How to Judge a Halloween Costume Contest

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With great power comes great responsibility, so when you're in charge of judging a Halloween costume contest, you can't just give the top prize to the cutest kid or the person who dressed as your favorite movie character. Prevent grumbling later on by creating a clear system for comparing all the costumes you see. By determining your criteria for judging a costume contest before the event starts, you can confidently declare winners and even explain your reasoning.

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Choose Halloween Costume Contest Categories

If the categories haven't already been chosen, this is your first order of business. Coming up with a good assortment of Halloween costume contest categories is an essential part of running a successful contest. You'll need to choose enough categories to allow for many winners but not so many that your award ceremony takes forever. The categories have to be broad enough that a lot of different costumes could be eligible for each award.

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Your specific event will play a role in determining appropriate Halloween costume contest categories. If the event is a company party with 200 guests, you might give out seven to 10 prizes and use categories like best co-worker costume along with standard choices like funniest costume, scariest costume and most original costume.

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For a smaller party with 20 of your friends, you might give out just two or three awards for categories like best couple's costume and best pop culture costume. A party that includes kids might have categories for best costume (10 and under) and best costume (11-18). Whatever you choose, share categories with invited guests ahead of time to encourage people to dress up with a specific category in mind.

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Determine Your Judging Criteria

Once the categories are chosen, think about your criteria for judging a costume contest. Say two people are both wearing witch costumes. How might you decide which one is more award worthy? Will you give more credit to the costume that is clearly homemade or the one that's more elaborate but store-bought? How much emphasis will you put on creativity? How will you take hair, makeup and special effects into account?

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As you think about criteria for judging a costume contest, also think about what system you'll use to compare entries and determine winners. If you're planning a small, casual party with friends, you might be comfortable using your gut to choose winners, but for a big event with lots of contestants, use a numerical scoring system. It's easier than trying to remember your impressions of a lot of different costumes.

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Choose a set of criteria and score each costume on a scale of one to 10 for each one. For example, you might choose creativity, effort, quality, originality and hair/makeup/accessories as your main criteria, with each costume being eligible for up to 50 points. For example, you might give the homemade witch costume 10s for effort and creativity, while the store-bought witch costume might score low in those categories. You may decide to use slightly different criteria for different categories. For example, for a best couple's costume category, you might score entries on how well the two costumes work together.

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Evaluate the Entries

Have a plan for how and when judging will occur during the event. Will you circulate through the party with a clipboard and judge everyone's costumes this way? Do you want to sit at a judging station and have people come to you if they want to be considered for costume prizes? Do you want to let the crowd vote by having contestants stand on a stage and use applause volume to choose the winners?

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However you're structuring your costume contest, make signs explaining how the judging works and hang them at the entrance to the event. Establish what time the judging will close and what time prizes will be announced. If someone is in charge of making announcements during the event, have that person make reminders about the judging and awards presentation every 30 minutes or so.

You may want to ask a second person to share the judging role with you, especially if you're concerned about choosing from a lot of great options (or if you have any friends or family participating and want to be sure to be impartial). Rate each costume separately and combine your scores at the end of judging.

Award Costume Category Prizes

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Once you've added up scores and determined your winners, it's time for the fun part – crowning the winners and handing out prizes. Unless it's a small event where you know everyone and their tastes well, stick with general prizes that most people can use, such as cash, gift cards, meal kit subscription vouchers and gift baskets stocked with local specialty items.

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