Last-Minute Costume Ideas

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Scrambling to get a costume together? Let the portraits at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery inspire you.

Pocahontas: Disney’s version of the Powhatan Indian woman’s story depicts her wearing a tasseled, leather dress. But that costume was done by thousands of little girls around the movie’s mid-90s release. Pocahontas was converted to Christianity, baptized as Rebecca and married the English settler John Rolfe. So try pulling off Rebecca Rolfe (see portrait above). It might take some explaining. But don’t most last-minute costumes?

Charlie Chaplin: Really the only hard-to-find piece to a good Charlie Chaplin get-up is the black bowler hat. So email your neighbors from work today to start the search for one. (You may as well ask them if they have a cane too.) The rest is easy. For the guys, chances are you haven’t had the foresight to grow facial hair, but a makeshift toothbrush moustache can be fashioned out of paper and tape. Then, just wear a tight coat, tie, a vest and oversized trousers and shoes.

Marilyn Monroe: Halloween is known for bringing out the scantily clad, no matter how cold it may be outside. All it takes to dress up as Marilyn is a white halter dress, a strategically placed beauty mark and maybe a blonde wig.

Abraham Lincoln: Every Marilyn Monroe needs her Mr. President, and of the forty-two presidents gracing the museum’s walls, good ‘ole Abe, with his trademark top hat, is one of the most instantly recognizable. Pair the black hat with a suit, and refresh yourself with the Gettysburg Address. It would be tragic if you couldn’t get past "Four score and seven years ago." The costume is quite apropos as we head into the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth.

Joe Louis: To be the boxing great, or really any boxer for that matter, all you need is some boxing gloves (puffy mittens could work in a pinch), silky athletic shorts and sneakers. I highly recommend wearing a nude-colored sweat suit underneath the shorts though. You can make the added layer less dopey by drawing in some muscle definition.

Uncle Sam: Like Chaplin and Lincoln, Uncle Sam is an easy hat and suit combination. This time the top hat is white (remember, you can always create a hat from poster paper) with a blue band and white stars. The suit is blue, and the bow tie is red. It’s okay to bypass the white whiskers. People will recognize you without them. Just point a lot. It’s not rude – just in character – when you’re Uncle Sam.

Let's hear your ideas!

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