Children’s costumes: a toy or clothing and does it matter ?

Children wear all sorts of things for normal, fun and creative activities and often there is a cross over between uses. Child safety is very important and today correctly classifying products has far reaching implications…for example which are the applicable safety standards and whether VAT is applicable or not. There are complex rules and laws which vary between countries but thankfully here in the UK and indeed much of Europe it is very clear and well established.

hubble bubble & how to avoid trouble

My own daughter would wear her favourite fairy costume all day no matter where we went and we loved her to do it. She looked beautiful and not only enjoyed it immensely herself but a lot of happiness was reflected in the smiles of strangers while we shopped around town for example. When it came to educational costumes used for a school play, dances and re-enactments etc., she was sometimes required to wear a costume instead of, or on top of, standard clothes and parental choice was more constrained.  DW


In the UK, VAT applies to all children’s clothing ( which includes costumes ) BUT it is rated at 0% instead of the 20% found on most other goods. That means you don’t pay the government any additional tax which is great news for parents because it helps keep down the cost of your child wearing lovely things and long may that continue. There are some oddities in these rules and shoes and clothes over certain dimensions are VAT rated regardless of the targeted or actual age of the child that wears them but generally it is true that clothes intended for children end up with no VAT being payable.


When it comes to safety, the European toy standard EN71 is applied to childrens costumes because for safety purposes they are classed as toys. This may seem odd at first but is in fact more great news for parents because you need to know your child is as safe as is reasonably possible when playing. One of the key parts of this standard is section 2 which ensures costumes comply with strict flammability ratings and these tests are actually much more stringent than applies to regular clothes. Nightwear also has to comply with flammability regulations too but in all other cases children’s clothing testing is less stringent than costumes when it comes to flammability. Consumer Guide to BS EN71

CE mark ce-marking-250x250

How do you know if a costume meets the standard? Well every toy / costume sold in Europe must by law meet the EN71 standard and the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring this is the case. If there was any doubt one could contact the retailer or manufacturer for a copy of the test results but it is much simpler to check if a costume has met the standard by looking for the proper CE mark on the packaging or labeling. (note: the center line of the E for a proper CE mark should be slightly shorter.) Sticking to high quality retailers and brands is usually a good indicator that the goods are legitimate, tested and safe. More about CE marking


What about if a costume is found to have a defect sometime after it comes onto the market ? There is a fabulous free European resource Rapid Alert System for dangerous non-food products (somewhat unfortunately known as Rapex) which is searchable and one can check if the products in your possession or are about to purchase have had a recall or safety notice issued on them. One advantage to buying online is that a competent online retailer will have your contact details and will be able to notify you if a product previously supplied becomes subject to a safety notice; it is very unlikely you would get this service from purchasing from a regular store.

Other Labels

Other marks on the labeling might include statements like ‘keep away from fire’ or ‘choking hazard, may contain small parts or not suitable for children under three years old.’ These additional warnings are extra instructions that parents should treat seriously and act accordingly. For example many families have children of mixed ages such that an under three year old may still come into contact with a toy not designed for their age group. It is wise to only buy products that do not have the under three warning if there is a baby or toddler in the household. Similarly there is rarely a good reason for children to be exposed to fire hazards but accidents do happen even in the most caring homes. Parents should always exercise suitable vigilance and instruction around fire just as they would when crossing a road, cooking, swimming or any other potentially hazardous situation involving children.

Suggested checklist for purchasing & using children’s costumes:

  • Supervise children at all times
  • Select respected brands and retailers
  • Know your labels
  • Think about the youngest person in your family, not just the main wearer
  • Check the Rapid Alert System if in any doubt
  • Buy new rather than second hand to ensure compliance with latest standards

Costumechest takes its responsibilities very seriously and takes steps to ensure all the brands and products we represent meet and often exceed the required standards. In the event it ever proves necessary we will endeavor to contact past and present customers and will publish any such safety notices on Costumechest World.