It’s officially the year of the superhero Halloween costume.
According to a survey conducted for the National Retail Federation, heroes came out on top for both adults and children in 2016 (beating out the traditional witch for adults and princess for kids that topped the survey last year). If you had your heart set on a Batman or Black Widow costume, you shouldn’t let the survey dissuade you. Just like there’s no such thing as too many Deadpools at Comic Con, there’s nothing wrong with a Halloween party packed with Harley Quinns. We say strap on your jester hat and bring on the shenanigans.
But if you want your costume stand out in the crowd, there are some tricks that cosplayers have employed for years to turn that traditional supersuit into a real showstopper. Check out some suggestions below.
1) Try a (monster) mashup
Mashup costumes just require taking elements of two (or more!) characters and splicing them together. That could mean you go as Wonder Woman cosplaying as Batgirl, or Deadpool in a Sailor Moon getup. These costumes wink at the possibility that our favorite fictional characters like playing dress up too.
Mashups can also take a more seamless form that combines elements to make something unique. Take, for instance, this mashup of Star Wars’s Rey and Tangled’s Rapunzel.
— Attractions Magazine (@Attractions) May 28, 2016
Just remember to include distinctive parts of each character so your Halloween party guests will marvel at your genius instead of wondering what the heck you’re wearing.
2) Punk-ify your costume
There are plenty of “-punk” subgenres that can put a unique twist on your standard spandex and cape fare. Cyberpunk is kind of a blanket term, but in general you can think of it as high tech, gritty, and dystopian—like Blade Runner and RoboCop. Maybe your Superman is a malfunctioning cyborg, complete with an ominous glowing eye.
Steampunk relates a different aesthetic that borrows heavily from Victorian-era style. Vintage clothes and accessories are paired with steam-powered inventions. Take this genderbent (more on gender-bending in a minute) steampunk Iron Man for instance.
— Geek & Sundry (@GeekandSundry) October 24, 2015
Or steampunk Batman.
Then there’s dieselpunk, which you probably remember popping up during 2015’s Mad Max mania. Where steampunk branches from the late 19th century, dieselpunk lends a 1940s post-industrial-revolution aesthetic, one packed with weapons and artillery. Captain America is already a product of that era, and there are lots of other characters that could get more interesting with a dieselpunk spin.
3) Embrace gender-bending
Gender-bending a costume doesn’t necessarily mean dressing up as Princess Hulk (though if you want to celebrate Halloween as Princess Hulk, we urge you to go for it). More typically, gender-bending means reimagining a character as the opposite gender or something more androgynous. Take, for example, this feminine take on The Joker.
And this female Loki? Stunning.
This type of costume can be particularly fun for women, who have far fewer choices when it comes to superheroes that star on TV shows and in movies. Marvel fans will be especially on trend: The comics company has been recasting many of its most popular comics heroes with female characters, among them Thor, Hulk, and Iron Man.
Of course gender-bending a costume can work for men too. For example, this masculine take on Harley Quinn.
The best gender-bent costumes still capture the personality of the original character, though they appear in a different form.
4) Make your costume retro-cool
A lot of superheroes that are popular today have long comics histories, and over the decades their costumes have changed. Carol Danvers is Captain Marvel, who we’ll see in her own standalone Marvel film in 2019. Her supersuit in Captain Marvel comics looks like this:
— #cosSLAYcosplay (@cosSLAYcosplay) July 22, 2016
But back in 2006 when Carol was Ms. Marvel, she wore a black leotard emblazoned with a yellow lightning bolt, like this:
Ms Marvel ❤️
Model / Costume Designer: @Vivawonderwoman
— Nokturnel Eclipse (@SpikedLeather) April 28, 2016
And the current Ms. Marvel, the hugely popular Kamala Khan, put her own spin on the outfit to honor her Muslim faith.
— Kamala Khan (@MsMarvelNow) August 6, 2014
Tons of comics characters have gone through these evolutions, and even if you don’t want to go spelunking through dozens of decades-old back issues, you can always sport your campiest Adam West-style Batman or Lynda Carter Wonder Woman.
5) Go big or go home
Let’s face it: Most of the people celebrating Halloween as a superhero are going to buy a costume off the rack at a party store. It’s easy, usually pretty affordable, and you don’t have to feel bad only wearing it once.
But if having the same costume as everyone else really chafes you, one surefire way to stand out is to outdo the competition. Putting together a very accurate costume—one that really makes you look like your favorite hero—could make you the star who total strangers pull aside for photos.
— Viva WW Cosplay (@Vivawonderwoman) August 3, 2016
— #cosSLAYcosplay (@cosSLAYcosplay) October 4, 2016
Cosplayers will warn you this isn’t for the faint of heart or light of budget. Getting details just right takes both time and money, and some of them have built careers around pulling it off. If you’re going to put in the effort, you might as well just embrace your inner cosplayer and take your costume on the road to comic conventions and movie premieres.
— Ri Ri Williams (@IAmTheRealRiRi) August 22, 2016
If you look this good, why wouldn’t you want to suit up more than one day a year?