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Superhero costume DIY ideas save parents from sewing, dress kids past Halloween

Updated on September 25, 2014
A child transforms into a Green Lantern with a green t-shirt with painted logo and a ring made from a pipe cleaner.
A child transforms into a Green Lantern with a green t-shirt with painted logo and a ring made from a pipe cleaner. | Source

Superhero costumes are always one of the most popular costumes for Halloween, according to surveys published each year by the National Retail Federation. But, that's not the only time kids especially like to dress up as superheroes.

Unfortunately, many store-bought costumes are not made to last past Halloween, or even one spin in the washer. Parents can easily make a variety of costumes that stand the test of time using t-shirts, paint and duct tape.

For a base, kids can wear clothes they may already have in their drawers. Captain America, for example, basically wears navy blue cargo pants. Other heroes could appear to wear sweat pants or other athletic pants. T-shirts could be worn over long-sleeve shirts, sweatshirts or bottom-layer athletic shirts in the appropriate color.

Outline the design with a "puff" paint, as shown on this Thor costume.
Outline the design with a "puff" paint, as shown on this Thor costume. | Source

T-shirt Toppers

Why use t-shirts? T-shirts are inexpensive, washable and can easily layer over base layers for Halloween and for play.

The t-shirt topper is the most important part of the costume as it typically has the hero's logo across the chest. Kids may feel all they need is the t-shirt to be their favorite hero for make believe.

Craft stores like AC Moore, Jo-Ann's and Michael's all carry a variety of t-shirt colors and usually have a sale once a month. To paint the logo, use both the matte t-shirt paint (use a brush to paint) and the "puff" t-shirt paint (has a tip on the bottle to paint). The matte fills in the design and the puff outlines it.

For all designs, first wash the t-shirt and then iron, creating a center fold line on the front of the shirt. This line will help keep the design centered on the shirt. Unless you are brave and talented, draw the design with a pencil on the shirt first, then trace over pencil markings with the paint.

Superman/Supergirl | Source
Batman/Batgirl | Source
Captain America
Captain America | Source
Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman | Source


Superman's logo, or the symbol for the the House of El, is probably the most complicated to draw. It is a stylized "S" in a 5-sided diamond. Use red and yellow paint on a bright blue or navy shirt.


Batman wears a yellow, silver or dark gray bat on a black shirt. The bat is very simple to draw- start with the head, then draw the lines for the wings, doing the mirror lines one at a time.

Captain America

Captain America's top can be different depending on the story. It typically is a white star on the chest of a blue shirt with red and white stripes below the chest, but the stripes have been replaced with brown almost suspender-like stripes. For the latter, I've cut the blue shirt just under the chest, layered over a white shirt and added brown duct tape to complete the costume.

Wonder Woman/Thor/Sif

Wonder Woman, Thor and Lady Sif are all warriors who are actually wearing armor for their costumes. For these, cut the sleeves off the shirt by turning the shirt inside out and cutting along the seam, starting at the armpit. Parents may want to use metallic paints to help create the armor look, but can still keep the design simple, like the three silver circles on the Thor costume. (The Thor shirt is actually a size too big so the lower two circles fall below the belt.)

Iron Man/Green Lantern

Iron Man and Green Lantern have costumes that glow. To create this effect, first paint the circle, triangle or lantern symbol on the chest in the appropriate color. Once dry, paint glow-in-the-dark paint over the design and outline the design with the glow-in-the-dark paint.

Black Widow

Black Widow wears a jumpsuit, but the look can be replicated with a t-shirt or, even better, a long-sleeved shirt. Simply cut a slit at the center of the neck down as low as is preferred. Outline the slit with silver paint, then continue a line of silver paint down the center line. Paint the SHIELD logo on both sleeves.

This belt was made three years ago for a Halloween costume and is still used for play.
This belt was made three years ago for a Halloween costume and is still used for play. | Source


Many heroes wear belts, and belts are actually easier to make than the shirt toppers. To make the belts, parents need duct tape in the appropriate color and stick-on velcro squares (found with sewing supplies in craft stores.)

On a table, pull out a length of duct tape, sticky side up, a few inches longer than the child's waist measurement. Then, carefully pull out, fold and lay another length of duct tape, sticky side down, on top of the original length. It's easier to unroll the second length of tape slowly over the original length.

To complete the belt, trim the edge, and place a velcro square on one end and the corresponding velcro square on top. Place the belt on the child, sticking the corresponding velcro square where it fits.

If the costume requires an arm band or wrist band, it can be made the same way.


Warrior Skirt

Not many heroes wear skirts, but Wonder Woman and Sif wear ones worn by ancient warriors. To keep it simple, the skirt is part of the belt for these costumes.

First, using the layering method used to make the belts, make strips the desired skirt length. For coverage, make as many strips as inches there are around the waist. Cut out V-shaped points on one end of each strip. (See photos to the right for visual explanation.)

For Wonder Woman, paint white stars (I used a stamp) on half the strips. Allow the paint to dry.

Then, pull out the tape, sticky side up, for the belt. Place half the strips (for Wonder Woman, use the star ones, star side down) side-by-side on the tape. Then, layer the other half on top so the points fall between the first layer's points. (See photos below)

Complete the skirt as you would complete the belt, sticking another layer of duct tape on top and adding the velcro squares.

Note: Parents may still want their child to wear at least shorts, maybe even leggings under the skirt. (Sif, in fact, does wear legging-like pants under her skirt) Try to find a pair that matches.



Some heroes, like Superman, Batman and Thor, have capes. Capes can be made by cutting a piece of felt fabric the appropriate length and then attaching it to the t-shirt's shoulders with velcro squares. Felt is a great to use because it can be cut into any shape without fraying and holds up to trips through the washer.


A few heroes feel it is necessary to hide their identity behind a mask. Many can be made using a paper plate and string or elastic. Others can be made with a strip of felt with eye holes tied around the head (as a Ninja Turtle would wear). Masks for many heroes are also available for purchase in the action figures toy section of stores.

Still, some schools and organizations do not allow masks for costume parties and law enforcement warn about the safety hazards of masks. Make-up and face paint can be used to cover the child's face for some of these, and the truly brave and creative could transform a painter's hat (found at craft stores) into the remainder of the mask, as would be needed for Batman, Iron Man or Captain America.

Once Halloween has passed, kids will love mixing pieces of the costumes to create their own superhero. Leftover supplies or extra t-shirts from a deal can be used to make extra pieces for play.

While these ideas have kids in mind, adults who want to dress up for Halloween or for convention cosplay can make the ideas work for them.

Who have you dressed up as for Halloween?

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© 2014 Samantha Sinclair


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      4 years ago

      Great hub. I am a huge advocate of DIY costumes, because people wind up appreciating them so much more than a rented or store bought costume. I think it's because they have more "heart" to them; people really feel the amount of care, creativity and attention that went into making the costume from scratch.


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