A Seattle costume designer shows how inexpensive and simple it can be to create a fun character for Halloween.

Share story

So, you waited to the last moment to remember Halloween, which is (boo!) Saturday night. But that’s OK. There is no reason to panic and nothing to fear.

You can still have a great, one-of-a-kind costume, says K.D. Schill, who has been called upon to handle many an outfit emergency and wardrobe malfunction over the years.

Schill is a freelance costume designer and wardrobe technician who’s worked in Seattle-area theaters for years, including Intiman, Annex, Balagan (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” with Jinkx Monsoon, for example), Book-It and Seattle Shakespeare Company.

She said anyone can pull together a fabulous one-of-a-kind look in less than a few hours, especially if armed with a few ideas, a simple strategy, a $20 bill or two, bobby pins, safety pins, double-sided body tape and scissors.

At the Seattle Goodwill on Capitol Hill on a recent afternoon, she demonstrated her prowess as she browsed the aisles, slowly, systematically, a list in one hand and a mounting clutch of hangers in the other.

She recommends that attire hunters spend a few minutes thinking about possible characters before heading out.

“It’s good to have a few options, maybe someone from the news, someone iconic, and a few classics like pirates, zombies and vampires that are popular this year,” she said.

Or: Why not Donald Trump?

“Now, this would be a good suit for Donald,” she said, as she looked at a decent quality black suit for $24.99. She was hoping to complete the outfit with a white shirt, a red power tie and an orange stuffed animal to fashion into a wig for the presidential candidate’s hair.

 

Freelance costume designer K.D. Schill found this elephant bag as an accessory to a Donald Trump Halloween costume.  (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)
Freelance costume designer K.D. Schill found this elephant bag as an accessory to a Donald Trump Halloween costume. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)

“You could take the stuffing out, cut it like this and wear it backward, so when you turn around people can see it’s an animal,” she said. “That would be funny.”

On her sticky-notes list, in addition to Trump, she had jotted down “Kim Davis and the Pope,” pirates, fashion Icon Iris Apfel, Carmen Miranda and Johnny Cash.

As she walked the aisles, she was looking for “colors and textures,” she said. And accessories. In many cases, she said, accessories make the costume.

For example, all a person would need to channel country legend Cash would be a black button-down shirt, a pair of black jeans and a belt with a Western buckle.

“Even without the guitar, they would know who you are,” she said, “and most men have a black shirt and black jeans already in their closet.”

Apfel, a fashionista known for huge round glasses, a love of prints and piled-on clunky jewelry, became famous in her 80s when the Metropolitan Museum in New York staged an exhibition of her wardrobe.

To recreate her look, Schill collected a handful of mismatched prints, a shirt, pants and jacket, then layered them and added a number of colorful necklaces and cuff bracelets. She capped the look with a pair of oversized owl-eyed glasses with no lenses.

K.D. Schill checks out a skirt she’s considering for a Carmen Miranda costume.  (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)
K.D. Schill checks out a skirt she’s considering for a Carmen Miranda costume. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)

Schill gathered a handful of flower prints to recreate the look of Carmen Miranda — singer, dancer, Broadway actress, and Hollywood film star of yore known for her over-the-top fruit and flower headpieces.

She layered a ruffled short skirt over a sequined long skirt and gathered them into a ruche with a safety pin. Then, Schill cut a ruffled, flower-print top up the middle to the navel and tied the two ends together to recreate the Portuguese-Brazilian bombshell’s midriff-baring look.

A flowered scarf fashioned into a turban and topped with plastic flowers completed the ensemble.

“Never be afraid to use your scissors,” she said.

When short of time or creativity, Schill said, it’s fine to go for an old standard. Pirate costumes are always acceptable and easy to create, she said.

Schill used large hoop earrings, a bandanna and red and white striped socks to accessorize two separate pirate looks.

For a man, Schill matched a pair of women’s capri pants with a blousy white top — also found in the women’s section — and a black vest.

For a woman, she choose a short black and white skirt with a black and white striped top. She cut the sleeves of the shirt short in a zigzag pattern and cut a hole near the end of the castoffs to make fingerless mitts.

Patrick Anderson, with a simple, inexpensive pirate costume created by freelance costume designer K.D. Schill, leaves a dressing room at the Capitol Hill Goodwill on Friday.  (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)
Patrick Anderson, with a simple, inexpensive pirate costume created by freelance costume designer K.D. Schill, leaves a dressing room at the Capitol Hill Goodwill on Friday. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)

Because she works in theater and creates costumes for a living, Halloween is not for her the once-a-year-chance-to-dress-up it is for others, but still she loves it.

“I like the nostalgia of Halloween,” she said. “It’s fun.”

Her final tips for the creation of great costume are simple.

Don’t rely on a wig. They always seem like a good idea until you’ve had them on for three hours, she said.

“And be sure to wear something you can go to the bathroom in,” she said.