Set aside an afternoon to create a Halloween costume that pays homage to the wild, wonderful region of the West

Jessica Mordo  – September 28, 2019 | Updated October 9, 2019

I have a history of making very involved DIY Halloween costumes. There was the year I constructed a black widow spider ensemble using chicken wire, faux fur, and cobweb-embossed sheer fabric (yes, it was fabulous); the time I donned an amazing Grecian-style thrift store dress and crafted a headdress of rubber snakes for a Medusa ensemble that slayed; and just a couple years ago, when my Ghostbusters outfit of purchased coveralls and a bangin’ DIY proton pack made me the most popular parent on the schoolyard. My love of fashioning fun costumes has never dwindled, and as I try to think up this year’s ensemble, I’m drawing inspo from the West itself.  What follow are some of my top picks (some simple, some complicated, some wacky) for honoring the West this Halloween, as well as some suggestions for how to construct each. 

Cactus

Take inspiration from the Southwest for this year’s Halloween costume. The iconic prickly plant is having a major moment in decor—ICYMI, the ‘gram is filled with minimalist potted cacti arranged in people’s homes. You get to be the cuddliest cactus in the West by not using actual cactus needles in your ensemble. 

DIY Level of Difficulty: Easy

How to Pull It Off: Use a green sweatshirt, jumpsuit, or dress as the base layer. For the needles, sporadically attach yellow or cream-colored pipe cleaners in V-shapes. For the cactus blossoms, attach a couple colorful faux or paper flowers, ideally in red, vivid pink, or yellow.

Redwood Tree

Creative Commons photo by Jeremy is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The mighty Sequoia sempervirens is a testament to the millennia-spanning natural beauty of Northern California. Redwoods are indeed the most huggable of all trees, too, due to their massive size and soft, welcoming bark, so dressing as one will win you friends (and potentially more candy).

DIY Level of Difficulty: Moderate

How to Pull It Off: Dress all in brown (bonus points for a long brown pleated skirt, which would help evoke tree bark). Construct a headpiece of cardboard paper towel rolls to act as branches, and then glue on a bunch of tufted green leaves, fresh or fake. For a cheeky add-on that’ll put your costume in the realm of redwood (vs. generic tree), attach a platform made of cardboard on your shoulder on which you place an action figure to resemble one of the tree sitter activists that have campaigned for environmental protection over the decades.

National Park Service Ranger

Not all superheroes wear capes, to be sure, and National Park Service rangers are the Sunset version of superheroes. As stewards of the stunning yet fragile wilderness that makes up our country’s 59 parks, they protect ecosystems, educate visitors, and carry on the legacy of the NPS.

DIY Level of Difficulty: Easy 

How to Pull It Off: Procure a tan button-down shirt that resembles one a police officer would wear. Place a gold/brass badge on one side over the chest; on the other side, attach a gold/brass name tag with your or a fictional name. Attach a National Park Service patch to the upper part of one sleeve facing the side of your body (you can make this, and the badges, out of poster board). Wear olive green pants and tie, as well as a tan straw hat with black trim around the band.

Wine Country

If you’re an oenophile, this is the costume for you. You’ll get to be a living, imbibing embodiment of the West’s beautiful wine-growing regions—in other words, a walking party, sans Dionysian robes.

DIY Level of Difficulty: Easy 

How to Pull It Off: Wear burgundy as your base layer. For grapevines, wrap faux vines all around your arms and chest and attach grapes in the form of burgundy pom-poms, oversized beads, or balloons. Carry around a wine bottle and a shatterproof glass.

Bison

A symbol of North American wildlife, bison (a.k.a. buffalo) may have dwindled in numbers over the centuries, but a sizable population still remains in Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, and a couple Plains States. 

DIY Level of Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on whether you buy or DIY

How to Pull It Off: I’m not going to lie. You’re better off buying a pre-made costume, unless you’re very skilled at using a sewing machine and have experience with thick fabrics like faux fur. If you want a simple DIY version, look for a brown super-curly wig, a fake beard in a matching color of brown, and create a buffalo horns headband using some plastic piping for the horns. 

