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Rock Star-Inspired Halloween Costumes

From David Bowie to Nicki Minaj, a guide to recreating 12 classic rocker looks

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Lady Gaga is the queen of the costume, constantly reinventing her image and our notion of what makes for an acceptable ensemble. Like Perry and Cyrus, there’s a lot to choose from here, but Gaga’s outfits are undoubtedly the strangest. At times, they’re all skin with a little lace or latex, and at other moments, they’re so covered that they’re borderline chaste.  While all of Gaga’s looks make for fun dressing up, this one is perfect for Halloween in its eeriness. Completely envelop a dress and headband with pale yellow ribbons and make sure you have the hair color to match. Cake all your remaining skin in white powder, the better to make your bright-red lips and blush pop, and voilà! Crucial to this look is the ghostly demeanor: stay in character, making sure not to smile – and if anyone asks what you are, say you’re a monster. 

By Kiran Herbert

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Riff Raff

The Houston rapper’s look is distinct, even in a genre where cornrows, tattoos, grills and over-the-top accessories abound. A good Riff Raff costume is where Nineties streetwear meets next year’s trends. Graphic tees, snakeskin pants, chinchilla fur, flashy kicks, a collection of chains and tons of neon are just a part of what makes a good Riff Raff costume. The key is in how you put it all together, layering bright on top of loud, not taking anything too seriously and walking with a healthy swagger. 

miley cyrus

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Miley Cyrus

Dressing like Miss Miley is shaping up to be the most popular costume this year and, luckily, she has a ton of equally scandalous looks to choose from. There are ready-to-wear options for sale (probably your best route for the pictured bear suit), but you can easily recreate any of her looks by donning red lipstick and cutting up clothes you already have. The “We Can’t Stop” video offers three separate looks in itself: gold teeth, gold nail polish, gold bling and some black netting; a fur coat and a goat; and a cropped West Coast top, plunging leotard and sunglasses. To recreate every look from the “23” video, sport some Jordans and an altered #23 Bulls jersey.  By far the easiest option would be to go the “Wrecking Ball” route and wear white underwear, a white cutoff tank, some brown combat boots and wield a sledgehammer. The most important part of any Miley inspired costume, though? Short, platinum blonde hair, a visible tongue and a take-no-shit attitude. 

 

robin thicke

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Robin Thicke

Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus is a couple’s costume made in a wicked pop heaven. First to jump on the trend were Hugh Hefner and his wife Crystal Harris, who channeled the duo’s infamous VMA performance, complete with twerking. Sunglasses and a little bit of facial hair are a must for any Thicke imitation, but you can always forgo the striped suit for a classic black one in the style of “Blurred Lines.” Carry a sign that says you have a big dick and everyone should get the idea. 

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Katy Perry

Katy Perry’s outfits are the envy of little girls everywhere. Almost everything the star wears is worthy of Halloween, often teetering on a weird plane where innocent schoolgirl meets retro sex-bomb. Bright wigs, Candyland colors and matching two-pieces are among the many routes you can go. The more over-the-top the look, the easier it is to make. It’s often just a matter of gluing things – cupcakes, peppermints, colorful circles, film reels – to a dress, skirt or crop-top.  All Perry looks are constructed, color-coordinated and only complete with the right hairdo. 

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Wayne Coyne

The Flaming Lips’ frontman makes for one of the most fun Halloween costumes ever, and there are plenty of wardrobe options.  Coyne is where futuristic alien chic meets colorful indie ringmaster, all very much inspired by David Bowie. Coyne’s 2008 looks are now classics, from the Paste cover where he donned a white suit, yellow shirt and a lot of fake blood to his role as “the alien superbeing” in The Flaming Lips’ Christmas movie Christmas on Mars.  Our favorite look, though, is this shiny blue suit from the band’s performance at this year’s Great GoogaMooga Festival in Brooklyn, though it will admittedly be a difficult find. The teased, messy hair, the necklace of fake flowers and recruiting a four-year-old to do your facepaint will be the easy part. 

