Costume Swaps: Reduce the Stress, Time, and Money!


Halloween is fast approaching! I have been asked to share how I did a costume swap at my kids’ school a few years ago. This “how to” spiel can be tweaked for other settings- community centers, neighborhoods, grocery stores, etc. I have included the document I wrote on the topic here:

A costume swap is a great way for people to find gently used costumes for Halloween without having to spend a lot of time shopping and spending money on a brand new costume. Just the thought of spending a lot of time schlepping between stores, hoping the perfect costume would turn up filled me with the shivers (no pun intended).

I had been following Green Halloween’s activities for a while and learned that National Costume Swap Day would be a great way to get a local costume swap going. You can do a swap at your school or in your neighborhood! All you need to do is decide on a date for the swap (usually a few weeks before Halloween) and recruit a few volunteers to help put your plan in motion! (Note: National Costume Swap Day is coming up next week, but you can still do it anyway. You can check online to see if anyone else in your neighborhood/area is hosting one.)

Here are the steps you can take to implement a costume swap at your school:

Get the head of school and/or PTA/parent group on board. Arrange to get on the agenda for the PTA meeting and be prepared to present a rationale for the swap:

    • Swapping costumes reduces landfill waste.
    • Costume swaps not only mean less resources are used to make a new product, it also means less packaging, less transportation of the product, and less waste from creating products. For example, excess fabric used to make costumes is often trashed.
    • It saves money.
    • It provides a positive message to children about the importance of reusing/recycling materials.
    • It’s fun!

Create a timeline for tasks.   Include a marketing plan: i.e. article/announcement in newsletter, emails to parent lists, create posters, etc.

Choose a date and time for the swap.  We picked the week before National Costume Swap Day (NCD) to do the costume drop offs and the actual swap on NCD. This year it is October 12. We provided an opportunity to drop off costumes in the morning for several consecutive days (dropping off costumes when you pick up your child could also work). At our school, the actual swap was at pickup time (2:45 pm) until about 4-4:30. If you have an after-school program at your school, you may have to talk to the staff of this program to allow these kids to participate.

Choose a location at the school for the swap (gym, entrance to school/foyer, etc.). Provide a private space for trying on costumes (usually a bathroom nearby). Lots of kids just put costumes on over their clothes.

Recruit volunteers for the following tasks:

    • Create large posters to display around the school about the swap (1-2 weeks before).
    • Create a display for the entrance area of your school to be put out a week before the swap. We used Halloween pumpkin lights, a display of a Batman costume, and posters.
    • If you have a parent room or place where parents congregate, create a Costume Swap banner.
    • Be present for 2-3 days before the swap to take people’s costumes and give them tickets. You may also wish to write down the child’s name, because some people may lose their tickets. (Note: We had a small school, so this was possible. For larger schools, it might be more challenging. I have heard of swaps designed so that costumes can be bought. Each costume is valued by its owner for a certain $ amount. When the costume is bought, proceeds are given back to the owner or they can be donated to the school PTA.) 
    • Be present in shifts at the actual swap, including set-up, during the event, clean-up, and taking leftover costumes to Goodwill or Value Village.
    • Round up extra costumes from friends, neighbors, colleagues to have a lot of variety on hand.
    • Provide baked goods on the day of the swap (optional- we did this to create a more festive-like atmosphere).
    • Get tickets/tokens/stamps (however you want to indicate that a child has turned in a costume to be exchanged for a different one).
    • Get hangers and rods to hang up costumes to easily display them.

During the event:

  • Set up the costumes according to size so people can easily find what they are looking   for. Putting them on hangers is best so people can find them more easily. If that’s not possible, you can lay them out on tables.
  • You can stagger the times people can show up if it will be too crowded, depending on the size of the school, number of costumes, volunteers, etc.

After the event:

  • Thank all your volunteers!
  • Put a blurb in newsletter about the success of your event, including how many costumes were exchanged and any other interesting facts (ie. how much money was saved, how much gas was not used, how much time was saved, etc.)
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