World Book Day costume ideas

World Book Day is a hardy annual of the school calendar - in the UK and Ireland this year it falls on 3 March - but it still manages to catch many of us unawares. And, ooh, the angst - your child gets in a tizzy about wearing the 'wrong' thing and you get in a tizzy about your creative abilities. As one Mumsnetter puts it: "Costumes are my nemesis."

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So if you're stuck for costume ideas, we've garnered Mumsnetters' tips to help you come up with novel solutions as you scramble to conjure a World Book Day costume out of the dressing-up box (or supermarket).  

Costume ideas

Children without a clue as to which character they'd like to dress up as pose one challenge; children with extremely set ideas about who they want to go as pose another. If your child falls into the first camp, then the chicken has to come before the egg...

"My son tends to decide what he'd like to dress up as and then finds a book to match. So this year he's got a skeleton costume in mind and is thinking Funnybones - hardly a favourite." tassisssss 

If your child falls into the second camp, then pragmatism and 'recycling' are the order of the day...

"In my experience (and for many years I've had to come up with three outfits each time) what you suggest and what is do-able isn't what the children have in mind, no sir, not at all." BendyBob

"The trick is to find characters that just wear normal clothes... like George in Famous Five." swanriver 

"One year DD went in a dress and a red hooded cardigan - Little Red Riding Hood. Last year she wore a pretty frock and carried a bear - Goldilocks. I would NEVER spend money on these things." soverylucky

"We have a pirate outfit, just one homemade pirate outfit, which has been used for Hallowe'en, Book Day and St Andrew's Day many times over. One good cheap outfit and some black eyeliner is all you need." pointydog 

The creative and competitive dedicated among you might like to take inspiration from others' costume efforts, especially if (groan) your child likes the idea of making their own costume. 

"We did Saucepan Man last year. I put my son in a grey long-sleeved top and jeans, then sewed on cardboard saucepans and kettles. Made a cardboard saucepan for a hat, too. Was trashed by the end of the day but looked fab at the start!" motherinferior

"DD was an owl from Owl Babies. Brown leggings and a brown long sleeved top with feather shaped pieces of various brown fabric stuck on." Tillyscoutsmum

"DS1 won Best Costume last year as Mr Gum. We made entrails from a pair of red tights, a demonised pillow and elastic bands!" MerryCouthyMows

"We, scratch that, I, have made over the years: a huge Cat in the Hat hat out of papier-mache, a Harry Potter costume, lovely wings out of papier-mache and scraps of tissue paper for the beautiful butterfly out of The Very Hungry Caterpillar." DrMarthaMcMoo

Easy costume ideas

If you're really up against it, here are Mumsnetters' ideas for quick, no-fuss World Book Day costumes:

  • I sent mine in a checked shirt and jeans with a golden ticket. Charlie Bucket - voila . Pictish
  • Stripy jumper and jeans - Where's Wally? Normal clothes, plus saucepan with a couple of yucky things in it and wooden spoon - George's Marvellous Medicine. Easy peasy. MrsMellowDrummer
  • Get a load of twigs and leaves, stick 'em in their hair in the morning and he can be Stig of the Dump. SerindipitousHarlot
  • DD went as Fern from Charlotte's Web one year which was very easy - dungarees, a checked shirt, gum boots and she carried a toy pig. cutsnake
  • Just William. One sock up, other one down, shorts, dirty knees, cap, and undone tie. valiumredhead
  • Oliver! Just go to charity shops and rip! Auntymandy
  • Pippi Longstocking - a patchwork dress from a charity shop, knee length socks with boots plus pipe cleaners to get the hair to curl upwards! NannyPeach
  • Dracula. Just a white shirt, bow tie, black cloak, black trousers, face paint and some fake blood. A Harry Potter wizard costume works well as a Dracula costume and can be bought from most toy shops in department stores, as can face paint and fake blood. ABetaDad
  • My daughter went as 'one of the girls from The Dumping Ground' (Tracy Beaker's children's home). In other words, she just wore her own clothes. woollyideas
  • Put children in sensible outdoor gear plus wellies and they can be the farmer from The Sheep-Pig. Total cost probably zero. ProfessorLaytonIsMyLoveSlave
  • Matilda - pretty dress and ribbon in her hair. Every girl's default outfit. TheOriginalLadyFT
  • Captain Haddock from Tintin. Black trousers, old navy jumper with anchor glued to front, black captain's hat with anchor ditto. BerthaTheBogBurglar
  • Burglar Bill. Ordinary trousers, striped top and flat cap. Swag bag and torch. Eye mask from an aeroplane sleep mask. Cut holes in so they can see and roughly stitch to stop the wadding going into their eyes. RachH1
  • If you can dredge up anything that looks a bit Victorian (party dress, straw hat, boots) a girl can go as Mary from The Secret Garden. cutsnake
  • Mr Bump. Blue trousers, blue jumper, blue woolly hat and some bandages wrapped round them. bullet234
  • Paddington. Dark coat, red scarf, dark hat, jar of marmalade, small suitcase and a 'Please look after this bear' label. Northernlurker

And, if worst comes to worst...

  • "They could go as Mr Forgetful, non?" cybilliberty

The plot thickens (aka World Book Day 'themes')

To complicate matters, schools often decide on World Book Day themes. Cue battles with children unimpressed by the school's choice. What to do? Well, an interpretative response might work...

  • Dictionary definition of fairy tale is: 'A fictitious, highly fanciful story or explanation.' I would call both Ben 10 and Toy Story highly fanciful explanations. Trinaluce
  • Let him go as Buzz Lightyear and if the teacher says anything then look at her with a puzzled and slightly condescending expression and say, 'But didn't you know that Toy Story is a modern reworking of [insert name of any old Brothers Grimm fairytale]'. Then walk off muttering. Rhinestone
  • My son declared that he was going as himself, so I am seriously considering sending him with a made-up book with his picture on the front. Strangely, it feels like less hassle than forcing him to dress up. beanandspud

Ready-made World Book Day costumes

Of course, if you've got money available to throw at the problem, then shop-bought costumes can be a sanity-saver. 

"I bought one off t'internet. I am so shit at domestic, creative-type things, I just couldn't even think about it." SerindipitousHarlot

"My daughter (age five) is going in her Cinderella dress as...Cinderella. All exciting options declined." steppemum

And no, it's not cheating...

"I'm sure there will be loads of children dressed as TV characters because they already have the costumes." Marne

The small consolation? World Book Day comes but once a year. And it's only for <gulp> seven years (secondary schools generally don't insist truculent teens dress up as book characters).

Liked this? Try these:

World Book Day logo

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Paddington Bear

Last-minute costume ideas

Costume video

Video tutorial: 5 easy costumes


Last updated: over 1 year ago