Halloween Costume Safety

Remember what Halloween was like when you were a child? Those were simpler times, it seems, when the neighborhood was safe and the whole community turned on their porch lights and handed out great treats. Dawn Goldsmith, veteran trickster, mother and grandmother, recalls some harrowing Halloweens. However, the thrills, chills, and spills of her trick-or-treating had more to do with costume experiences than with zombies or haunted houses. Today Dawn is amazed she and her fellow "Halloweeners" survived to enjoy the spoils of fruitful trick-or-treating.

Dawn remembers mom, tied to her sewing machine, making the perfect gypsy costume. The picture on the pattern featured a long full skirt and peasant blouse. When the costume was finished, Dawn couldn’t wait to try it on, then mom and daughter dashed upstairs to show the ensemble to a neighbor. "On the way down I stepped on the hem," recalls Dawn, "thank God the fabric ripped or I would have been snowballing down the stairs. Mom was shaken that I started to fall, but I think she was also a bit peeved that I ruined all her hard work."

Dawn also remembers years of trick-or-treating with friends in "stiff masks" created for little princesses and ghost costumes made from white sheets. "I think the only one who could see was my aunt (not in costume). The ghosts routinely ended up looking out of one eyehole in their respective sheets. We fell up steps and down, tumbled off sidewalks and over curbs, ran into bushes and fell off porches. We walked in front of cars because we couldn’t see where we were going."

Dawn’s Halloween classics of ‘yester-year’ remind us that there are safety precautions to consider when purchasing or making a child’s Halloween costume. While most trick-or-treaters escape the evening innocently with a mild stomachache, adhering to a few basic safety guidelines will help prevent serious accidents.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that a 12-year-old girl died last year as a result of burns she received when her homemade costume caught on fire. "The girl’s costume, made of burlap strips, caught fire and quickly spread as she brushed past a jack-o’-lantern containing a lighted candle."

The CPSC cautions parents to look for garment labels that read: "Flame Resistant." This includes actual clothing, masks, beards and wigs. Flame-resistant fabrics such as nylon or polyester are good choices, but always search for the label before purchasing. The CPSC further states that flame-resistant fabrics will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.

Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women and SAFE KIDS of Greater Orlando advises parents to avoid costumes made with flimsy materials and outfits with big, baggy sleeves or billowing skirts. The hospital and SAFE KIDS offer additional tips including:

  • Attach the name, address and phone number of children under age 12 to their costume.

  • Apply non-toxic, hypoallergenic face paints or cosmetics directly to the face. Face paints are safer than loose-fitting masks, which can obstruct vision. If masks are worn, be sure they fit securely yet have adequate ventilation. Cut eyeholes large enough for full vision.

  • Make costumes short enough to avoid tripping.

  • Secure hats so they won’t slip over children’s eyes.

  • Dress children in shoes that fit. Adult shoes are not safe for trick-or-treaters.

  • Carry only flexible knives, swords or other props. Real knives and swords can lead to real injuries.

  • Decorate costumes, bags ands sacks with reflective tape and stickers. (And remember to put reflective tape on bicycles, skateboards and brooms too!)

  • Make costumes light or bright enough to make children more visible at Night.

  • Look for "flame resistant" labels on costumes, masks, beards and wigs; or use fire resistant materials when making costumes.

  • Make sure costumes are large enough to permit warm clothes underneath if the temperature is low.

Other considerations specific to homemade costumes include the following:

  • Make sure you allow for proper ventilation. A child can become the victim of carbon dioxide poisoning if a costume mask fits too snugly. Have a costume fitting a day or so before Halloween. Make sure air is circulating throughout the mask. Air holes should ideally be around the nose, mouth, and forehead.

  • Flame retardant is designed to keep a costume from burning up quickly. Ready-made costume companies are regulated by law and must apply flame-retardant to any costumes sold for children’s use. Be aware, however, that fabrics in the cloth department generally will not be coated with a flame retardant. Ask the clerk in the cloth department which fabrics are more flame-resistant. It is possible to apply a flame retardant to the fabric yourself; however, these products aren’t typically stocked in retail stores and may have to be purchased through a chemical company or distributor.

  • Escape from a costume is also a consideration. Uses Velcro so that your child can easily escape should the costume catch fire.