Hey, is it October? Then it must be time for the fantastic second annual Muppet Fan Halloween Parade! I’m going to be spending the next couple weeks presenting you with page after page of people in Muppet costumes — some terrific, some spooky, and some downright unfortunate.

Although I should honestly know better. Last year’s parade was all fun and games and free Snickers bars… but I didn’t realize that that was going to set me up for a lifetime of e-mails like this one:

“I have a friend who would love to be Beaker for Halloween. Do you have tips for how to make the costume? Just asking since I saw pictures on your website. Thanks, Leila”

Or this one:

“My boyfriend and I would like to find authentic looking Kermit & Miss Piggy costumes. I have searched everywhere but I only find Childrens costumes. I am small but not that small. If you can help please email me. Thanks, Devon”

And on and on, handfuls of them, especially as it got close to October. I wish all these people well, of course, but the sad fact is that I just don’t know. I only post pictures of these costumes. I don’t know how to make ’em, and I don’t know where to find ’em. All I can do is write back and say, sorry, can’t help.

So this year for the Halloween Parade, I thought I’d try to help these poor souls out a bit, by giving them some pointers on making their own Muppet costumes. After all, I’ve collected all these pictures, I must have learned something, right?

So, as a public service: How To Be Cookie Monster.

To start with, let’s make a crucial distinction.

The picture on the left is what you want your costume to look like. The picture on the right is what your costume will actually end up looking like.

I’m not trying to discourage you. We just need to face facts. The full-body Muppet costumes that you’ve seen at Sesame Place look fantastic; they’re like the Muppet characters come to life. That’s because those costumes are made by teams of professional designers, with the help of the Henson puppet builders. Back in the real world, homemade costumes are made by, well, people like you. And if you’re e-mailing a stranger for instructions on how to put yours together, then you fit squarely into category two.

With that in mind, here’s tip one: Plan on spending more time working on your costume’s eyes than you do on everything else put together.

The body and hands don’t really matter that much. If you’ve got some dark blue fur fabric, then you can pretty much stitch it on your body any way you feel like so that it generally hangs off of you in some kind of shaggy mess. That’ll be fine.

But the eyes are going to make or break you. Look at this Cookie costume in the picture to the right, a professional costume-shop job that looks pretty darn good. Check out the eyes there — they’re a little glassy looking, but the pupils look right for the eyeballs, right?

Now here’s a look at what they usually end up looking like:


Pupils are too big, you’ve got Special-Ed Cookie. Pupils are too small, you’ve got Cookie of the Living Dead. This problem is easily avoided with adequate eyeball preparation. If possible, focus group your costume before use. If your user testing shows that children are hesitant to approach, then you need to readjust the eyes.

Another helpful tip: Consider your audience. Are you hoping this costume will impress people? Frighten people? Get you a date? Embarrass your children?

If you’re hoping that your costume will allow you to interact with human beings at a social gathering, then you have one crucial rule: Show Your Face.

Take this poor sap, for example. He went to all this trouble, draping blue fur over himself, making sure his pupils are in the right ballpark… but then he goes and looks out through tiny slits in the mouth panel. It makes him look like the Cookie Monster terrorist; he’s about two seconds away from whipping out a box cutter. Plus, he has to spend the entire night at the party not eating or drinking anything, and trying to make witty, urbane remarks through a layer of fake fur.

These frat boys have made the same dreadful mistake. It’s always a great idea until you get to the party, isn’t it? These costumes send the unmistakable message: I don’t think things through very well. I am ungainly and off-putting. You should not attempt to mate with me.

But look at what this smart young man has done. His face is showing, so he can make cute expressions. His costume says to the world: I’m playful and free-spirited, plus I can make eye contact and carry on a conversation. The prominent zipper down the front is a thoughtful touch, reminding the observer that at a moment’s notice, he could lose the suit and get down to business. This young man gets an attractive date. He will score tonight. He is your role model.

Here’s another example: The costume on the left is frightening, while the costume on the right is a success. Just because you have a full face with a mouth doesn’t mean your costume looks good. A simpler rig can look just as whimsical, and still be functional. The guy on the right looks to me like the president of the Cookie Monster Hair Club for Men: He looks younger, and he can still enjoy his active lifestyle!

With Muppet costumes, less is more. People know what Cookie Monster looks like, so use the power of suggestion to your advantage. This costume is the least fuzzy of the bunch, but it’s my personal favorite. I think she looks tremendous. So don’t try too hard. Just think Blue.

Next in the Muppet Fan Halloween Parade:

How to resist dressing as Ernie and Bert.

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