Ricky Lyle Campbell wearing blue hat, red vest and red bowtie.
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Procrastinators, this Pitt costume designer will save your Halloween 

  • Arts and Humanities
  • Community Impact
  • Department of Theatre Arts
  • Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Each Halloween, Ricky Lyle Campbell feels the pressure to make a great costume,  and each year, he delivers. After all, Campbell, at Pitt since 2017, is the Department of Theatre’s costume manager.

“If I'm going to be in costume, I've got to do it all out because that's what people expect,” he said. “I'm a big supporter of taking Halloween as an opportunity to let your freak flag fly.”

So, for the last-minute costumers out there, Pittwire asked Campbell about how to create a memorable costume without breaking the bank.

What general costume advice do you have for someone who doesn’t consider themselves creative?

Keep it simple but still have fun stepping out of yourself and being someone else. Maybe there’s a movie you love, but you aren’t committed enough to cosplay one of the characters at a convention. Take Halloween as the perfect opportunity to show off your fandom.

Halloween can be a holiday to pay homage to heroes, too. Why not dress as somebody in real life that you admire? After the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I saw a lot of people dressing up as her. A Halloween costume can be as simple as putting on a dress and pearls and a wig.

And a reminder — if you're dressing as somebody scary and mean, that doesn't mean you should be being scary and mean to your friends.

Let a thrift store’s offerings inspire your costume.

When you go to a thrift store, try not to have a specific idea in mind; let the items speak to you — you never know what you might stumble across. If you shop with one particular idea, you   might overlook something that could work.

For instance, maybe you want to dress like Harry Potter and go to a thrift store looking for a black robe, and the store doesn’t have it, but they do have an ugly oversized sweater. You could still do Harry Potter, but go in a different direction and go as Harry Potter wearing the ugly sweater his friend’s mom made him.

Don’t be afraid to start with oddball pieces.

When I was in college, I ran across a black sports coat in my closet and l decided to use it in my Halloween costume. I went to the thrift store, and they happened to have some umbrellas with hook handles. I’m like, boom, done — I’m going as the Penguin. I found a bow tie, I had a white dress shirt and a black coat, which left me to find a pair of black pants and a top hat. I found an old magnifying glass in the toy section, broke the handle off and made a monocle by tying a string to it. I pulled that costume together in a few hours and later won $50 in a costume contest.

You don’t have to spend a ton of time or money on something; creativity will carry you a long way.

Depending on the store, you can probably pull something together from a thrift store for $20 or $30. Every thrift store is a little different, but generally, Thriftsburgh is a great place to start.

Think outside of the box.

Your old formal dress from homecoming can become a fairy princess or a zombie. Don't be afraid to think outside the box and don't be afraid to look to genders not your own for inspiration.

You could also try a throwback look and dress as a kid from the 90s wearing overalls with one strap down. Also, don't be afraid to think beyond movies and TV in pop culture. You could make references to older styles and fashion.

If you’re going for a 70s look, you can cut off the sides of the pants and add a triangle of fabric with hot glue that'll flare out the bottom of the pants for youyou just have to make it through one night. Plus, it’s getting a little harder to find fun 70s pieces anymore because we were so removed from that decade, but you can easily piece something together if you have a little time on your hands. But don’t hot glue anything to your body.

How can I bring a costume to the next level?

What makes an exceptional costume are the little details. Go the extra mile by adding accessories to your costume or focus on makeup. I'm a big fan of props — I like having something to carry. The first time I went full drag, I was an evil sorceress. I made this big staff to carry, and it brought my costume to the next level.

I once saw someone dressed as the haunted character from the movie “The Ring” who used a prop to take their costume one step above. They constructed a well that hung around them and in photos, it looked as if the top half of their body was crawling out of the well. This took the whole look one step above.

How can I make sure my costume is cultural appreciation rather than cultural appropriation?

I'm not saying don't have fun, but be mindful. If you love a character who's outside of yourself, that's great, because then you're exploring what other people are going through in life and looking at a character who will have a different perspective from you. But be respectful of who it is that you're dressing as, especially in situations where you might be crossing into a gender or racial identity other than your own.

If you’re worried about your costume, ask yourself, “Am I playing this up, or am I condescending?” Consider how you would feel if you saw somebody dressed a certain way.

And if you do anything that involves you having to change the color of your skin, don't. Do you love the character? Great. You can still love the character and wear a costume inspired by the character without trying to mimic the character’s race.

I’m still stumped. Help!

When in doubt, you can always be a zombie. You can take any outfit and rip it up. And that's fun to do because you can take anything, an ugly prom dress for example, and then boom — here I am in costume. You’ll always have that one in your back pocket.

Tips from Student Affairs

The Office of Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education, also known as SHARE, reminds students that costumes, no matter what they are, do not imply consent. Sexual harassment and sexual violence have no place on Pitt’s campus. If you witness a concerning situation, don’t be a bystander — intervene.

SHARE offers resources to help all members of the University community report, cope with and prevent incidents of sexual misconduct or assault.


— Nichole Faina and Kara Henderson