How to host a Halloween costume exchange party

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Photo credit: bgwalker/Getty Images

According to National Day Calendar, there are nearly 1,500 national days, weeks and months recognized each year. That’s a lot of celebrating I have missed out on. Did you know that the second Saturday in October is National Halloween Costume Swap Day? Betcha didn’t. My kids are 15 and 13 years old and I never knew this day existed until now. I think it’s fair to say there are lots of “national” days about which I am clueless.

Most years, my boys only wore their Halloween costumes on Halloween (and a few dress-up days at home). I grew to resent spending so much money on a costume worn only a handful of times. And, as my eco-friendly IQ grew, I disliked the wasted money and resources that went into making, transporting and buying a costume to be worn only for a few hours one night. Some of this was offset through the borrowing of costumes, and all costumes were either passed down to younger cousins or donated. One of the reasons I love the idea of costume swapping so much is the sustainability factor. Rather than using precious resources and money for another costume and it possibly ending up in an already-overflowing landfill, I love the idea of reusing products that are still in almost perfect condition.

So, while my boys are quickly losing interest in dressing up and trick-or-treating (I sure will miss digging through their bags of candy!), I love the thought of a costume exchange day. So, in honor of National Halloween Costume Swap Day, I’m going to give you all the fun little details to hold your own super-successful Halloween costume exchange party.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of organizing. Here are some things to consider as you plan your Halloween costume exchange party.

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Pick a date

While the second Saturday in October may be the official costume swap day, I’d recommend the first Saturday of October, as kids begin to get excited about Halloween and before people’s schedules fill with Halloween parties. This means you will need to send out invites or begin advertising by the middle of September.

Create the guest list

How big do you want this Halloween costume exchange party to be? Are we talking a small gathering of family and close friends and neighbors, or a costume extravaganza? If the former, your house will probably suffice. If the latter, think community center, neighborhood rec center, school or church basement, and invite the whole community. The more people, the more costumes from which to choose!

Pick the age range

Don’t forget the teenagers and adults! Many teens still get excited about trick-or-treating or attending parties, and the same goes for adults (well, hopefully not the trick-or-treating part). If you do include adult costumes, be sure to have them displayed in a separate section, especially in the event not all are G-rated.

Spread the word

If you do take this community-wide, utilize sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Nextdoor, as well as posting to community newsletters and local mom groups, to spread the word. Also, be sure to ask for volunteers to help you pull this off.

Make the “rules”

Something to consider and announce ahead of time: Will this be a “bring one, take one” kind of party, or will it be a “bring what you can, take what you need” kind of situation? Perhaps everyone swaps for the same amount they brought to begin with, and then leftovers can be given to those who have extra little bodies to dress. It’s important this is clear on the invite so as to avoid awkward exchanges at the party.

Include a message with your invite that all costumes must be clean and in good condition, ready to be worn and, preferably, already on a hanger.

Consider a raffle

If your guests are friends and family, then you should be able to rely on the honor system when it comes to how many costumes people arrive with versus how many they leave with. If you’re opening it up to the community, consider giving each participant a raffle ticket for each costume they bring to keep things fair and square. You can also put half of each raffle ticket into a basket and draw to determine the order for choosing costumes to help eliminate shoving and fighting over the same costumes.

Ask for extras and be specific

Put out the call for extra costumes from families (like mine) who have costumes to donate without needing to exchange. That way you’ll have a few additional choices.

Be sure to tell people to not only bring costumes but unwanted accessories as well. A cowboy hat or feather boa may be all a child needs to pull together the rest of the costume. Again, be sure to have tables or bins to hold all of these accessories.

Plan day-of set-up

For displaying the costumes, beg, borrow and plead for either tables or racks that can be utilized to hang costumes by size. Other ideas for hanging costumes include:

If it’s nice weather — and you have or can borrow one or more — hang clothes from an E-Z UP or similar type of canopy.
Place the ends of a long ladder on two tall trash cans or other containers, or place the ends of a board or PVC pipe on the steps between two ladders.
String line or rope across different parts of a room or garage, or between trees.
Build simple racks from PVC pipe.

The more organized things are, the smoother this will go. As guests arrive with costumes, use masking tape to label and display the costumes by size to make it easier to find the perfect fit.

If you’re holding the costume swap party at your home, dedicate a room or two for guests to try on costumes. Be sure to have at least one full-length mirror for the guests to admire themselves. If you’re holding the event elsewhere, bathrooms and small private rooms can be utilized for trying on costumes. Again, be sure there are several full-length mirrors available.

Consider additional entertainment

What to do when the kids have chosen their new costumes but the adults still want to socialize? Here are some kid-friendly ideas:

Consider having a face painter who will work for free or tips.
Set up an easy art project that can be supervised by an older kid to keep little kids happily occupied.
Make use of Halloween color pages like these or a Halloween word search like this.

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Decide on food and drinks

Now, let’s talk refreshments. If your swap is going to be a big extravaganza, and you wish to include food and drink, I would suggest keeping it simple. Ask for donations of cookies, bags of crackers or chips, easy-to-eat fruit such as apples and oranges, and water dispensers with biodegradable cups. You already have a lot on your hands with organizing this shindig, so the food and drink should be quick and easy.

If you’re planning a more intimate affair with a smaller crowd, then have a little more fun with the goodies. I personally think asking guests to bring a fun holiday finger food to share is acceptable. After all, it’s not just a costume swap; it’s a get-together of friends and family that just may turn into an impromptu early Halloween party.

As the hostess of this soiree, you might want to have some fun of your own making the perfect Halloween treats. Last year, these were some of my favorite Halloween party treats. Some new ideas this year include these monster cake pops and Rice Krispies Treat pumpkins.

Last Halloween, I had a frighteningly good time testing and writing about these oh-so-ghoulish Halloween cocktails perfect for your holiday bash. If you are so inclined to combine this costume swap party with the first Halloween party of the season, these to-die-for concoctions might just be right up your alley. And don’t forget the 20 and younger crowd. Here are 13 kid-friendly Halloween drinks that are just as much fun to make as the alcoholic stuff.

Having put together this plan for your Halloween costume exchange party, I’m even more bummed I didn’t know about this when my boys were younger. I’m thinking I might need to plan an adults-only Halloween costume swap party. I’ll let you know how it goes!