Every year now, my girls and I look forward to them choosing a saint to dress up as for All Saints Day. Our parish has a party, as does our homeschool co-op.
Even if we didn’t have those events, I still think dressing up as saints for the feast is a wonderful way to get to know a lot more about a particular saint, and help the Faith come alive in a fun way for kids! If you don’t have any All Saints events in your area but want to really celebrate, you can start just within your family, asking your priest about having a party at the church, or even just inviting some friends to the house for an All Saints costume playdate. If your family trick-or-treats on Halloween, go as saints!
Costumes are one of those things that should be simple but easily can become expensive or tons of work, so I wanted to share some tips to make dressing up as the Church Triumphant less expensive and overwhelming! I have gotten to the point that our costumes are put together within a week, with just one or two stops at thrift stores involved usually. (And of course if you don’t have budget constraints, you can make life even easier buying things new.)
You can find a full round up of all of the costumes we have ever made and the exact details on how we did them and what they cost, along with a bunch of simple ideas for boys and girls costumes in this post here.
Start With What is Made
You do not need to sew completely custom outfits to make great costumes. Any thrift store or costume store will have plenty of already made garments that you can be creative with.
My little Saint Agnes above in the simple white dress? That was a Star Wars Princess Lea costume at Goodwill for $3.25. I literally took off the Star Wars belt around the waist and instantly had peasant garb. We added some rope from the garage, a play silk scarf and stuffed lamb we already owned, and a $2 palm branch from Hobby Lobby to hold.
I can’t find it now, but once I saw a whole blog post featuring saint costumes for little kids with arm holes cut out of pillow cases being used as the base costume. How clever, affordable, and easy is that?!
Shop Your House
The year Philomena was the Blessed Virgin Mary as seen below, I found this white dress at a thrift store in the regular girl’s section for $3.99. (Once again – an already made base of the costume – no sewing involved!) We were then able to complete the rest of the outfit with things from around the house!
Her favorite dolly made a perfect Baby Jesus to hold. Our blue play silk scarf from the play bin was an excellent veil. A rosary to hold? No problem, we own a million. A scrap piece of blue fabric was a fine sash.
If you have any sort of collection of basic dress up clothes, (and really you should, as dress up is such a great open ended, imaginative play option for kids!), you have the building blocks to costumes!
Stop Thinking Literally
Little details and props do NOT need to be perfectly accurate. Remember, this is a costume, not a perfectly historical representation of the saint.
When Philomena dressed as her namesake one year, we needed arrows of some sort. I couldn’t find any toy arrows cheap or used and was so frustrated. Then I realized “I don’t need actual arrows. I just need a stick with something pokey looking on the end”. I found those little corn on the cob holders at the thrift store for $0.75 that I spray painted and literally taped onto some $0.30 dowel rods.
You can find so many random things at the craft store, dollar store, or thrift store that fit as a prop.
Don’t Discount Cardboard
Can’t find the prop you want? Are expensive or hard-to-find options only popping up? Just cut it out of cardboard. The anchor for St. Philomena was a wooden room decoration for a couple dollars at Hobby Lobby that I spray painted silver, but I could have easily cut one out of an old cardboard box, too!
My sister-in-law once cut a little hand harp out of cardboard and used white yarn for the string with a St. Cecilia costume for my niece and it was adorable.
Props do not need to be perfect – we are just trying to represent the recognizable symbol usually associated with a saint.
Don’t Get Hung Up on Too Many Details
Speaking of props not needing to be perfect, don’t get hung up on every detail. Aside from Marian apparitions where Our Lady’s outfit was very specific, most artwork depicting saints has lots of variation.
Take Saint Cecelia below – usually this patron of music is depicted with either a harp, or sitting at an organ.
However, if you go digging through Google images, you will notice she is also sometimes shown with other instruments. I happen to own this little real children’s lap harp we used for a prop, but you could also use any portable instrument your family has like a recorder sitting around. You are capturing the spirit of her musical patronage with any real, toy, or cardboard instrument.
