Living is actually applicable. They know the quickest way to demoralize a child is to force him into public on Halloween as the one inanimate object synonymous with boredom.

A fishbowl will never be cool, and the additional twist of the parental knife here is that the costume isn't even trying. It's so half-assed that it's beyond the work of a neglectful parent. Even indifferent parents will Sharpie a superhero mask on their kid's face; this costume is different. It's specifically for those moms and dads who have a score to settle. I dare anyone to find a kid who genuinely wants to wear this, because even the best-executed version of this fishbowl outfit -- with the most realistic looking fish and diffused, battery-powered lights to create a murky underwater effect -- can distract from the blatant symbolism of parents stuffing their kid in a garbage bag.

Ugh, they're not even recyclable.

You can follow Soren on Twitter or Tumblr. He loves children, especially yours.

For more from Soren, check out Why 'Psychics' Need to Stop Pretending They Can Solve Crimes and 5 Writing Tips for the People Who Send Me Death Threats.

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