Grizzly Bear

The ursine icon is found in Alaska, the Canadian Rockies, and some northern continental states like Montana and Wyoming. You probably don’t want to get too close to one IRL, but a cute costume version of a grizzly on Halloween is always a welcome addition to the trick-or-treating crowds.

DIY Level of Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on whether you buy or DIY

How to Pull It Off: Like my bison recommendation above, a prefab furry ensemble is the way to go. If you want to keep it minimalist, seek out or fashion your own bear ears out of a headband and faux fur fabric (as in the image above, but perhaps skipping the sequins for a more authentic take) as well as bear paws made out of brown gloves or mittens with attached tin foil points resembling claws. Optional: Have a faux (rubber or stuffed animal) salmon that you occasionally dangle from your teeth.

Avocado

The buttery fruit has become synonymous with pricey millennial breakfasts, but let’s not forget its rich history in the cuisines of the West. Although you most likely prefer to be eating the real thing, nothing expresses your love of the avocado better than literally wearing it on your sleeve.

DIY Level of Difficulty: Moderate

How to Pull It Off: Pre-made costumes exist (as do avocado-shaped pool floats, but I digress). Construct a sandwich board-style avocado out of cardboard. Cut two pieces each into the shape of a cut avocado. Paint a lighter yellow-green, with a rim of a darker shade of green. In the center, paint a brown orb-shaped pit. Attach the two pieces with rope or cord over the shoulders and around the waist. Wear black underneath. Optional: have a friend dress as a slice of toast.

Burrito

While the debate rages on as to which region, NorCal vs. SoCal, makes the best burrito, the fact remains that this Mexican-American staple food gives us all a reason to queue up at our favorite local taqueria any day of the week. It makes for an intuitive baby’s first Halloween costume, or a humorous outfit that more grown humans can customize to their liking (much like at the taqueria).

DIY Level of Difficulty: Moderate

How to Pull It Off: For your baby: Swaddle your babe up the way you typically do, and then add an outer layer of tin foil or mylar. To a baby hat, attach green felt strips for lettuce, small rolled up pieces of brown felt for beans, and small red felt squares for pico de gallo. For an older child or adult, fashion a tortilla out of beige fabric and wrap it with an outer layer of mylar or tin foil. Around the top rim, attach your faux burrito fillings made out of felt, yarn, and the like. Optional add-on: Carry around a mini jar of hot sauce.

Hollywood Sign

The landmark stretching across the Hollywood Hills has become synonymous with L.A. and the film industry. It’s also one of the easiest group costumes to assemble, if you can scare up the proper number of participants. (Let me do the hard math for you: you’ll need a party of nine).

DIY Level of Difficulty: Easy

How to Pull It Off: Each participant gets assigned a letter to form the word HOLLYWOOD. Wear brown as base layer to denote the brown hills. Construct your letter out of white poster board and attach to your shirt. Just be sure to all line up for Halloween party photos in the correct order to avoid an unfortunate gaffe.

Golden Gate Bridge

Karsten May/Getty Images

The crimson landmark is one of the world’s most famous bridges, as well as one of the most-visited sites in San Francisco. There’s nothing quite like crossing it on a foggy day that clears up to afford views of the ocean on one side and the boat-dotted bay on the other.

DIY Level of Difficulty: Moderate to difficult

How to Pull It Off: The bridge can be depicted in a number of ways, but my favorite version is worn by two people together. Out of cardboard, construct two identical pylons, a.k.a. the towering structures of the bridge. Paint these red. These should be boxy and wearable on your torso, and able to slip over your head. Connect the pylons with a strip of road made out of black poster board as well as a wire at the top with long, thin strips of red bridge wires that connect it to the road. On the road itself, bonus points for drawing yellow lines to denote car lanes and for attaching matchbox cars. Using fluffy cotton pillow stuffing, create fog headpieces to complete the look.