The same goes for clothing colors – of course some color details are concrete in some examples. Roman soldiers wore red, so if your son is dressing up as Saint Martin of Tours, you would want a red cloak for him to famously give to the poor man. The brown habit of the Carmelites is, well, always going to be brown!
However when it comes to many color details like dresses, sashes, cloaks, you will often times see a lot of variation in what colors are used. Find the what you can and let it be enough.
Don’t discount adult garments for your kids. If you can find an over-sized adult garment, it can be easily made smaller with basic cutting and rough sewing skills.
The pink dress used above in our Saint Philomena costume was a woman’s bridesmaid’s dress I got for a few dollars at the thrift store. I literally roughly cut off the bottom and folded the top layer under a half inch and stitched it once with my machine for a basic hem. I turned the dress inside out and made it smaller just sewing a line down a couple inches in on either side and then and chopping off the excess fabric. The top was too low/big, so I pulled it up at either side and sewed it tighter at the shoulders.
There was no taking apart of pieces, making them smaller, resewing the bodice back together etc. It is VERY roughly done, and ties around the waist help with bad sizing! But unless I had pointed it out, my guess is that you probably not notice this scrolling past the photo above, because it’s just a kid’s costume. Remember, they’re just wearing these a few hours – they don’t need to be custom fitted to a T!
Some safety pins can go a long ways if you don’t want to mess with any sewing.
This black and lace dress is a size 14 big girls dress I found at a thrift store in the regular clothes section. It’s meant to be like a super short homecoming dress, but it fit my Zelie perfectly as a full length gown! We just bought a set of lace doilies at the thrift store and I attached them at the top to be a collar for our favorite lace-making saint, and her costume was done in minutes thanks to a dress intended for a completely differently sized person.
Recycle Previous Costume Details
Now that we have made a few costumes, we have quite a few items that can be recycled. Any noble queen saint, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel etc. can use the toy crown Zelie wore when she was St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Many saints are depicted with roses, palm branches, or lilies. Once you buy one of those details one time, you can reuse them for other costumes.
And if You Sew…
Sewing does not need to be a huge production either. Look at your thrift store for tablecloths, sheets, curtains, fabric remnants, and notions for your costume.
I went to just one store for Philomena’s Our Lady of Guadalupe costume. The red dress was a $6 tablecloth. The green fabric was a remnant, as was the scrap of black used for her sash. I needed some kind of a pattern because I’m not a good seamstress and I just chose the smallest sized women’s dress pattern they had at the thrift store for $0.50.
The gold ribbon around the veil is leftover ribbon from our Christmas tub.
I didn’t even buy matching threads, new buttons… I used white thread I already had to sew the whole thing and a couple hook and eyes from my sewing bin to close it up. Going to a fabric store and buying matching threads, interfacing for the collar, pretty buttons etc. would have cost as much as the used fabric from the thrift store, so I kept it simple and just used what I had.
Follow Their Lead (Or Your Abilities in Your Current Season)
My girls and I all love making these costumes. We have included more intricate details as the years go on simply because we find it fun, enjoy creatively making things happen on a budget, and have always started early so we aren’t pressured.
BUT – if you’re hanging on by a thread in a tough season, or running behind and throwing things together last minute, or your kids just don’t care, go simple. I am sure we will have years where costumes are thrown together using the old ones in our big All Saints Day bin, and that will be all I have the capacity for.
If you go to an All Saints Day party at a church, you’ll see costumes of all kinds of levels of intricacy. Some are completely custom done with the most ornate details, and some will be pillow-cases with holes cut out to the arms, and all of the kids have a great time, regardless.
The whole point of this is for our children to come to love and learn about the saints. If we spend the whole time trying to create Pinterest-worthy costumes that leave us frazzled, upset, or crabby, we’ve missed the mark.
Let your kids be involved. Let them have a detail you don’t like but that they love. This is dress up, in the end, and I’m sure the saints in Heaven delight in us remembering them when it brings joy to our children and fosters a greater devotion to the saints whose virtues we hopefully more closely imitate after learning more about them!
You can find a full round up of all of the costumes we have ever made and the exact details on how we did them, the cost, along with a bunch of simple ideas for boys and girls costumes in this post here.