Low on sequins and bikinis, big on humour – the Cologne carnival is the perfect street party for children. This German city hosts a party for a million plus spectators every February, and the locals are absolute champions at dressing up.

A great kids’ carnival outfit should be wearable outdoors, with some homemade touches and preferably not linked to a recent film release.


Smurfs galore at the Cologne carnival

The residents of Cologne excel at this. At the chi-chi Kölner Tennis- und Hockey-Club’s annual Balla-Balla carnival party you can spot walking lamp-posts, complete with a functioning circuit (points for engineering), a combined groom and bride in one – from one angle a moustachioed, top hatted gentleman in tails, from another angle flowing white dress with tiara (points for surrealism), and a posse of girls in dresses made from those blue tarpaulin Ikea carrier bags (probably less fun if you lose your group).

A good standby costume for kids is the Smurfs – easily customisable as Brainy or Greedy or Gutsy – with smurf hats costing two or three pounds as your baseline.

Any sports top is a good starting point for some iconic athlete – sourcing a baseball or basketball shirt with some magic number on the back is simple. At the innovative end of the scale we spotted a young biathlete – complete with toy rifle in home-made halter on the back. A lazy option is equipping your kid with a bathrobe and passing that off as a boxer’s outfit.

Big in Cologne this year are squid hats. You’ve got to ask yourself who sits down in the big fancy dress manufacturers’ brainstorming session and says “squids!”, but there we are, they’re nothing if not cheerful.  Hard to find in the UK, but you can source them from German online suppliers – less than ten euros delivered and guaranteed originality. London punks were another big theme – kids will think they look so badass with all that metal and we’ll think they’re sweetly nostalgic with their mohawks.

If  you’re a hoarder then you’ll be able to rustle up more interesting Hollywood characters than this winter’s Minions. We spotted a top hat with a clock face strapped on for the Mad Hatter, and a bright yellow suit for Jim Carrey’s the Mask, complete with lemon-coloured boater – all doable if you buy the dye. And in our house we love a viking costume – any potato sack with a leather belt will do alongside a cardboard axe. Viking king names are unbeatable: no-one messes with Erik the Bloodaxe.

Or if you save your dressing up for Halloween, then the simplest tip we’ve picked up is one of those authentic LED lit graveyard lights, normally placed alongside wreaths. Glue that on to a black hat for truly sinister headwear.

Enjoy dressing up! And stock up on greasy cream – it makes that insane make-up easier to remove.