No-sew history costumes

Child in Viking costume
Another week, another costume… that’s the way it feels sometimes! Non-crafty mum Phoebe Doyle has some no-sew, no-stress ideas to help you create a simple, effective costume for History Week at school, whether your child needs to look medieval, prehistoric or Victorian.
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We’ve all been there. The next two weeks are all scheduled and organised when BAM!, there it is: yet another letter in the bookbag casually announcing it’s World Whatever Day coming up and could we kindly make a costume?

No fear or last-minute panics; here are our top costume suggestions for History Week, and they can all be put together in – literally – minutes.

Florence Nightingale costume

For this you’ll need a white apron and either a black long sleeved dress or a long black skirt and long sleeved black top. Tie a square piece of white fabric over the head too and accessorise with a paper lantern (draw it on card or print out a picture of the actual lantern Florence Nightingale carried).

Samuel Pepys costume (Great Fire of London diary)

Start with a fancy white shirt with a blazer and trousers. For shoes, draw a buckle on card and fasten onto plain black school shoes. A long and curly wig would be ideal if you have something like it in the dressing-up box, but the key accessory here is a diary; make it look old book-like and authentic by wrapping a book in black or dark red paper.

Egyptian costume

For this you’ll need a long cotton white dress or white robe (made from an old sheet), tied with something blingy and gold. Thread some gold beads onto string to fasten around the head. If you have time you could look into buying or borrowing a Cleopatra-esque wig.

Chimney sweep costume

Great for a reluctant-to-dress-up boy! Ruggedly cut the bottoms off some brown or grey trousers, which they can wear with plimsolls. Add a scruffy white shirt; you could dye one in tea to make look more authentic! (To do this add a tea bag to a bucket of warm water and soak the shirt in it.) Put some dirt or brown/black face paint on their face and hands to make it look like they’ve been up a chimney. Accessorise with a flat cap and, of course, with a 'sweeping brush' (a static duster would be perfect).

Victorian girl costume

A long, dark-coloured dress or skirt with a long sleeved blouse. Add a shawl around the shoulders and a head scarf around the head to accessorise, all of which you should be able to find in a charity shop no problem! If you can’t get a long dark dress/skirt for a child, get a knee-length adult one and tighten the waist with a belt. Plimsolls or ballet pumps on the feet would be ideal.

Victorian boy costume

If you or a friend has taken a boy in a wedding and gone for the whole suited and booted attire you’ll probably have most of what you need for this to hand. Go for dark trousers, a dark coloured waistcoat and a white or cream shirt. Fasten on a bow tie or tie an adult tie into a bow around the neck. Make a paper top hat (get step-by-step instructions online). School shoes on the feet would be fine.

Viking costume

Brown trousers and a brown shirt (an adult-sized one would be ideal to offer some extra length and create a tunic look). Fasten some tin foil onto a hair band to cover their hair.  Alternatively, if they’re game, cover a plastic bowl with foil to wear as a hat. Draw a paper shield on cardboard for them to hold (they might be happy to help with the decorating!).

Roman costume

Use a light-coloured dress or an old white sheet to make a toga; glue on some gold trim or ribbon around the bottom and the neckline. If possible cut the neckline into a square shape. Use a rope or plait together some shiny wool to make a belt for the dress. On the feet go for sandals or flip-flops.

King costume

Don't have to stick to a particular time period? Royal is your fail-safe option! Go for dark trousers, a shirt and a cape or robe (use a piece of material and tie around the neck). Make a crown with your child by cutting a template out of card (zig-zag line along top) and having them stick on shiny paper and sequins.

Queen costume

Go for a long dress or skirt and top with a cloak. Make a crown (see King) or tiara by blinging-up a hair band with sequins and beads. Stick shiny sequins onto ballet pumps or plimsolls for the shoes. Long plaits fastened with grips to the top of the head always give a very royal look!

Evacuee costume

Adapt school uniform in minutes with a few accessories. For boys a flat cap would be ideal; girls could wear a beret. A coat over the top (ideally something traditional-looking like a duffle coat), or grey school shorts / skirt, a white shirt (with tie for boys) or blouse and then the all-important 'gas mask' plain bag (a small brown handbag perhaps?) and an identification name label (cut it out of brown card and tie on with string). 

Rat costume (for the Black Death topic)

Grey or black tights or leggings with a grey or black polo neck long-sleeved top. If they’re happy to wear face paint, paint their face grey with black whiskers and a pink nose. Make ears by sticking triangles onto a hair band. To make the tail cut off a grey tight leg and stuff with cotton wool. Fasten it to the tights or leggings at the back. Plimsolls or black ballet pumps would be good on the feet.

Medieval Britain costume

Use an adult knee-length baggy dress to make a long tunic. Fasten some rope around the waist. Drape some material around the body and shoulders as a shawl. Add some material over the head and put a hair band on top to fasten. Sandals would be ideal.

Suffragette costume

You’ll need a long white dress or skirt with long sleeves (a knee-length adult white skirt should work if fastened in at the waist). Make a sash using thick white fabric or paper. Suffragette colours were purple and green, so add a band of purple, a band of green and write ‘Votes for Women’ (in green) on the sash.

Prehistoric Britain

Cut a plain dress so that it has only one shoulder. Tie a rope around the waist as a belt. Create a very messy hairstyle (your child will probably be delighted to unbrush their hair). They could carry a long stick (perhaps the handle off a broom). Bare feet would be ideal (if completely impractical!).

More primary-school costume and dressing up ideas

If you'd rather your History Week costume came read-made, look through our pick of the best kids' historical costumes to buy.