Dressing up for Halloween: What’s in, what’s out and what it costs

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Halloween is the one day of the year when we take no responsibility for our couture decisions. Fun is the order of the day.

Whether you’re trying to create a bloodcurdling effect or just prevent your own blood from boiling over the price of your desired look, there are many options available for finding the perfect costume. Here is a look at what’s popular, affordable, outrageous and unique in the world of Halloween costumes this year.

Ahoy there, Matey!
You can count on America’s love of cinema stars to inspire dress-up fun. From the East Coast to the west, people seem to be seeing themselves as Johnny Depp’s swashbuckling character from “Pirates of the Caribbean” this year. Pirate costumes are flying off the shelves at Samantha’s Costumes in Salem, Mass. According to Katie Morrison, they can’t keep enough in stock and they’ve sold out of their six-dozen eye patches necessary to complete the look. This costume is popular with children and adults alike, with kids’ costumes costing $25 to $30 and adults’ selling for $110.

“Anything from the roaring ’20s is a reliable, classic standby year after year,” says Morrison. “It’s a good costume for couples. The girl can be flapper ($50) and the guy can be a gangster ($100).”

Joan Pekin of Costumes Creative Inc. in Silver Springs, Md., says the pirate look is a top seller and she seconds the flapper popularity. Pekins suspects the success of the movie “Chicago” has re-inspired the look. At her shop, sultans and the Zorro-look are perennial favorites with the men and belly dancers are a hit year after year with the ladies.

Linda Brendemann of Costume Alley Inc. in Thousand Oaks, Calif., agrees that the “Pirates of the Caribbean” costume is a major hit this year for children and adults, but added that “the ’70s look” — the John Travolta outfit for men, miniskirts for women was probably her best-seller. Brendemann says the store “can’t keep enough miniskirts in stock to handle all the requests.”

“The Matrix” costumes, however, are apparently “petering off” in popularity and have been disappointingly less popular than expected this year, says Brendemann. The reliable items that sell year after year in her shop are “Dumb and Dumber” costumes, zoot suits and the trench-coat looks from the movie “Tombstone.” At Costume Alley, most of the merchandise goes for under $100, with most kids’ costumes staring at $25 and adults at $40.

Debbie Russ at Fantasyland Costume Company, also in California, hasn’t noticed any major trends this Halloween, but says the pirate theme was selling pretty well. At her store, a pirate costume costs from $25 to $110 to rent, depending on how close to the real thing one wants to look and starts at $35 to own.

The Incredible Hulk is not doing as well as expected for kids or adults. But Russ says the teens are usually looking for something totally different that no one else has thought of. “That can be anything from a guerrilla costume to a recent request we had for an Oompa Loompa.” The Oompa Loompas are the little people with strange-sounding voices and orange faces who ran the factory in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Russ says that anything Disney is usually a safe bet for kids, but costume stores must purchase copyright approval from Disney to be able to sell their merchandise. Claudia at Character Costumes in Harlingen, Texas, works around copyright issues by selling a “yellow cheese man” costume — one of their most popular — that bears a strong resemblance to “SpongeBob SquarePants,” a much-loved Nickelodeon TV character.

Kids’ costumes at Fantasyland Costume Company range from $14.99 for the basic, packaged ones, to $40 for the more ornate ensembles. The rented costumes typically cost as little as $20 or as much as $70, depending on how elaborate the customer’s vision happens to be for what the final product should look like.

The movie “Gladiator” seems to still be a popular Halloween theme in the northeast, according to Jeffe Jenkins at Abracadabra Magic and Costumes in New York City, where their Roman Armor and Toga costumes — ranging from $175 to $450 for the most decorated Roman soldier — are among their most demanded items.

Pirate popularity seems to be sailing past middle America, however, where super heroes are the costumes of choice.

Denise Seiber at Johnnie Brock’s Dungeon in St. Louis, Mo., says the Hulk and Spiderman are the fastest-moving costumes for adults, while Harry Potter has bewitched the most children this year. Other recurring popular costumes at the shop are Jason and Freddy for adults and Power Rangers for kids.

It’s the little stuff
Accessorizing is a key element in the creative process of making your costume frighteningly perfect.

Chocolate Moose, a party store in Washington, D.C., has great finishing touches for costumes, like fluorescent hairspray for $2.75 and metallic eyelashes in a variety of colors for $4.50. They also delve into more bizarre items to help you decorate your home for the holiday, like a skull wreath for $16 and a “Grow a Severed Hand” kit for $2.50. Put the little hand in a glass of water and watch it grow into Thing from “The Adams Family.”

People don’t have to hog all the fun. Many costume shops also cater to the needs of pets that want to join in the festivities.

Costume Alley in California did a costume for a horse last year. The occasion was a medieval-themed Halloween party and the horse’s owner wanted to be a knight on his appropriately adorned steed. “It took six fittings to get it just right for the owner and the horse,” says Brendemann. The cost? Over $1,000.

Fantasyland Costume Company also does special orders for pets, who, according to Debbie Russ, are “as fickle as people” when it comes to their tastes and choices of attire.

Whether you’re dressing yourself, your pet dog, cat, or horse for that matter, on this All Hallows Eve, there are many options for choosing the best costume.

You can buy or rent your couture creation at most shops. Many places have more rentals than items for sale, such as Easley’s Fun Shop in Phoenix, Ariz., which houses over 6,000 rentals, one of which is bound to suit even the most discriminating of tastes.

Whatever look you’re going for, there is sure to be something out there to bring out your inner hero, villain, ghoul, or glamour. Go wherever the spirits move you.