Free and cheap World Book Day last-minute costume ideas

This year's World Book Day is Thursday 7 March, and – like most parents – it's likely you'll have the World Book Day costume stress as you strive to find the right outfit for your child but see the cost going up and up. Even home-made costumes can be pricey – but if you’re still on the hunt for the perfect costume, fear not! There are plenty of ways to nail it on a budget.

1. Give your child a shortlist of potential books, with costumes in mind. Rather than saying ‘Which book do you want to be?’, which – let's face it – can open up a huge can of worms, try having a few ideas in mind and what you’d do, as that way, you're more in control of the outcome. Take this opportunity to stock up on new books too with our 15 free or cheap kids' books tricks.

2. Don’t over look non-fiction – these are books too! There might be a non-fiction book where your child can come as a historical figure, which often uses more ‘everyday’ clothes. Perhaps they might want to come as ‘The World’ or an atlas, or a book about a famous inventor or celebrity.

3. Scour your own wardrobe. There could be plenty in your own wardrobe that might just hit the spot as THE costume item you need. Suddenly that sparkly kaftan or headband you got for a gig or festival is part of your child's outer space costume, with not a penny spent. This also extends to make-up and accessories. Costume jewellery can be anything from a glasses chain to the spoils of a heist. Okay, so you don’t want to use anything precious, but we bet there are some amazing colours of eyeshadow in there that can be anything from a dinosaur ‘skin’ on cheeks to the blue eyes of a famous inventor.

4. Get crafty – the cheapest items to use are ones you already have. Is there something in the house you can use (those old Amazon boxes, or bubble wrap, for example?). Can you turn old Coke or lemonade bottles into a jet pack, or make binoculars from the insides of loo rolls? Collecting newspaper from friends or neighbours can help you create something wonderful from papier maché, or search the cupboards for old wrapping paper that might inspire!

It's about thinking laterally – looking at the costume you're trying to replicate and asking 'What do I have that will be similar' rather than trying to make an exact carbon copy of the outfit or the character. Try not to be afraid of customising – you could take some scissors (you, not your child!) to an old wig, or cut a tie in half or the sleeves off a top. Got the right colour trousers but need shorts? Time for some chopping! 

5. Get creative at the charity shop. Of course, a charity shop is one of the top ways you will be able to try and find a book costume at a bargain price. Some may even have dedicated rails of pre-loved outfits (hopefully in a size that works for your child!). But there are ways to hone in on what you need, rather than just hoping they have what your child wants to dress up as.

Make sure you look beyond the usual fancy dress, and even into adult rails – think about what will work for the character or book you’re trying to represent. Bric-a-brac is also often a hot bed of items that you can use – old glasses with the lenses popped out, scarves or jewellery can all be repurposed. You could even look at the adult clothing – a T-shirt in the right colour or shirt in the right pattern can easily be cut to fit or tied with a belt.

Photo: Rhiannon Moorhouse

6. Make props the main part of the costume. Most characters in books have a prop or item that is their 'thing'. There's the classic wizard wand and cape, or glasses, a notepad or magnifying glass. You get the idea – and a prop can really solve the costume dilemma. It's an easy win to use a prop alongside your child's regular clothes. Think colour, too, when you're in the prop zone. Is the character themed by colour? Is a scarf or hat the missing piece of the outfit puzzle? We all have so much of this stuff at home already – just be mindful to label anything that is yours and you definitely want returned home!  

7. Once you have your items, begin a dressing up box. Then, next time you need a costume, you have a ready-made set of items to choose from. You could even keep your eye out the next time you’re in the charity shop for cheap items that could be added ad-hoc to the box.

8. And finally, give yourself a break. Remember that all parents are going through the stress and challenge of making or finding THE perfect outfit or costume, you're not alone! What really matters is that the kids all have fun and everyone discusses their favourite books and authors – and we support each other in our reading endeavours.