David Bowie

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David Bowie: 1974

You could choose to dress as David Bowie ten Halloweens in a row and never have to repeat a look. That's the beauty of his visual legacy: much like Madonna and Lady Gaga after him, it's perpetually evolving. Of course, for dress-up purposes, most will be drawn to recreating his mid-70s glam looks. This moment in 1974 where he chose to wear an eyepatch to an interview at the Amstel Hotel seems especially ripe for Halloween resurrection. It's a perfect seasonal choice for a bit of meta mischieft: it's a costume of Bowie…in a costume.

By Colleen Nika

Slash

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Slash: 1989

For a certain type of rock fan, there are few greater shredders than Slash of Guns N' Roses. But you don't need to be a fan of guitar bombast to coin his equally over-the-top style as yours for a night. What you want is a luscious curly black wig – one replicating an 80s Cher perm will work well – and a black top hat. We've seen no end to the prefabricated, chain party store version of this look, but it's way better if you source the materials yourself. Be sure to pair with a rock tee (neck and sleeves cut off) and tight, but not skinny, jeans.

Run DMC

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Run DMC: 1988

Run DMC: another music act with a legendary image capped off by the wise addition of headwear. The trio's toppers of choice in the 1980s were Kangol fedoras, which you can still readily purchase. The rest of their proto-street fabulous look is equally minimal, striking, and painless to mirror: black or dark-hued tee paired with a fat gold chain, clean sweats, and Adidas. Carrying an appropriately oversized boombox around as an era-specific accessory is optional, but recommended for keeping it real(er).

Salt-N-Pepa

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Salt-N-Pepa: 1988

Before there was Destiny's Child, before there was TLC, before En Vogue, there was Salt-N-Pepa, arguably the sassiest of all the urban girl groups. With a toughened up fly girl mystique, the trio's personal style has also stood the test of time. As our culture of nostalgia (finally) transitions its focus from the 80s to the 90s, there's no better time to channel the dopest looks of your In Living Color-shaded youth. Salt-N-Pepa's enduring visual appeal has three specific requirements: all-denim (and oversized) everything, gold chains and asymmetrical hair cuts. Unless you're feeling particularly plucky/reckless, we aren't suggesting you attempt that last step alone; a jaunty wig will do just fine.

Keith Richards

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Keith Richards: 1992

Some might say Keith Richards' very existence, much like Ozzy Osbourne's, defies science. But that's part of what makes his grizzled charms so enigmatic. He's ostensibly worn the same bandana, eyeliner, skintight jeans, and threadbare tank since the mid 70s, but we aren't sure how to picture him any other way. Maybe you can't replicate his leathery hide, but the rest of his iconic look is perennial Halloween costume gold.

Beyonce

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Beyoncé: 2009

Beyoncé is the ultimate retro-futurist, blending visions of 1965 and the year 3000 together seamlessly in one look. She really explored that time-warping turf in her now-iconic black and white clip for "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" in 2008, wherein she paired a simple black leotard, pumps, a zealous dance routine with an inexpicable metal glove, a sly nod to biocybernetics (a major theme in the collections of designer Gareth Pugh, whose work she favored at the time). To get this bionic babe look, you can simply get a black Danskins' leotard (or, if you're feeling elaborate, a spangled one, as seen in B's live performances), heels, and a great blowout (or dark blonde wig). The hand is trickier: you can go with a basic metal glove, seen on robot and Trekkie costumes; or you can try to create your own accoutrement with an inventive use of bracelets and, of course, rings.

Bjork

Ari Magg

Björk at Iceland Airwaves: 2011

It's actually surprising Björk doesn't constitute a more popular Halloween pop-themed costume choice. Even when she's not shocking Hollywood in swan dresses, the Icelandic music icon is rarely without an exceptional ensemble. Contrary to what you may think, they aren't all impossible to recreate. For her latest Biophilia looks, she's relied on avant-garde designers ThreeAsFour for her euphoric, color-splashed frocks, which replicate the plumage of exotic birds. Theoretically, if you had the money, you could buy your own Gong dress or Harp belt, too – but the DIY approach might be more interesting. With a sewing machine, some feathers, and some gold spangles, you can create a rough shadow of the same look. For this look, styling is crucial: a wild carrot-hued wig (teased to the max) and spates of blue eye shadow should set the context straight.