Surfer 

Photo by John Clark

Sure, people surf all over the world—but given the sport originated in Polynesia and truly took off in Hawaii, it’s a certifiable Western tradition. And besides, we all know the waves in the Pacific are the best in the world.

DIY Level of Difficulty: Easy 

How to Pull It Off: Wear a wetsuit or rashguard and swimming trunks—preferably with a Hawaiian floral print, if possible—and slip your feet into a pair of flip-flops. Style your hair in beachy waves (there are a zillion YouTube tutorials on how to nail the look) and smear some zinc on your nose for a day-in-the-sun vibe. A real-deal surfboard would be way too unwieldy to lug around (duh), so we suggest procuring an inflatable one. You can even attach a strap to it so you can easily sling it tote it over your shoulder.

Burning Man

The festival draws over 70,000 people to the Nevada desert each summer and has garnered quite the rep for its impressive large-scale art, spirit of shared community, and liberated hedonism. In fact, the event is nearly impossible to distill down into one single definition, because you can find anything imaginable in the event’s temporary Black Rock City. However, one indelible symbol of the event is the eponymous effigy itself, a towering wooden replica of a man that gets torched as the festival’s culminating event.

DIY Level of Difficulty: Moderate to difficult

How to Pull It Off: Bust out the popsicle sticks and glue gun! Create a two-sided wooden cage to cover your torso (you can achieve it by building two torso plates that you connect together sandwich board-style), forming horizontal lines with the popsicle sticks spaced slightly apart and connecting them along the vertical edges. In addition, create a headpiece out of popsicle sticks, or if you’re feeling ambitious, a face mask in a shield shape (with cut outs for your eyes, ‘natch). Wear tan as your base layer. For a fun bit of flair, add a burst of “flame” coming off the top of your headpiece or mask, made out of orange and yellow construction paper, pipe cleaners, and/or whatever other crafty materials you might have that’ll help evoke fire.

Rancher

View this post on Instagram

This ain’t her first rodeo… oh wait, yes it is! We couldn’t be more proud of Francie and more importantly, she’s so proud of herself and her sweet horse Martin. She competed in five junior rodeo events yesterday – two of them she’d never actually even fully run in practice but her attitude was just to go out there and try her best and jump in with both boots. And she did great! She gets to compete in every event again today and she’s excited to try to do even better and shave some seconds off her times. The rodeo community here is so supportive and helpful, coaching her and helping make sure we all know where we’re supposed to be all day. The high school kids are giving her tips and helping with her horse and cheering everybody from the sidelines. Ready for another full day of rodeo! Go Francie! 🐴🐴🐴🐴🐴 #francieheff #fivemarysrodeodays #m5rodeo #m5maryfrances #juniorrodeo #highschoolrodeo

A post shared by Mary at Five Marys : Rancher (@fivemarysfarms) on

The American West traditionally evokes images of cowboys, gunslingers, saloon patrons, and Native Americans (with some unfortunate cultural stereotypes lumped in). While Westworld may have put these archetypes back on the pop culture map in recent years, we advocate for a more modern take on the notion of the Old West, epitomized in the rancher.

DIY Level of Difficulty: Easy

How to Pull It Off: Wear a plaid or denim work shirt and simple boot cut jeans, brown leather belt with a chunky brass buckle, cowboy or work boots (get them a little dusty for an authentic touch), and rancher hat (ideally a topper that’s less trendy and more basic ranch hand). For the ultimate prop, tote a lasso. Bonus: Carry an ox or horse stuffed animal. 

Tumbleweed

You’ve seen it in just about every Western film ever shot: a large spherical mass of dried plants rolling along a dusty road in the wind. Tumbleweed is synonymous with the American West, and it’s certainly one of the more unique costume ideas out there. (Consider teaming up with a pal sporting a cactus costume for an extended tableau of desert flora.)

