Inside a Ricky’s NYC store, Lucie Sudmeier selects a Hogwarts uniform from racks filled with sexy pirates, blue Avatar makeup and vampire fangs.
“I was going to be a runaway bride, but when I saw this costume, I had to grab it,” said the 19-year-old. “My friends know me as the Harry Potter nerd. I have a Harry Potter tattoo!”
Potter’s hot for Halloween this year, including prominent billing on kid costume lists for the first time ever, according to a survey conducted for the National Retail Federation.
But he’s going to have some pop culture competition as retailers stock a wider variety. Think Snooki versus Gaga, Buzz Lightyear versus Spiderman.
The NRF is anticipating strong sales of Halloween garb this year.
“We expect 2010 to be the year of the costume,” says NRF spokeswoman Kathy Grannis, who cites the poor economy as a possible reason people are investing in some fun.
“It’s relatively affordable, purely discretionary spending and a great way to kick back and forget about what lies around the corner,” she says. “We saw a rise like this in 2008, as well as in 2002 after 9/11.”
This season’s Halloween costume trends include rises in classics, humor and lighthearted gear:
Top adult costumes
According to the NRF survey, “witches” are still the No. 1 costume for adults, followed by vampires, pirates and nurses.
“Nurses and political costumes completely fell off the list last year,” Grannis says. “It was right when health care was in the news every day and we had already been through an election year. Both categories are back on this year.”
While classic costumes still top the list, Grannis cites a rising influence of pop culture. Leading the pack is a certain blond chameleon who’s tailor-made for the holiday.
“In our online business it’s Lady Gaga hands down,” says Todd Kenig, chairman of Ricky’s NYC. “The wigs, her outfits, the accessories, it’s all Gaga.”
Ricky’s sells seven different full Lady Gaga costumes and dozens of her accessories, including a hair-shaped bow and soda-can wig.
Expect MTV’s “Jersey Shore” characters – Snooki, Pauly D and The Situation – to be a hot ticket for men and women.
Snooki wannabes will sport orange “tan” makeup, a skintight leopard dress and the quintessential “pouf” wig.
Guys can become DJ Pauly D with a spiky wig, or “The Situation” with a muscle tank and fake set of ripped abs underneath.
The characters in “Alice in Wonderland” are another big trend, according to the NRF survey. Several retailers cite the Mad Hatter as one of the top costumes for adults.
Retailers also report big sales in scaly blue Avatar costumes and Mario Brothers, along with “classic” and more Twilight-modern vampires.
Humor and lighthearted looks are back in a big way as well, led by giant yellow bananas and wooly sock monkeys.
“Right now humor is almost half of our total sales,” said Mary Ginnaty of Savers, a secondhand chain of stores across the United States. “The campier the better. … The mullet is still our best-selling wig.”
Top costumes for kids
The princess has held her reign over popular girls costumes for the last six years, and she’s not budging.
In fact, while princess is No. 1, “Disney princess” is No. 5 with its variety of tiara-sporting royalty: Tinkerbell, Snow White, Belle, Tiana and, Disney predicts, Rapunzel from the forthcoming animated feature, “Tangled.”
Other popular options for girls include Jessie from “Toy Story,” witches, gypsies and mermaids.
Superheros are still a strong choice for boys, including Spider-Man, but so are pirates, the Mario Brothers and “Toy Story” – specifically Buzz Lightyear, who made his way into the top picks for the first time this year.
Ladybugs and bumblebees are tops among toddlers.
“One difference for boys,” says Savers’ Ginnaty, “is that while heroes like Wolverine and Spider-Man are still strong for boys, we’re also selling the personal heroes: the combat soldier, the firefighter and the policeman.”
This year, many families are dressing together as a unit: A ghostly group. A voodoo trio. A pirate brigade.
“We have vampires as a brother and sister duo, a Greek goddess and gladiator, looks that are expanded to add in Mom and Dad,” says Lori Liddle, co-founder of Seattle-based Chasing Fireflies.
Chasing Fireflies has also added plus-size costumes and expanded sizes for growing kids.
“We’ve sold out of every (children’s size) 14 in the house,” Liddle says. “I think the market has been pushing kids to be way too old too quickly and parents are pushing them to retain their childhood. It’s nice to let them be young and celebrate the childhood part of their life.”
In an homage to Steven Slater, the I’m-Not-Gonna-Take- This-Anymore Jet Blue flight attendant, several retailers are selling their own versions of the disgruntled airline employee or the angry steward.
“It’s a blue steward shirt with a light blue tie and it comes with a Band-Aid for your forehead,” says Kenig of Ricky’s NYC.
The BuyCostumes.com version includes a plastic beer stein.
Iparty has a series of celebrities-gone-bad looks that include a Tiger Woods visor with a golf club stuck through it.
BuyCostumes.com features imitations of Betty White, Flo the insurance lady from Progressive.com and a “Bad Planning BP Jumpsuit,” a green costume that looks like it’s stained with black oil.
According to the NRF, the “sexy adult costumes” are doing better than ever and boast a wider variety.
There are sexy referees, sexy mischievous Mad Hatters, sexy pirates and a “Miss Krueger,” which is a sexy version of “Nightmare on Elm Street’s” Freddie Krueger.
BuyCostumes.com has the unquestionably most bizarre look with its Sexy Cookie Monster and Sexy Big Bird costumes for women.
“It’s a different cookie monster: it’s flirty and sassy and a lot more fun,” says Dan Haight, chief operating officer of BuySeasons Inc.
Fluffy and Fido can get into the Halloween spirit. Just about any costume you could dream up for a human is available for your pet.
Top pet costumes, according to the NRF, include pumpkin, devil and witch. Even costumes for pets are getting racier, with retailers offering “sexy schoolgirl,” “playboy bunny” and “Darth Vader” for dogs.
In a downturn economy, many consumers would rather get creative and piece together their own costumes. That’s also a way of making your getup more unique.
Retailers say their accessories business is hotter than ever, with wigs, wands and Michael Jackson gloves flying off the shelves.
“The consumer is embellishing last year’s costumes or they’re finding something in their closet and making that work,” says Savers’ Ginnaty. “They might buy a Snooki wig, but wear an animal print dress they already have in their closet.”
And since Halloween is on a Sunday this year, many people will be going to multiple parties over the weekend, so they’ll need more than one look.
“Friday they might be Iron Man,” Ginnaty says, “and Saturday they might put a chef hat on top of a regular outfit to mix it up.”