Forence Welch

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Florence Welch: 2011

With her towering height and flaming red mane, Florence Welch naturally stands out from other pop singers. But this year, she's also really upped the ante in the visual department, adorning herself in Art Deco inspired frocks by Gucci and Chanel, for whom she also serves as an official muse. To achieve an approximation of Welch's dramatic look, you really need two things: a fantastic wig and access to a top-shelf vintage store.

Madonna

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Madonna: 1999

As with Bowie, a fan's possibilities for recreating a classic Madonna look are pretty much endless. But instead of taking the easy pre-1987 Madge route by throwing on a mass-produced "Healthy" tee, some bangles, and headband, why not try one of her more exploratory looks of the 90s? There was something magical about her late 90s "Japonais" phase, the mystical two-year span that encompassed Ray of Light, kimonos and jet-black hair, and a lot of Kabbalah discussion.  Watch the overlooked "Nothing Really Matters" video, the clip that most vividly captures her style of that era, and take notes. Find a pin-straight, center parted black wig (that evades Morticia vibes), a red kimono, and red platform boots (you can find cut-rate versions at adult stores). For the cosmetic aspect of this iconic look, there are three essentials: severely white powder or other paling agent, a strong, rectangular brow, and deep ruby lips.

Marilyn Manson

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Marilyn Manson: 1999

Remarkably, no male musician this decade has outscaled Marilyn Manson's distinct breed of high-gloss visual perversion. Even Manson himself has scaled back on the shock & awe factor in these recessionary times, but that doesn't mean his 90s nervy spirit doesn't live on, especially this time of year. One of his most interesting looks involved him cross-dressing as a twisted glam-rocker with prosthetic breasts for a good year and a half betwen 1998 and 2000. Amazingly, this is not only one of his tamer looks, it's somewhat simple to recreate! At specialty shops, you can purchase a lo-fi versions of Manson's fantastic plastic bust, and from there, the rest is easy: you need a standard 70s glam rock unitard, full-length vinyl gloves, and some major platform boots. Of course, the thin line between channeling Manson's corruption of the glam ideal and coming off as a T. Rex groupie involved getting the finer details in order. In this case, it would be helpful to obtain "white out" or red eye contacts to pair against black lipstick and a Pris-style eyeshadow mask.

Nicki Minaj

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Nicki Minaj: 2011

Alongside Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj is reportedly one of this year's most popular costume choices. It's not a shock: with her chaotic take on the "Barbie Come To Life" concept, the Pink Friday star's hyperbolic style is so grandiose that it seems Halloween was invented to accomodate its intensity. Though Minaj fluctuates looks as rapidly as her vocal stylings, it's safe to say you're going to need a pretty dramatic wig to achieve any of them; the towering blonde beehive is a safe bet. From there, you need to locate the zaniest minidress you can find, preferrably something that evokes shades of 80s Mattel. Then you need to ask yourself: "what would a Harajuku Girl do?" This Japanimation obsession, too, is core to Minaj's style mystique. You could always add a few accessories from Gwen Stefani's actual Harajuku Lovers line. From there, garish and girly makeup – Minaj's own Pink Friday MAC lipstick, perhaps – finishes off the look.

Robert Smith

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Robert Smith: 1987

For the first-wave Goth deeply committed to maintaining a daily dark aesthetic, Halloween might seem a bit redundant. Yet, Robert Smith's look is emblematic to many as the most definitive of 80s shadowy glamor –it's begging to be sported on this very holiday, by Cure fans and randoms alike.  You need the same wig you'd need if you were dressing up as fellow Dark Prince Edward Scissorhands: something black, tall, and rat-nested. From there, liberal smears of black eyeliner, and a simple black shirt and pants combo will suffice, but pay attention to footwear: Smith's love of LA Gear sneakers was infamous.