Waste Management

Secondhand Shops Offer Sustainable Alternatives to Scarily Wasteful Halloween Fashion


Savers offers many options for Halloween costumes. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

Goblins and goons aren’t the only scary things about Halloween — the spooky holiday is also wickedly wasteful. Every year, Americans buy costumes, often made of environmentally unfriendly materials, they’ll wear for one night.

This year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) projects Halloween participation and spending will be back to pre-pandemic levels; nearly 70% of consumers are planning to celebrate, according to the organization. The NRF also estimates U.S. consumers will spend $3.6 billion on costumes alone.

That’s a lot of polyester vampire capes and nylon ensembles potentially ending up in landfills.

Secondhand stores offer trick-or-treaters the chance to avoid single-use costumes, usually at lower prices than brand-name items, and provide a place to donate an outfit that otherwise would have ended up in the back of the closet or in the trash on Nov. 1.

Donna Powers, who has worked at the Salvation Army Family Store on the East Side of Providence for almost 12 years, said she has loved seeing the amazing creations that have come together from items on their racks.

Powers called it “recycling at its best,” seeing local young people create something new out of the donated clothes and accessories and without spending too much money.

She said she often sees Rhode Island School of Design students who put together the wildest and most wonderful outfits, even outside of the Halloween season.

But that’s the nice part about living In Providence, she said, “people can get away with wearing just about everything.”

This October, the best costume she’s seen so far was for a little girl who was dressing up like a doll. She’d found a pinafore and bow, and looked “like porcelain,” Powers said.

Secondhand clothing offers many options for Halloween costumes. (Colleen Cronin/ecoRI News)

Powers herself has come up with a few costumes from the store’s inventory.

“Witches are my favorite because we have crazy, crazy shoes,” she said.

Picking up a pair of sparkly, black stilettos with tiny bows on the back, she added, “Wouldn’t this be great for a witches costume?”

Some secondhand stores have picked up on some people’s desire to avoid a one-wear outfit for Halloween and started marketing campaigns for the spooky season. At Savers in Providence, a large banner outside popped up ahead of the holiday, alerting customers of potential costumes inside. A large rack held some donated costumes and regular clothing that would transform well into Halloween classics like vampires, witches, and devils.

Saver’s corporate site also suggested visiting the store to create a “one-of-a-kind costume,” and anyone who joins their rewards program can earn extra points during “Hallo-weekend.”

The Nest, a secondhand collective that sells clothes, home decor, furniture, and art in Providence, has also shaped its whole October media push around taking a step back from wasteful Halloween culture.

The store has posted infographics with information from United Kingdom studies that estimate that 7 million costumes are thrown away each year there — the United States has five times the population. It’s also shared videos with ideas for costumes with secondhand items from the store.

The store is also donating a portion of its pre-Halloween proceeds to Remake Our World, an organization that fights for fair wages and climate-friendly practices in the fashion industry.

Danielle Sturm, one of The Nest’s co-founders, said the cooperative felt like it was a good opportunity to shed light on the “capitalistic holiday,” which she noted isn’t sustainable on either end of the process. The “fast fashion” garments people buy online for Halloween aren’t sustainable on the front end and then don’t get reused.

Charlotte von Meister, the store’s other co-founder, said some customers have been coming in on the hunt for something to wear on the 31st, including someone who found a white tank top with a bedazzled heart for a Paris Hilton top, and another person who pulled together a pink outfit for an Elle Woods costume.

With the Y2K look trending right now, Sturm said she thought the pieces will hopefully be things those customers can reuse after the holiday.

The Nest has a rack with staff picks for Halloween costumes. Through their decluttering business, von Meister said they’ve been able to find some great statement pieces, especially from a client who used to be a pageant queen, to go well with people’s costume ideas and things they already have in their closet.

For themselves, von Meister said she’s found a pair of elf ears that she’ll pair with a thrifted gown she owns that she doesn’t always get the chance to wear, so she can be an elf queen for Halloween. Sturm will be taking something from her closet that she hasn’t worn in a while and adding some fake blood to “make it scary.”

When Halloween is over, The Nest will also offer a 10% discount at the store in exchange for a costume, which they will donate to local charities for next year.

Colleen Cronin is a Report for America corps member who writes about environmental issues in rural Rhode Island for ecoRI News.


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