Halloween is a fright.
It's not the haunted houses or the creatures lurking at your doorstep. It's not even the thought of handing out your last piece of candy before the sun sets.
For parents of young, fickle children, the most frightful part of Halloween comes hours -- or weeks -- before the big day, when decisions about costumes must be made.
Concocting costumes, even for toddlers, is more nerve-wracking for many parents than where to have a child's birthday party or what a third-grade girl will wear on school picture day. Halloween is a big day for little kids, and what they're "gonna be" can change hourly and consume them for weeks.
Of course, what little children are "gonna be" usually depends on what moms and dads let them be. Older youngsters often create their own costumes, but even they sometimes need an adult trick or two.
With the bewitching hour fast approaching, it's time to jump-start your creativity if the kids' costumes aren't yet ready.
Below are some simple ideas for costumes that can be created with little time, little money and, perhaps most importantly, little skill. For these get-ups, no seamstresses need apply.
While the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Little Mermaid remain big sellers, the most popular costumes are still the Halloween classics -- black cats, ghosts, witches, pumpkins -- says Sherry Timbrook, a spokeswoman for Hallmark Cards.
According to that company's market research, the trend, even in these favorites, is "away from the ghoulish and the gory" and toward the lighthearted and whimsical, she says.
Besides being ever-popular, the cats, ghosts and witches are simple to concoct. Keeping it simple is the best pattern to follow when putting together costumes for young children, says Janice Ellis, director of Child's World nursery school and day care at Villa Julie College.
Here are some ideas for costumes from Mrs. Ellis and Fran Bond, professor of early childhood education at Towson State University. The ideas are indeed simple, and the best part is, there's plenty of time left to make them:
Brown-bag it: Ecology aside, Halloween is a great reason to bring your groceries home in paper. Brown bags are the beginnings of many a Halloween costume. Cut a hole in the bottom for your child's head, and arm holes in each side. For easier access, open the bag down the back, giving it a tunic effect.
Once fashioned, the bag can become almost anything your child wants it to be. One of the easiest is an Indian costume -- cut slits for fringe around the bottom and arm holes; make a headband out of a separate strip of brown paper, fit it to your child's head and tape it together.
Let your child glue some feathers to the headband, and decorate the tunic as he likes.
If the idea of being an Indian isn't appealing, let your child decide what he wants the brown-bag creation to be, and let him decorate it accordingly, using crayons, markers, feathers and pieces of construction paper cut into various shapes.
Basic black: There's no better night for it than Halloween. And with black pants -- or tights -- and a black turtleneck or leotard, you're on your way to a winning costume.
For a cat, use makeup to paint whiskers on your child's cheeks; fashion cat ears out of pipe cleaners and staple them onto a black cap or bend them around a headband; cut a tail out of construction paper or colorful cloth and tape -- or stitch -- to your child's clothes.
For a bat, cut from a black leaf bag or piece of silky black material "bat wings," pieces of material that you attach to your child's clothing at the shoulders and elbows, so when he lifts his arms, he has wings.
For a pirate, tie brightly colored bandannas around the child's head and waist and give him a swashbuckling sword and other pirate props.
For a witch, add a cape or skirt to the basic black and give your child a short-handled broom to carry. You can buy a witch's hat for $3 or $4 or make one out of construction paper. Be sure the hat fits well or is secured by bobby pins.
Flannel favorites: With little work, an ordinary pair of flannel pajamas, preferably with feet, can become several different creatures:
For a rabbit, start with pink or white PJs. Attach a cotton tail (pin, tape or sew) at the back -- a wad of cotton will do, or you can stitch together a handful of cotton balls. Make rabbit ears out of pipe cleaners and affix to a headband or cap. Give your child a large carrot -- preferably toy -- to carry.
For a devil, start with red PJs. Use makeup to create a devilish face and give him a toy rake or other gardening tool to use as a pitchfork. Again, fashion a tail out of paper or cloth and attach it to the back of the pajamas.
For a bumblebee, start with yellow PJs. Make wings either by cutting them out of construction paper, shaping from pipe cleaners or attaching cloth to the back and elbows of the pajamas, as in the bat costume above. Use makeup to put black "bee" markings on your child's face.
Don't underestimate overalls: With a flannel shirt and overalls,
your child can be a farmer -- add a straw hat and a toy hoe and shovel; a scarecrow -- add some hay or straw to his pockets and hair, roll up his sleeves, paint his face, give him a toy bird to carry; or a cowboy with a hat and boots. Try to discourage him from carrying a toy gun. Replace it with a piece of rope that resembles a lasso.
Here are some other quickies:
*Crayon: Have your child wear a brightly colored sweat suit with shirt and pants that match. Then, out of cardboard or construction paper, make the tip of a crayon that he can wear on his head. Attach it to a cap or headband.
*Ghost: The old sheet trick is still among the best costumes. It's not advisable, however, to put one over their heads. Use a pillow case for little ghosts or a sheet for bigger ones from the neck down. Use white makeup to create a ghostly face.
*Firefighter: All you need is a yellow slicker, boots and a firefighter's hat.
*Pumpkin: Cut large circles out of orange construction paper. Staple strips of paper to the tops of the circles so they will fit on your child like a sandwich board. Use green tights or pants and a green sweater to finish this costume.
Older children and adolescents can use orange leaf bags as pumpkin costumes. Cut a hole for the head and arms, fill the bag with inflated balloons and draw the bag together around the legs. Complete with green legs and arms.
*Doctor: Wear an old white shirt backward. Put a stethoscope around the neck and carry a doctor's bag and other props.
And, of course, there are stores full of costumes to buy, ranging in price from about $9.99 to $20, according to a spokesman for Toys R Us in this area. There are, too, plenty of props and trappings to complement homemade costumes.