DIY Level of Difficulty: Moderate

How to Pull It Off: Time to forage! Go to the woods and gather fallen sticks, twigs, small branches, and long, narrow leaves. If you can’t access such a natural area, head to a craft store to find decorative sticks and plant matter to stand in for the real thing. Use a hot glue gun to attach the plant matter to a neutral-colored sweatshirt so that eventually it has the appearance of a large bundle of shrubbery. If you really want an authentic look, get your hands on and attach the plant matter to a ghillie suit (camo gear worn by military and hunters with a sort of swamp monster-meets-Bigfoot vibe, making for a great costume in its own right!); you can find them at army surplus stores or on Amazon.

Gold Miner 

View this post on Instagram

What a golden welcome! This giant prospector has a twin on the other side of the parking lot entrance flanking the “Gold Strike Entrance“ sign. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Despite what the sign says, Gold Strike Casino is now known as Terrible’s Hotel and Casino. Luckily even with the change in management these two are still panning for gold at about 11 feet tall. . . .⁠ .⁠ #quirkyamerica #theadvensuresomedork #roadsideattractions #roadsideamerica #roadtrips #roadtrip #roadtripusa #roadtripping #roadtrippin #roadtrippers #roadsideoddities #roadsideoddity #weirdamerica #touristattraction #touristtrap #sploring #exploring #exploringamerica #sightseeing #travel #travelamerica #ipulledoverforthis #coolfinds #giantprospectors #funfinds #americangiants #roadsidestatues #goldminer

A post shared by The Adventuresome Dork (@quirkyamerica) on

If you’re a history buff who wants to pay homage to a formative era in California’s past, look no further than a ‘49er—and no, I don’t mean a football player, I’m talking about a 1800’s gold prospector, à la Yosemite Sam (without the agro cartoon rabbit persecution).

DIY Level of Difficulty: Easy

How to Pull It Off: Don a plaid shirt and jeans held up by suspenders. Tie a bandana around your neck and top off your head with either a straw Panama hat (for an authentic historical lewk). Carry around a large shovel and a big faux chunk of gold—you can create one out of cardboard or poster board shaped like a gold nugget and spray-painted the appropriate metallic hue.

A-Frame Cabin

Courtesy of Airbnb

We love an A-frame home out here in the West, and while the triangular architectural style seemed to have peaked in the middle decades of the 20th century, it’s seen a resurgence in popularity lately. (Just look at Airbnb or Instagram for all the proof you need.)

DIY Level of Difficulty: Difficult

How to Pull It Off: Cut two equal pieces of cardboard to form the roof, further cutting out a hole through which your head can pass through. The cardboard pieces should run from your neck to your waist or hips. Duct tape the cardboard pieces together along the top crease. Create a base piece of cardboard (your cabin floor) with a hole cut out in the center that will fit around your waist or hips; the base should protrude more in the front to form the deck. Attach this base piece to the slanted roof piece. Cut out six equal strips of cardboard that run the width of the base piece and tape them together in a fan shape, ultimately attaching this to the edge of the base piece—voilà, you have front steps. Paint all of the cardboard dark brown; bonus points for hand-drawing some wood grain-like patterns on top. Attach little trees (either fake miniature ones from a crafts store or ones you DIY) all around the perimeter of the base piece to nail the cabin in the woods vibe. 

Adobe Home

Perhaps the most distinctly Western architectural style, the adobe home is largely found in the Southwestern states of Arizona and New Mexico. With desert chic being so on-trend right now, you and a couple pals can team up for the ultimate Southwestern-themed group ensemble of adobe home, cactus, and tumbleweed.

DIY Level of Difficulty: Difficult

How to Pull It Off: I recommend upholstery foam as your base material, as it’ll form the curves needed to replicate an adobe home. Create a box-shaped structure with rounded edges on top; this will be the main home structure that you’ll wear over your head, so be sure to cut a hole at the top that your head can fit through. To replicate the typical asymmetrical detail of an adobe home’s roof, cut away some of the top on a slant. Cut small cylindrical foam pieces to stand in as beams that get hot-glued around the sides of the home just under the top rim. Paint the structure a terra cotta color, and then paint on a turquoise door. Optional detail: Glue on some decorative cacti from a craft store along the bottom edge of the home for a desert garden.